Two holes, about a foot deep, have been dug in the garden before the ceremony. I stand between them holding my womb in a hard pottery bowl to have it blessed and purified by the pouring of water from a pottery pitcher.
We draw from our depths the essentials of our sustenance. Our spiritual thirst has caused us to look for new ways of cleansing our bodies and souls.
Water, wells, the Sea of Reeds,
the sea of the womb and now a mikveh of song.
Women are like water.
We flow together naturally like rivers into the sea.
We flow from inside to outside to each other.
We flow with blood.
We flow with milk.
We flow with words.
We flow with song.
All say while a friend pours water over the womb:
Women are like water.
We flow and flow and flow.
Shekhinah is like water.
She bubbles from below.1
(Transfers womb to green-ware bowl for planting.)
Soon after a boy is born, it is necessary to circumcise him to put an ot brit, a sign of the covenant, on his body. A girl needs no such sign put on her. She already bears one within – it is her womb.
The womb symbolizes the repository of the life force, the Holy of Holies where life is sanctified. A baby girl is born with this covenant of life in her body.
I offer my womb as a covenant, returning it to the earth, honoring the Source of all life. As I plant it in the ground, my mourning is complete and I am released from this part of my life.
I cover this gift with soil knowing that for every thing there is a season. In choosing to do this, I help my mother move on, as she has given me life, has helped me grow, and will continue her help as I move through the life cycle.
(Sara throws a handful of earth over my womb. There is precedent here in the ritual planting of a male infant's foreskin. This tradition to represent the returning of a body part, preferably next to a tree – the tree of life – and to signify a covenant with God. This is to be distinguished from burial of limbs in a grave site from the Orthodox tradition.)
(Two pear tree saplings were planted, one over the womb and the other in the empty hole.)
This to signify that for a woman biological fertility is one way of fulfilling her creative potential, but there are satisfying challenges in the next phase of life. These trees are planted close enough to each other so that the branches will be entwined. Like a tree, may I stand firmly grounded while the life process helps me branch out in new directions over space and across time. I pray that I will remain fruitful in spirit, mind, and deed and be able to reach meaningfully from my essence to that which is most human in others.
May the roots of the trees spread down deep and wide into the hidden and mysterious depths of the earth. May they draw up the vital sap of life. May the Shekhinah, praised be She, pour down the precious water of the depths on all who have joined in this healing today. May the rings of these trees bear witness to the power at each of our centers which radiates from core outward. May we continue to open out in the eternal light of God, praised be She.
(I say a few words about the journey that led me to this literally ground breaking ceremony. I publicly made a commitment to TIKKUN OLAM.)
(A friend sings ETZ CHAYIM, celebrating the tree of life).
The dances are started by another friend. We begin to dance with traditional steps and then express our own steps to represent the uniqueness of every soul and the importance of freedom of individual expression.
Second dance, Mayim, water, represents a clean start and nourishment from the unconscious or spiritual center.)
(My husband, who along with the other men have been helping to support the celebration of this separate women's healing ceremony, has been entertaining the children and organizing the potluck dinner indoors. At the sound of the shofar they come outside to meet us in the garden.)
Let's tell the story of Lilith who was Adam's wife before Eve. This is a midrash on the Creation story, an echo of the legend which explains the inequality of the sun and the moon, a response to the question: Why wasn't Eve created from the dust of the earth as was Adam?
The first woman was named Lilith, meaning "Night Being." Like Adam, she was created from the dust of the earth. Since they were of equal origin, Lilith felt completely justified in refusing to lie beneath Adam when they made love.
But Adam could not tolerate this. He complained to this Creator. "What kind of woman have you made for me? She refused to do as I say."
By this time Lilith had left Adam. She had simply uttered the secret name of God and then flown away.
God sent three angels after her, to ask if she would comply with her husband's needs and return to him. The angels told her that if she refused to come back, hundreds of her children would be drowned in the Sea of Reeds every day. Lilith did not have to deliberate long before making her decision – she chose never to return to Adam.
Genesis contains the notion that Lilith's successor Eve should be ruled over by her husband Adam. Though we have not been comfortable with this interpretation, and we have all worked hard to live out our notions of full partnership, we do live in a culture which has absorbed this myth. There has been a cultural interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve involving the infliction of painful childbirth on women as punishment.
Lilith had to leave Adam, and Eve had to live a subordinated life. What a dilemma for an adult woman.
The myths of Lilith and Eve need to be integrated so that women can live expressing their free and separate perceptions of the world and be heard with respect, as well as being receptive to their husbands' needs and desires. This takes continual effort.
Today we recommit ourselves to continue to speak to each other in our own voices. This means first finding the voice or form of expression unhampered by expectations or fear of what the other will "think" or leer about the value or authenticity of that voice. Zalman Schecter has said that God is a verb. We also commit ourselves to actively support values and causes which show respect and reverence for the spirit as well as for mother earth.
(Ben takes Nancy's hands and says a few words about his intention to continue living, loving, and working in partnership.)
She'll shine for you who fear my name
The SUN of righteousness
With healing in her wings.2
A prayer for the future
May we live to see the words of Your prophet fulfilled: "Then the light of the moon will be like the light of the SUN, and the light of the SUN will be sevenfold, as the light of the seven days. In the day the Lord binds up the break of His people and heals the bruise of their wound."
Sh'ma Yisra'el, Adonal Eloheinu, Adonai echad.
Hear O Israel, The Lord Our God, The Lord is One.
Anna says the b'rakhah over the wine and the motzi over the bread.
Rabbi Laura Geller, Rabbi and Zippy Heckelman, Rabbi Mindy Portnoy, Carol Rose, David Shneyer, Rabbi Zalman Schechter. Special thanks to my beloved husband Ben Shneiderman and beautiful children Sara and Anna, without whose love and patient support I could not have completed this transition so fully.
Originally published in the CCAR Journal, Fall 1998. CCAR Journal is copyright 1988 by the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Used by permission.
1. Penina Adelman, Miriam's Well
2. (Malachi 3:20)