This week, I had the honor and privilege of helping to welcome four young women into the Jewish Community as they performed the ritual immersion at the mikveh. Each one came to Judaism from a different background and for different reasons; all shared the desire to be a part of something larger than themselves, and each felt that Judaism and Jewish practice spoke to a deep place within themselves. What struck me most was the combination of excitement and nervousness each woman expressed; the understanding that their ritual immersion represented a new life; and for some, a feeling of “coming home.”
For me, Judaism was a given–never a choice to be made–and to see someone excited about kabbalat ol mitzvot, “taking on the yoke/responsibilities of the commandments,” reminded me of the richness and beauty of Judaism that I’ve often taken for granted. Accepting the mitzvot is about much more than what one can or can’t eat, or whether you can do a jigsaw puzzle on Shabbat, or even fasting on Yom Kippur. It’s about seeing the world through new eyes; and about seeing what was always in front of us.
All religions teach the importance of behaving properly towards others; Judaism hasn’t cornered the market on ethical and moral behavior, but it does add a level of kedusha, “sanctity” to our everyday activities, which is often what gets lost when rituals and thinking become routine, mundane.
I wish I could be a fly on the wall this Friday evening as these women light Shabbat candles for the first time as Jews, and as I prepare to light mine, circling my hands three times, I’ll bring them into that circle. They’ll join millions of women around the world, along with their spiritual ancestresses, in welcoming the Shekhina (God’s sheltering, feminine aspect) and Shabbat Bride, and bring the world a little closer to perfection.
As we approach the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, also called the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, may we blessed to see not only our Judaism and Jewish practice through new eyes, but our world. as well.