Lessons from Na’amah and Noah – and A New Ritual for Cheshvan

I was asked last week to help lead a Rosh Chodesh (new moon or new month) group at the temple I joined a few months ago. I know several of the women who attend the group, and I felt honored to help come up with a theme and a program. The three of us threw around a lot of ideas but latched on to some that revolved around the week’s Torah portion, which told the story of Noah and the flood. I’d like to share with you the part of the evening I came up with. Maybe you will find it interesting and useful.

I thought about parshah Noach and it reminded me of something I am constantly trying to do – to go with the flow. I find that more often than not I am paddling up stream rather than with the current. Noah, however, did not paddle the ark at all. (It would have been a hard thing to do, mind you, with all those animals on board and so few humans to actual paddle such a large boat.) The ark just floated along, drifting in whatever direction the flow of the water dictated. One of the other women and I thought a discussion about flow in our lives might be appropriate.

One of the women also shared a midrash with me that I’d never heard before. She explained that Na’amah, Noah’s wife, was wise enough to plan for life after the flood by collecting the seeds of all the plants. These she brought with her onto the ark and later, after the waters receded, planted. Thus, we today enjoy the results of her wise action. I began thinking about planting seeds… I wondered how I could tie this in, especially at a time of year when most plants are going dormant. Then I remembered the bags of seeds that my mother had recently collected for me and that I had also collected while at her home from plants going dormant (to seed) in her garden. And if we hadn’t collected them, the seeds would have fallen to the ground only to lie there most of the winter until the warm spring weather accompanied by the damp earth would have caused them to sprout into new plants.

“Aha! The plants are going dormant,” I thought, “but like Na’amah, the plants actually are preparing for the future – planting seeds for the future.”

With that in mind, I created a new ritual for a month with no holiday – one of the other women leading with me had explained that Cheshvan is called the “sad month” for this reason – and no ritual of its own. Using a chant, called the “planting chant,” and a ritual I learned from Rabbi Shefa Gold, I tied this in to the idea of flood waters and the just past holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In the group, we discussed the fact that the month of Cheshvan comes right after the High Holy Days. Much like the passing of the secular New Year when we enter January with New Year’s resolutions, we enter Cheshvan with new “targets” we have set personally and spiritually (sometimes professionally as well), but by the time the new moon rises we may already have forgotten at what we planned to aim, stopped practicing or given up practicing at all. Some of us may not have even set targets. Thus, the new moon of Cheshvan provides the perfect time to plant a seed – a quality – that will allow us to follow through with our goals for the new year – and to weather the storms, the draughts, the floods of the new year as well. So, we each picked a quality, and together we planted it within our selves while chanting, “Vechayay olam natah betochaynu, Infinite life is planted within us.”

Thus, a new ritual for the month of Cheshvan was born and a quality was planted within each one of us. And surprisingly – or not – one of the women who attending the gathering showed up with plants for us all! She didn’t even know the theme of the evening, yet she brought a “Mother of Millions” for each of us – a plant that not only grows but produces more baby plants on its leaves, creating more plants constantly for the future. How perfect was that?

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