Thursday, January 21, 2010

Parshat Bo-"Moon of the World"

In this week's parashah, the narrative of Ha--Shem's smiting of the Egyptians nearly reaches its pinnacle. In addition, B'nei Israel receive our first exclusive mitzvah in the Torah, that of sanctifying Rosh Chodesh--the new month announced by the emergence of a new moon. The Zohar comments that Israel is asked to sanctify the moon because we are "the moon of the world." Further, Chassidic commentaries remark that the first thing created was time itself, thus it is logical to make the first mitzvah time related.

I have been playing a lot with the idea of "no self" and the illusion/delusion of self identity. Of course, there is no self, but we constantly are , of course, an individual, an entity unto ourselves as paradoxical as the statement seems. I am fascinated by how Judaism's emphasis on nationhood, the tribe, and Jewish community very much act as mystical mechanisms for reinforcing the self. Our prayers are almost exclusively spoken in the first-person plural (we) which taken literally may appear simply national, but I believe the work this does goes beyond historical narrative. Praying in the "we" forces us to downplay the "I" and strive for the lack of self that leads to devekut , nirvana, revelation, what you will. As I learned in a beautiful parable this week, a big wave was depressed because he could see the shore of the ocean and knew that eventually he would crash into the beach. He warned a little wave about his inevitable fate and began crying out about it. In response, the little wave replied to him. "You are not a wave, you are WATER." In Judaism, through our prayer we constantly assert, we may be Ploni Almoni but we are also a member of a nation. The nation constantly humbles the self.

This is an idea that I play with in the poem. I've attempted to write verse in terza rima, the rhyme scheme invented by Dante Alighieri to compose my favorite poem of all time, La Divina Commedia.
Please enjoy and Shabbat Shalom!

Moon of the world,
When midnight comes,
Darkness unfurls

Trumping the sun,
Humble yourself,
The self is done,

And seize that wealth,
That melts like hail.
But not in stealth--

Squirm like a snail,
Not a locust--
Swallowing, frail,

Wings flicking dust
of pharaoh's fruit--
But naked trust

As east winds hoot,
And hum like sparks,
In darkness mute.

Be a skylark,
Severe your voice.
Suckle those sparks.

This is your choice,
Moon of the world.

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