Rachel: The Diviner?

Sukkot 5781: Sukkah

Beloved of the Soul Siddur:
Soulful Prayers
gazed at me from a display table
at Kollel bookshop

a daily morning prayer book
written for people like me;
an answer to my prayer
for a siddur I could follow

without anxiety
about what bits I could pray
and what sections I had to leave out

when praying without a minyan;
when praying as a woman on my own;

delighted I was to learn that while each tribe
has its own prayer structure
there is a thirteenth one
inclusive of all twelve tribes;

This is the one Sara Evian uses
in her morning prayer siddur.
For me, it is a woman’s siddur,
one to empower the feminine within me…

The Sephardic siddur
I found rather intimidating,
particularly when it came to the Amidah,
the prayer that brings all my lineages together;

At what point do I include my own personal prayer?
What version is used on Shabbat?
And what on weekdays?

In addition, praying from the Sephardic Artscroll text
made me increasingly aware
that it is a Jewess I wish to be;

some of the texts burdened me
more so as I reflected
on the four matriarchs
and how they must have kept their own rituals;

For if it is a daughter of Rachel I am
Then like Rachel I must learn to be…

Or so I thought,

For the plumber who came to fix a leaking toilet
Noticing the morning prayer siddur on my laptop
Said, “Do you know she lives in Highlands North?
I have her husband’s number…”

And thus, I got to meet her

Through my rambling on
She reflected back to me
That I am not quite comfortable in my Jewish identity

That I am apologetic
When I have no need to be
Each one of us is different
Each travels a different path;

(I am aware of feeling
that I am treading on sacred ground
one that I am not yet worthy of

Linked to a childhood ‘knowing’
that I would never be allowed entry into the synagogue
I passed on my way to church…)

Time to release that to Source
For I know that I am welcome in Reform
I am welcome in Chabad
And perhaps one day in Sephardic synagogues as well

And who knows,
In time
In Orthodox spaces too?

In fact, I am
For the shul down the road is Orthodox,
Not Chabad as I always think it is,
And there too I have been made welcome.

Yet it feels as though the Chassidic tradition,
brought to earth by the Baal Shem Tov,
is the fulcrum around which my soul revolves

Or rather is the aspect of Adam Kodman
that my soul is most drawn to…

Regardless, I have put all such speculation aside for now
For in a meditation where I allowed myself to reach
the 24th rung on Jacob’s ladder
with each rung breaking after the fifth one

I interpreted it to mean
that there is no turning back
from the path of reverting to Judaism;

This my way
to clear the blemishes
I have gathered along the way

And secondly,
that there is no need to rush;
a ladder that gives way beneath me
is an unreliable ladder

Not Jewish:
if there is a way up
there must be a way down…

For even though the sense of trust in God to rescue me was immense
it was also potentially ego on the run;
so best stay with the five levels of the soul;

This then another reason this new siddur came my way
for the five levels of the soul
informs its conceptual structure

A joyful discovery
to see the Amidah,
the Standing Prayer,
aligned with Chayah,

which the author refers to as
The soul level of
Transcendental consciousness:
Unique soul voice,
Deepest will and desire

And this is what I wished to have verified:
Is it not also the ‘place’ where the ancestors of light reside?
or Google in the sky for the ancestor-forgetful?

For so long I have ‘known’ that the Amidah
is my most cherished prayer
and that it is here that elevation of all my ancestors
takes place

where heaven and earth meet
where the upper and lower worlds
gather as one;

where the appeasement
the negotiation
the mediation

the ‘Yes’ that is a ‘Yes’
and the ‘No’ that is a ‘No’
between my soul
and my ancestors takes place

all the weeping
and the pleading –
and the acceptance of what is

where patience
and resilience is strengthened
where trust in Havayah is birthed?

This is where the work of integrating all my ancestors takes place?

This I wanted to know
for during Sukkot,
I was reminded of many details
that I had put aside

The first one being that I may not leave any of my ancestors behind…

What does this mean?
It means that for Havayah they long;
Israelite souls
And Noachide souls…

Two branches of Torah?
Or the trunk of the Tree of Life?

For me it is the trunk
For in reading the midrash known as
The legends of the Jews

I discovered that we human beings are all Noachides
before tribal/national identities we take on:

for “He ordained the seven Noachian laws,
the observance of which is incumbent upon all men,
not upon Israel alone.”

Does this mean that the 613 mitzvot are
a filling out of these seven universal laws?
This makes more sense to me
for how else can we find unity in our diversity?

How else do all three sons of Noah
and their lineages
achieve peace with each other?

How else are the curses transmuted?
Brought into the light of forgiveness?
Elevated to universal sibling-hood?
Blessings become?

Which brings me back to Rachel
Remembered primarily for
saving her sister from shame,
by giving Leah the ‘signs’ that would enable Jacob
to think Leah was Rachel

And in so doing Rachel gave up her destiny as first wife of Jacob;
selflessness her stamp of merit is –
which according to a daring midrash
she used to call the jealousy of God into question

Persuaded Him to soften his attitude towards Israel’s idolators…

Was it through this merit of Rachel
that I was allowed back into the Jewish fold?
As will all Israelite souls
flailing in Sinai-forgetful deserts?

My sense of Rachel,
our matriarch,
is that she kept her own counsel;

And while there are many interpretations
of why she died
the one that resonates with me
is that Jacob unwittingly cursed her;

He could not believe that any member of his family
would have stolen Laban’s idols;

Outraged at this accusation from his father-in-law
unaware that Rachel
was the guilty one

Jacob said, “anyone with whom you find your gods
shall not remain alive!”

Although Laban did not find the idols,
For Rachel hid them very well

And even though the English translation of the text
suggests that Rachel wasn’t cursed
for the idols were not found,

still she died shortly thereafter
after giving birth to Benjamin
and before Jacob’s journey of return
was complete

like Moses she did not complete her journey;

This text has long been of interest to me
for it is presumed that the idols
were divination tools

I have no doubt that Rachel was a diviner
A she-shaman
A medicine woman

Yet unlike her father,
never a sorcerer.
Always selfless in her intention
and her use of her healing gifts?

In Jacob’s eyes the idols were an abomination;
In Rachel’s eyes were they simply tools
with which to serve her family?

And is the midrash
a reminder to the men of the nation of Israel
that the shamanic gifts of women
have a place in our understanding of who God is?

Not just masculine?

A treasure my new siddur is
An aid to guide my prayer path;
An added delight are the mystical insights
Written from left to right…

as a daughter of Rachel
I become

with gentleness
with ease
with equanimity
with joy

with confidence
with complete trust
in the Source of all sources…

(©Archaela 5781 Cheshvan 11-13)

Sources and Resources

“Beloved of the Soul” ¼ – A Conversation with Author Sara Evian:

The Anniversary of Rachel’s Death


Garment for the Light

Legends of the Jews 1.4: 64

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