The new moon is Scorpio on November 15th is also the beginning of the month of Kislev. This year it falls on Sigd, the Ethiopian holiday commemorating the Jew’s relationship with G-d and receiving of the Torah. During this holiday it is customary to read the book of Nehemiah which is all about new beginnings and working together to build a Jewish community. The story starts off in the month of Kislev, the month of miracles, and Nehemiah takes it upon himself to help the Israelites rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. What’s interesting about the story is not the prophet Nehemiah going to help the Israelites build the wall, but the way in which the process is documented.
We enter the scene just as Nehemiah learns the wall around Jerusalem is breached and the city is ruins, but there was hope for the Israelites. They had the will to rebuild and so, like the Scorpio with a little strategy and a miracle from G-d, …. that is just what they did. As Black people it’s easy to see how the Book of Nehemiah is relevant to our current situation. Our communities have been ravaged by Covid-19, there are high unemployment rates, economic inequality and so much more, but there is hope. Just as the month of Kislev is starting, we as a community are also on the precipice of a new beginning. We recently learned Joe Biden will be our next President of the United States with Kamala Harris, the first woman and Black person to serve as Vice-President. The change in leadership has injected new life into our communities, but we must begin the difficult task of rebuilding. As we restore our homes, families, and economic power, the Book of Nehemiah provides great insight into community building.
As the Israelites begin to rebuild each person took responsibility for his portion of the wall. Everyone was working towards the same goal while tending to their own individual piece, which can also be symbolic of our unique gifts or contributions. And as they transformed the ruined city no one’s portion held more importance over the other. In fact, Hashem felt the concept of valuing each member of the community to be so essential that it is described in detail in Chapter 3 of Nehemiah.
“Then Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests set to and rebuilt the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and set up its doors, consecrating it as far as the Hundred’s Tower, as far as the Tower of Hananel. Next to him, the men of Jericho built. Next to them, Zaccur son of Imri. The sons of Hassenaah rebuilt the Fish Gate; they roofed it and set up its doors, locks and bars. Next to them, Meremoth son of Uriah son of Hakkoz repaired; and next to him, Meshullam son of Berechiah son of Meshezabel. Next to him son of Baana repaired.” Nehemiah Chapter 3:1-3
A lawyer is just as important as a construction worker who is just as important as the electrician. A lawyer can’t build the foundation of home, the same way a construction worker can not write a deed to protect it, the same way only the electrician can wire the house for lights. Hashem thought this concept was so important to community building the entirety of Chapter 3 is a list of who was next in line to rebuild their portion of the wall. This concept is central to the Jewish community and at the heart of community building.
But before Nehemiah begins to rebuild or transform Jerusalem he prays for his people. His prayer is full of compassion, expressing a deep tenderness for the Jewish people. This reminds us how intensely we should love each other before we can even think about rebuilding.
“Let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open to receive the prayer of your servant that I am praying to You now, day and night, on behalf of the Israelites….” Nehemiah 2:6
Nehemiah fasted and prayed for his people, petitioning G-d to forgive them. As Black folks we have united to bring about leadership that will thrust us forward into a new era. While we wait for the transition of power, let us take this time to cultivate a loving community with the same tenderness and compassion for each other that Nehemiah had for the Israelites. Rebuilding takes time and it isn’t easy. As the Israelites rebuilt their city they came up against obstacles, but their love for each other and their heritage kept them fervent and strong.
“I told them of my G-d’s benevolent care for me, also of the things that the king had said to me and they said. “Let us start building!” They were encouraged by his benevolence.” Nehemiah 2:18
Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes they rebuilt. And they built, and built, and built. Even in the face of mockery and intimidation they built. As their enemies hated and became threatened by their efforts, they built.
“When Sanballat and Tobiah, and the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that healing had come to the walls of Jerusalem, that the breached parts begun to be filled it angered them very much.” Nehemiah 4:2
And when they were finally able to dwell in the city, they were reminded to praise G-d, even as they remembered everything their ancestors endured, and that they themselves escaped. Nehemiah brought the Israelites back to their roots after facing a very tough time. The prophet reminded them that praising G-d is important to their livelihood, especially when tempted to remember everything they had been through. He also stressed the importance of keeping Shabbat symbolizing their right to rest and deepen their relationship with G-d.
“….Do not be sad, for your rejoicing in the Lord is the source of your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
As we transform our community, we must also remember what is important in our own lives and what keeps our community intact. When we look at each other we must remember we are looking back at ourselves. Our community is only a reflection of the amount of love and care we put into it. Just like the Scorpio whose strength comes from within; our strength as Black people comes from within our community and with help from the miracles that have guided us along the way.
For more information on Sigd and other black Jewish content go to TzipporahsTent.org