Judaism has a love/hate relationship with astrology. If you travel to northern Israel and tour synagogues from the Greek/Hellenized era of Jewish civilization, you will find imagery of the constellations. It is clear that astrology has been part of Jewish life since ancient times. And then we also find in the Talmud the admonition that there is no “fate” for the Jewish people. A purpose-driven life, according to the world view of the Talmudic-era, consists of obligation and action. A clear sense that we create our spiritual reality and our choices matter. Nothing has been decided. It is all in our hands.
Like my rabbinic predecessors, I too do not believe that all of reality has already been decided, that choices do not matter, that the heavens can pre-tell our fate. But I do love symbolism, seasons, and the movement of the planets and stars. And I also believe in the tide, the pull of forces beyond my comprehension. We humans have not yet figured out how all this, our world, works together. Finding meaning, wisdom, and guidance from our natural world embraces the power and pull of the night sky and at the same time, the scientific understandings we glean from that which is observable. This month we consider the goat, not that of petting zoos but the goat who balances precariously on the rocks of the mountains.
This new Jewish month of Tevet always falls between December and January. It is associated with the mazal, a constellation associated with, the goat or Capricorn. Penina Adel, in her Book “Miriams Well” teaches:
“The goat works its way slowly, laboriously up the mountain of winter. Though the path is treacherous, the goat never slips or falls. Sure-footed, firmly centered in the earth, the creature eventually reaches the summit.”
This winter reaching the summit is simply making it through the winter. The dark and cold, the isolation and limited reach of this pandemic winter, will weigh on us. It has only gotten darker and darker over the past few months. But this week things will begin to turn, little by little, towards light and warmth. Solstice arrives and this is when we begin the true trek which is the winter.
Like the goat, this winter we will find nourishment where we can find it—and our choices might be limited. The goat will eat, or try to eat, just about anything. They take chances and trust themselves, not in being heroic or adventuresome, but in the very act of surviving their environment-whatever that may be. We too will need to be tenacious in finding what we need to keep us going this winter.
This is the winter to regurgitation, like the goat. They chew, chew, chew their food, swallow it, and then bring it back up for more chewing. I know so much about the digestive habits of the gat because chewing of the cud is one factor that makes a mammal kosher. We can reread favorite books, rewatch favorite movies, revisit pictures and old journals. Bring things back up to our consciousness that we know informed who we have become. Chew. On your life. On that which gives you life. It will make you sure-footed, centered in who you are and how you got here.
And finally, like the goat, know that even though this trek might be slow and laborious, if we keep moving forward we will find signs of spring. Something fresh and new is brewing underground, by late January, in Israel at least, the almond tree will begin to bloom. We will weather this winter and on the other side, we will come outside and perhaps trek together, as a herd. A had with masks.
When you look up and see the moon is just a tiny silver sliver-know that a new month and a new cycle is at hand. And with that comes opportunities to grow and expand in new ways. Our tradition offers us a map, like that of the night sky, for seeking meaning and inspiration from the wisdom of the Universe, the ways in which our world works. Judaism also offers us traction in our hike upward. A spiritual and moral guide for our hands and feet in submitting. This month take inspiration from the goat. And watch the moon, feel the tides, let the season carry you through this sacred cycle called life.
Rosh Chodesh Prayer
By Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg
Dear God, God of our mothers and fathers,
Renew us this month and this year
Toward goodness and blessing
Toward the joyful
Toward liberation and challenge, as well as
Toward patience and consolation
Toward becoming ever more human beings.
Let us become capable of supporting ourselves,
Our families and friends,
Let us serve our community in dignity.
Toward life and peace
Toward observing our blindness
Toward struggling with our goals
Toward forgiving ourselves and each other.
You brought us near with an intention
You gave us the awareness of the cycles of the moon.
May we use this gift as an opportunity
To understand what you intend for us.
Thank you for inviting us to share your holiness and
This holy moment of the New Moon.