Today was Rosh Hodesh Menachem Av, the first day of the month of Av. We sang Hallel, a special section of psalms and praise that's my favorite part of services. I remembered Passover, the last time I heard Hallel, when my joy was diluted by tears at the anticipation of an unknown and frightening journey. Hallel, I realized today, will always remind me of the thin line that separates happiness and sadness, as well as the inadequacy of even the most glorious of songs to express my gratitude to God for helping me navigate safely through that narrow place.
After services I went to a study group--for women only, in keeping with the tradition of new moon celebrations--where we read the beginning of Psalm 130 ("A song of Ascent. Out of the depths I call to You;") and discussed the task, to be taken willingly this month, of exploring our own depths as a sort of prequel to the all-out soul-searching of Elul and the countdown to the High Holidays. "Menachem," meaning "comforter" or "consoler," is often added to the name of the month to remind us that we're not alone during our search, and that the only way out, once at the bottom, is to ascend. We wished each other, as I do everyone reading this, a fruitful, productive descent followed by a going up of abundant goodness, clarity, and joy.