30-Day Tzitzit Challenge: Each Tzitzit has its Place

From Pirke Avot 4:3
He [Ben Azzai] would also say: Do not scorn any person and do not discount any thing. For all of us have our hour, and all things have their place. 

Wednesday night, I sat down with a minyan’s worth of others to tie my tzitzit so that I could start the 30-Day Tzitzit Challenge on my way home; but tying tzitzit is like knitting without the needles. So, I only finished one and half of the sacred fringes that night.

On Thursday morning, I began work again. I finished the second batch and moved on to the third. Each bundle of threads was supposed to have three threads of equal length and one longer thread – four threads, which, when folded over, gives you eight threads to tie into tzitzit for one corner of your garment.

When I got to that third batch of threads, Thursday morning, I realized I was missing one of the threads. So, what could I do?

  1. I could wait until I got another kosher thread from Rabbi Berkowitz.
  2. I could find a thread in my copious supply of needlework supplies – no sarcasm, I have an absurdly copious supply of yarn, embroidery yarn, quilting thread, twine, string, and so on; I could clothe an arctic expedition if I could knit fast enough . . . but I digress.
  3. I could create the third tzitzit bundle, one thread shy.

I chose that third option because it reminds me of the tension between ritual and meaning, between convention and creation, between enough and plenty, between what we think of as complete or acceptable or right and what really is. Are tzitzit defined by how well they fit the rabbis’ time-worn definition or are they defined by how well they remind us of God’s commandments? Are people defined by how well they blend in with what our society expects or are they defined by how well they express their individual gifts and strengths.

I realized that my third bundle of threads is as important as the rest of my tzitzit, that it is as whole and full as the rest, and that it has a sacred place in my practice along each other person and each other thing.

POSTSCRIPT: I translated Ben Azzai’s text faithfully, but not accurately, meaning the text says “there is no man without his hour, and there is no thing without its place.” With this text, most especially, I think it’s necessary to tease the sexist language away from the meaning.


Just Short of the Western Wall (July 2008) (Revised)

Deuteronomy 30:14: The thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart.

I went to the Western Wall today, to pray,
where pious men gossip with those sacred stones.
As if God would hear my prayers amid all that noise,
all the vinegar and shriveled fish they spit upon those giant stones.
It’s a wonder they can stand.

I did not pray there, would not go near,
Among such hopes and cares and dark purpose
As would curdle honey.

Would not even approach with the women,
more demure than my modesty could allow,
tentative and shy before our Almighty God.
Prayers clambering for purchase,
stifling a gasp or cry as each fell.
No matter the height,
each fell.

That was the only skirt she owned.
This was a straw hat that should keep out only the sun.
This was only her shoulder slipping out from under her shawl,
like the moon, renewed no matter what insults might be hurled at it.

In the holiness of that open courtyard
and that wide blue sky,
in the presence of fragile prayers,
glassy and flawed,
not kilned quite strictly enough,
I found a stone in my heart,
as wide as a man could hope to reach,
as steep as a cliff, as warm as the beach,
as deep as the dark in the core of your eye,
and oh, so, so whole.

No cracks for our sorrows,
nor footholds for our disfigured hopes,
and the stone still smells of endless fires
and the things that burn like perfume
in the smoke.

No, No More

No, she said,
more breath than song,
the tone crisped away to ashes,
the lilt fired to a brittle heap,
the hope charred and sharpened:
all embers and shards
left behind to barb anything else
she wished to say.


Yes, he said,
his hand thrust out to catch the words,
crush them into a lump of glowing coal,
and fling them harder still,
that they might leave behind a weeping sore,
and the scent of burning feathers
and blistered stumps
where the wings
might once have been.

Wolves in the Whitehouse (and Other Places of Power)

Hypothesis: Powerful men seem to get away with sex crimes against women, almost all the time.

Theory: I wonder if we let the man in power get away with these acts of violence because we can’t get past the idea that we need to appease the man in power.

And why would we need to appease him? Maybe because we are trying to stay off his radar or because we are trying to get something out of him or because the next guy is bound to be much worse or because we like most of what this man in power does and we forgive as much of the other stuff as we can stomach. Unfortunately, our stomachs can develop a tolerance to just about anything if we add Mary Poppins’ spoonful of sugar’ to it.

And God help us if we allow these acts of aggression because we biologically desire or need the seed of the man in power to be spread widely to somehow enrich the evolution of our species because I don’t think that’s working. And, thereby we stub our toe on genocide. But I digress . . .

I think, though, my theory explains why I get so angry at people like John Edwards and Bill Clinton. Angrier at them than at dirtier crooks like Murdoch (whom I despise). I expect crap from the bad guys, but I wanted Bill Clinton’s intelligence and perseverance in the White House, and I wanted John Edwards’ commitment to the poor and to justice in the White House  (not to mention everything that Elizabeth, זייל, and Hilary would bring — oops I did). Damn those guys for being the wolves they were and betraying my admiration for them.

And maybe my theory explains why it’s so hard to get a woman elected to the White House, and why women seem to be terrifying in high places. We can’t figure out how to appease them. It might require honor and constancy to appease a woman, and that’s so much harder than simply allowing her to spread her seed and get away with it.

I tend to reject the idea that there are gender-based predispositions toward qualities like nurturing or peace-loving; so I am challenged to imagine whether or not women would turn into wolves if we put them in the White House and other seats of power. Is it the power and the sex that drives this issue or is it the gender? Neither answer appeases me.

Just Short of the Western Wall (July 2008)

Deuteronomy 30:14 . . . the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.

I did not pray at the Western Wall,
but I promise I will pray there
one day.

I will pray there, one day,
when I can pray beside my sons
and my sons can pray beside me.

Until that day,
I reject the holiness of that ancient structure
and honor the holiness of the pavement
on which I stood and watched others pray with generosity and love.
I reject the holiness of those great, sunny stones
and honor the holiness of my small, whole heart.
I reject the holiness of a practice that suggests
that one person might not be fit to pray beside another
and honor the holiness of the open courtyard and wide, blue sky,
and searing ache of bottomless loss and fragile hope
that rests upon every present shoulder
without regard for gender, race, religious practice, life experience,
political affiliation, guilt, shame, health, or any other human quality
bestowed upon us by the divine source of creation.

God is not in the Wall;
God is in our intentions.
Perhaps, another person could bring that intention
to the Wall and make it holy —
stones or self or sorrow;
but I could not.
So, I chose to bring my intention just short of the Wall,
where I found holiness most profound in me.

–Heidi E. H. Aycock

My view of the Western Wall this summer, 2008. The division leading from my vantage point to the wall separates the men from the women, meaning, I could not pray at the wall with Jon and Vince. So I stayed back. Other women in our group chose to pray at the wall for the very reason I chose not to. Either way, I think we all felt stronger because of our choices.