Thursday, February 18, 2010

Terumah: Between Me and You (The Love Song of the Cherubs)

Terumah: Between Me and You (The Love Song of the Cherubs)

Between me and you—
only ten handbreaths.

I see your face across the sweet smoke of incense,
I see you rising like reverse rain.
I see your face in the flapping of our wings
above the smolder, before the ark,

Shielding you from me, me from you,

rainbow blues.

Between me and you—
only shooting stars and elements.
Fire, water, man, unmanned, horizons and sunsets, almond blossoms and anointing oils.

Between me and you—the crack of the atom, the fraction of the self, a single talent of gold.

Between me and you—

different faces of the same chlld.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mishpatim: Pierce Me

I am trying to make sense of the Torah's mandate of slavery and how it leads off this week's Torah portion. Judaism is obsessed with freedom. Our liturgy seems to mention yetsi'at mitzraim (the exodus) as the eternal paradigm that we must constantly remember and be aware of. The exodus is not only a historical leave-taking, not only the intervention of G-d into history, not only the quintessential moment in the trajectory of the Jewish people, it is also the mythic symbol of our own weaning away from the metzarim or boundaries (read: objects, desires, ego) that inhibit us spiritually.

Why then does Parshat Mishpatim begin with the laws of bondage of another Jew? There are many explanations of this including that slavery was a given in that society and the Torah simply legislates the most ethical way of doing this. Although this appeals to me on the spectrum of morality and with the argument of historical development, my inclination to try and see the spiritual meaning in all pesukim led me to this poetic treatment of the law of retz'ia or marking the ear, as treated in masechet kiddushin 16b and 21a. . Thank you for reading and Shabbat Shalom!

Pierce me

Pierce me
with shards of mountain air
with clouds of fire.

Pierce me like a shriek
Through the still, sleeping tents.
Like the truth to a liar.

Pierce me through the ear,
And I will be your servant
Even after six years
Of bondage.

Pierce me,
so I may better hear
the sound of freedom.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Yitro: Yitro's Epiphany

As a convert to Judaism, I am often confronted by traditional paradigms of the righteous convert. Although Ruth is often listed as the ger tzeddik (righteous proselyte) par excellence, the Ruth narrative never personally moved me as a powerful vision of what joining the most spiritual of nations could mean. I have always been more attracted to spiritual seekers such as Avraham Avinu, traditionally known as the first convert, or Yitro, Moses' father-in-law whom some sources hold converted to Judaism.

Yitro is known as a Midianite priest, and our tradition (via Rashi) holds that he worshipped every form of idolatry or dabbled in every foreign spiritual practice before finally embracing Judaism. As someone who was born into a culturally-Christian environment (my father is Catholic, my mother protestant; I was raised as a Unitarian-Universalist) who came to embrace Zen Buddhist practices before seeking a theology and more theistic tradition and converting to Judaism, I can relate to exploring spiritual traditions.

This week, I have written about Yitro's epiphany that Ha--Shem is greater than any of the other gods (that is to say, Ha---Shem Is the ONLY G-d). How can one characterize a ailing moment but by paradox and the beauty of sounds? This poem utilizes a number of images and palindromes to some effect. I hope you enjoy.

Yitro's Epiphany

Through this
t r e s s e d d e s e r t,

Your people are a sand dance
that parts strips of hungry straps


I beg you!

S t r i p

this priest
who has knocked on wood,
and revered rivers.

Sold I idols!


Now I know,

the Highest of all G-ds
Sits in stillness--
like a shadow
wed to dew.

Wow. Now I know.

No one;