Friday September 29th 2017
“Your love for me is deep. We have a long relationship. I first met you as a child. I have observed your growth and setbacks. Some days we are distant. Others we are close. But I am still with you. I have aged with man. I am eternal. I will never die. You find sustenance on me today, but so many others do also. If you throw me away, I will miss you, and you will miss me. When you are no longer here, others will continue to live off of me. I am timeless.”
This poem describes a Kabbalistic rendition of Azazel explored in the Zohar. Azazel is described in Jewish texts as the destination into the wilderness of two he-goats equal in age, size and appearance, who are cast away with the sins of Israel during Yom Kippur. However, here in this poem, in the Zohar, as also referenced in the Kabbalah, Azazel is not a place, but rather the seed of Lilith, who in Jewish folklore was Adam’s first wife. Lilith, according to a brief midrash in Genisis Rabbah, is Adam’s first wife. She is explored further in the Alphabet of Ben Sira, who elaborates on her determination to not serve in a subservient gender role to man. She is replaced with Eve, but returns in Jewish folklore as a demonic entity.
There is something deeply spiritual in these references. Good and Evil, angels and demons are subjects often avoided in progressive Judaism. However, there is still something spiritually uplifting in this folklore.
Several years ago, I was honored to take several classes taught by Rabbi Jill Hammer at The Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, New York.
Jill Hammer, who has contributed greatly to the Jewish Renewal Movement, and also wrote Siddur HaKohanot, is deeply committed to preserving folk Judaism. Lilith has been adopted as a symbol for Jewish feminism. In the Jewish magazine, Lilith Jill explores the narrative of Lilith’s confrontation against the patriarchy.
Hammer, in an article entitled, “Lilith Lady Flying in Darkness” writes, “Once a source of fear, Lilith has been transformed into an icon of freedom. While some disapprove of this widespread embrace of a former demon, Lilith’s rehabilitation makes sense. The frightening character of Lilith grew, in part, out of repression… repression of the free impulse in women… As modern Jews begin to ask questions about [gender], freedom, and choice more directly, Lilith becomes a complex representation of our own desires.”
Folklore has its place in progressive Judaism. Lilith, from our tradition, offers a narrative into modern times including themes of feminism and liberty. The Zoharic description of Azazel may enrich our understanding of sin and its origins. If Lilith represents the unbounding of the patriarchy and freedom, Azazel— born from the dissemination of authority— may be the product of liberty and freedom. The modern Jew was born from these forces. Lilith may be a source of liberty, but it is up to us to fight good and evil in making our own moral and ethical decisions with choice through knowledge, one of the core tenets of Reform Judaism. Modernity gave us these tools, tools we must be grateful for. Ken yehi ratzon.
Supplementary poetry for Yom Kippur service
A Hineni prayer
Hineni, I am before you G-d with all my imperfections
Humbly, I stand before with you all my imperfections, in your house with all my blemishes
My failures and my transgressions
My faults and misdeeds
My sins and actions
Please give me success on the road I tread, compassion, rahamim, I am a sinner I do wrong.
I remember … Zochrenu
I remember those lost and departed
I remember the family
I remember the grandparent
I remember the friend
I remember the loss
The land and countries of my forefather
I remember the world changed
I remember what has been lost and will always appreciate what cannot ever be remembered
The pain, the suffering, the sin
Let it be all be gone unto the depths of the sea
New beginnings, new paths, let us begin
May we move forward and do earnestly try to be better people
But always remember
Ashamnu 24 words or phrases
Out of misguided intention and love
It is true that both our forefathers and ourselves have sinned
We have sinned
We have learned sin
We have forgotten our path
We have rebelled
We have betrayed
We have persecuted
We have damaged our world
We have been corrupted
We have strayed
We have been terrible
We have faltered
We have given bad advice
We have scored
We have led others astray
We have spoken slander
We have not acted faithfully
We have provoked
We have transgressed the oppressed
We have fallen silent
We have been violent
We have been bystanders
We will return home with guided love
Grant us forgiveness for our sins
If one of your sins could give you advice what would it say?
Your love for me is deep. We have a long relationship. I first met you as a child. I have observed your growth and setbacks. Some days we are distant. Others we are close. But I am still with you. I have aged with man. I am eternal. I will never die. You find sustenance on me today, but so many others do also. If you throw me away, I will miss you, and you will miss me. When you are no longer here, others will continue to live off of me. I am timeless.