In the Bible portion of this week, the newly liberated Israelites grow troubled while waiting for Moses to descend from the mountain with Divine revelation. In their impatience and fear, they clamor to make themselves a new god, one whom they can see and touch and define, a more substantial and less abstract deity. In the well-known story, the mob persuades a beleaguered Aaron to build them the Golden Calf.
The women of Israel refuse to offer their gold bands and earrings to be melted down in the forging of this false idol. As a reward for their loyalty, the women are granted a holiday of their own, the first day of each lunar month; hence the celebration of the New Moon or rosh chodesh is set aside as a special observance for women. There is an obvious association between the cyclical nature of the moon and that of women’s menstruating bodies. But beyond that, I wonder why a new moon fete was an appropriate reward for the women’s refusal to participate in the Golden Calf.
It seems the women were able to live in a spiritual void without clinging to a perverse and fraudulent practice. They had less of a need for metaphysical certainty than did the men. Therefore they were able to be present in the not knowing, even if they had no more assurance than the men concerning Moses’ return and the reliability of this new God. They preferred a spiritual void to a desperate rush towards idolatry. This ability to be with the unknown shares an affinity with the first day of the month. When the moon is not visible, her waxing is also a matter of faith; we worship the possible in a dark moment.