Tent Ritual for 1 Nisan

In the Talmud, 1 Nisan is the new year of the spring, marking the beginning of the cycle of months. It was also the day that the Israelites set up their wandering Tabernacle, their dwelling for the Divine, for the first time. And, it was the day the prophet Miriam died. This author creates a Tabernacle (mishkan) out of a tallit to dedicate sacred objects in and to educate her young daughter. She uses water in her ritual to recall the well of water that, according to legend, followed Miriam in the wilderness.

It was a nice day, so my three-year-old daughter and I decided to do the ritual outside. I made a circle of roses in the backyard, but it was bright so I moved us under the apple tree where I suspended a tallit.

“This is how we can make ourselves a special Jewish place anywhere, by
hanging up a tallit.”

“Like shul?,” she asked.

“Yes. When the Israelites wandered in the desert, they would make a temple, it was like an ohel, a tent, and that's what we have made here. Today, the first of Nisan, is when the mishkan was built and Hashem came into it for the first time. So today we are making a mishkan to remember what they did and to welcome spring and the new year of our people.” (I used Hashem rather than Shekhinah language since this is what she is most familiar with because of her studies in a Jewish school.)

“When they set up the mishkan, there would be a 7-branched menorah in the north." ( I pointed out the Channukah menorah in the north with only 7 wicks in it). “There was a table with 12 loaves of bread, kind of like our challah!" (I pointed to the bread and food in the west.) “There were incense and water libations.” I pointed to the incense in the east, and the water pitcher in the west.

“And we are sitting under this tallit in our ohel, our mishkan, surrounded by things that remind us of the ,em>beit hamikdash (Temple) and the mishkan Moshe Rabeinu (Moses our teacher) built. Somewhere in the center there was an empty place that nobody would go. That is where Hashem or Shekhinah would be. This is why in the center I have a circle of roses, where we will not go.”

I explained everything in our space under the tallit: a “Four species” lulav, similar to the one for Sukkot (3 palm branches bound as one, 3 myrtle branches, 2 shade tree branches, and 1 lemon (etrog substitute), and a sprig of jasmine for added scent). These were what was readily available and what I felt would work for me. She really liked that.
My daughter lit the incense and said a blessing over the incense. Next I lit the fire of the menorah, with a blessing for fire, but the wind blew it out so I didn't stress. Just its presence was enough. I took my lulav and while sitting I circled it around the space seven
>times while saying a blessing for the new season. My daughter did that as well, the circling of the “lulav.”

Next I took each item of dedication for the new year and said how I planned on using it Jewishly to honor Hashem, for the new year. I sprinkled water from the pitcher on it, and then passed the item around the circle saying: “For blessing and not for curse, for abundance and prosperity and not for hunger, for life and not for death, so mote it be."

After all the objects were dedicated in this manner, I sat silently for a while in personal prayer. Then I took the spring “lulav” and poured the rest of the water in the pitcher over it, emptying the vessel, then I shook the wet “lulav” sprinkling water in the six directions while saying the six seasons from the covenant of G-d with Noah and creation (heat, cold, summer, winter, seedtime and harvest, day and night shall not cease).

Finally, I took our havdalah implements and did an informal spring havdalah (inspired by Jill Hammer’s writings and the Shabbat havdalah, done from memory). I poured grape juice and said a bracha. I smelled the spices and incense and said a blessing. I lit the braided candle and said a blessing. I drank some grape juice, extinguished the flame with the rest, and said a blessing for the seasons and a shechechiyanu (blessing over joyful times).
I ritually washed my hands with "water of life" from my water bowl and pitcher to end the ritual, and I washed the hands of my daughter 3 times on each hand each as well. We both held up our hands still under the tallit and said the "netilat yadayim" blessing over handwashing. We said a bracha for bread which we then ate.

With the formality of ritual over, we hung out eating and drinking under the tallit and singing some Jewish melodies.

Karen Enfield is a writer and ritualist living on the West Coast.

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