On the Fringes

She had no business being there, and she knew it.  By law and custom, she should be at home.  Not just at home - alone.  As she had been for the last 12 years.

He was a famous rabbi.  So popular, large crowds followed him everywhere he went.  He was particularly well known for being a faith healer.  If I can just get near him, she thought…

The Greek New Testament was translated and interpreted by men - that much is obvious.  They argue about the exact nature of the woman’s condition.  One noted Biblical scholar that I recently read referred to it as “internal bleeding.”  Internal, my foot.  It’s not really hard to diagnose, even at a distance of 2,000 years.  Endometriosis, possibly, or uterine fibroids.  Difficult to treat today, except by surgical means.  Impossible then.  

And so she lived her life on the fringes, denied regular human contact, lest she spread her uncleanliness. 

There’s a word for what she did next - chutzpah.  Braving the crowds, pushing to get close to him, trying to touch - not him - but the hem of his garment, but not really the hem (that’s another poor translation), the fringe.  The tzitzit.

And she did.  And he felt it.  He turned around.  “Who touched me?” he demanded.  That was crazy talk!  The crowd was literally pressing in on him on all sides!  But she knew who he meant.  Because she had been healed, and she felt that.  

“Daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.”  Not the tzitzit, not even him.  Her faith.  

Tzitzit are important.  They are a reminder of the Jewish law, and an outward sign of faith and faithfulness.  But they are not the same thing.  Not at all. 

Winding the shammash thread around the tzitzit.

Winding the shammash thread around the tzitzit.

A Prayer for Weaving

I sat down to start weaving on the tallit the other night - finally!  What is the appropriate prayer, I wondered, for starting to weave?  Treadle, the shed raises, throw the shuttle in, catch it coming out the other side, close the shed, beat, all that again.  Weaving is this repetitive motion of up and down, in and out.  Coming and going.  

And there it was, my prayer for weaving.  “The Lord bless thy going out and thy coming in.” A prayer for me, for the wearer.  Also a prayer for perfect selvedges.  


This phrase is used several places in the Bible.  First in Deuteronomy, where the Lord promises to bless those who follow His commandments.  It’s also the close of Psalm 121:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

I’m thinking about this while I weave.  A favorite psalm.  A song based in this psalm was sung at my wedding - “A Simple Song” by Steven Schwartz and Leonard Bernstein.

Blessed is the man who loves the Lord,
Blessed is the man who praises Him.
Lauda, Lauda, Laude
And walks in His ways.
I will lift up my eyes
To the hills from whence comes my help.
I will lift up my voice to the Lord
Singing Lauda, Laude.

I sing as I weave (singing badly - it’s a difficult tune).  Bernstein was a brilliant composer.  Brilliant, but challenging.  I’m thinking about Bernstein and Schwartz as I weave.  Two Jewish men writing a musical about a Roman Catholic Mass.  Kind of like a Christian weaving a tallit for a Jewish friend.  

Also wondering about how “the moon shall not smite me by night.”  The sun, I get, but the moon, I don’t know.  I keep weaving.  


Rending of Garments

rend (verb): to tear (the hair or clothing) as a sign of anger, grief, or despair  - The Merriam-Webster Dictionary

It was quite a week.  First a few, then a flood, on our social media feeds.  #metoo #WhyIdidntreport.  Each story unique, and also sickeningly familiar.  

I was a freshman in college.  I was fifteen. I was five. I was twelve the first time I was raped.

I was walking home from a party. He was my boyfriend. My uncle. The father of my friend.

I reported to the police, but they didn’t do anything. I thought it was my fault, My mother didn’t believe me.  I was ashamed - it was 50 years ago, this is the first time I’ve told anyone.

The anger has overcome the grief and despair.  Not seven sisters gathered to expose their hearts, but seventy times seven.

Don’t you dare disbelieve me.  Don’t you dare blame me.  Don’t you dare make excuses for him.  Don’t you dare think any less of me.  And don’t you dare treat me the way you’re treating her.

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I am preparing to weave a tallit for a friend who will be celebrating her b’nai mitzvah in November.  My usual practice would be to work in prayers of blessing and thanksgiving.  But my heart is heavy.  As I pick up each thread and pull it through the heddle, I think of the women - friends and strangers - whose stories I have read this week. I think of the familiar words of the psalmist: “He restores my soul.”  So many souls to be restored. I say a prayer for restoration, for peace, and - dare I ask it! - justice. 

Weaving is the opposite of rending.  It is making something new and whole from all of the threads that go into it.  And a prayer shawl isn’t made just for the joyful prayers, and the prayers of thanksgiving, but also for the prayers of anguish and “O Lord, from the depths of despair I cry for your help.”

It’s late, and tomorrow is another day.   The psalmist also says “joy comes in the morning.”  Lord, hear our prayer.