Monday, March 22, 2010

Tzav: Soul Soaring Silvery to Heaven

Rashi's first comment on this week's parashah is a midrashic interpretation of the eponymous first action word tzav. Rashi explains that this words carries with it the connotation of zeal. The fact that sacrifice should continue burning through the night also carries with it the implication of the zeal of both this generation and subsequent ones.

Like many religious people, I have been zealous to varying degrees throughout my life, this month, today, this second.
At times, being religious and my love of G-d have been the only things that have sustained me. At other times, I felt that my religious practice, as meaningful as it is (and it is continuously paramount in my life) is a hindrance to other aspects of my experience. Indeed, the rigidity of mitzvah observance, even for the devoted, is sometimes referred to as the yolk of the mitzvot ol ha mitzvot for a reason--they can be quite cumbersome.

Having learned parts of the seminal text of the RaMChal, z''l, the Mesilat Yesharim(Path of the Just) I was always struck by the fact that the first middah (quality, measure, virtue) Rabbi Luzzatto discusses is that of zarizut (zeal).

I have come to understand this teaching as referring more to a willingness to do things in their proper time, than an emotional desire to do things. Although this sounds quite misnagdish coming from an avowed neo-chasid, zeal might be the ultimate manifestation of the negation of the self and non-attachment. My poem this week plays with these concepts to create a picture of zeal as doing what is proper in its proper time.

Shabbat Shalom ve chag kasher v'sameach!
--
Tzav: Soul Soaring Silvery to Heaven

I smoke body
to cinders
atop
kindling-altar--

as commanded.

No spate
could slake
this mounting miracle,

this soul
soaring silvery
to heaven.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

VaYikra: Reyach Nichoach (A pleasing scent)

In our non-anthropomorphic conception of the divine, it is difficult to conceive of a G-d that can smell. Yet, as the many sacrifices and their minute details are enumerated in this and the upcoming parshiot, we are forced to confront a (at least textual) reality that our sacrifices of flesh or grain create a pleasing odor or reyach nichoach for Ha--Shem.

I had always been troubled by this idea until studying one particular Rashi this week. Rashi explains that the odor is pleasing to Ha--Shem because "as he spoke, so the sacrifice was performed." In other words it was not the sacrifice itself that pleased G-d but that it was performed in accordance with divine will. This is a more pleasing explanation for me and sheds light on much of mitzvot observance.

Still, why these particular smells? Why these specific sacrifices? Why not the smells that I or many associate with pleasure, namely: flowers, burning leaves, the scent of a woman's shampoo, etc.

This poem tries to illustrate the vast difference between divine and human taste and volition. I hope you enjoy.

Shabbat Shalom!
--
What scent doth seize the snout of All?

What scent doth seize the snout of All?
Not lavender wafting wild in July,
Not leaves burning auroral the bitter sky,
Nor the stale spice of some lady's shawl

Nor simply the first fruit, hatched
above bark.

But this scent--

thews,

sinews,

fat and flesh--

Slays celestial lament
with smoky searing
that blinds mortal eyes
in victuals

and death
in
time.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ki Tissa

Is it the cleanliness that is truly next to G-dliness, or rather is it the fulfillment of Ha-----shem's demands that defines our level of kedushah? Ki Tissa begins with two seemingly odd requests seem to implicate that the answer resides in the latter. My poem this week wrestles with this question using the image of the Kohanim washing their hands and feet before the mishkan (tabernacle) following Rashi's directions of how this would take place. Shabbat Shalom!

--
Ki Tissa

Before the porch
In which all dwells
Sons stoop to gem
sole in palm—
Right on right,
Left on left.

Wash
Lest you die!

These rules
Cellar blazes
Rising
In Myrrh,
Rhymes of olive oil,
Cinnamon,
Name noise
That splits coins
To sodder
Them back
Into
One.

Prepare.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tetzaveh: Costumed Man

During this week in which our parshah is in direct dialogue with the Megillah narrative, an image that stands out for me is that of the ornate robes worn by the kohanim and those that are worn by Achashverosh and later Mordechai in the Purim narrative.
Do clothes make the man? The 19th century transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote "I have heard with admiring submission the experience of the lady who declared that the sense of being perfectly well-dressed gives a feeling of inward tranquility which religion is powerless to bestow," and the combination of the Megillah and the parshah seem to further this view even in a religious context. Indeed, clothes are donned to create a sense of propriety, and the Kohen must get his assemblage in perfect order, lest he die.

As a former fashion addict, I was taken by this idea. And what better way of expressing religious obligation through fashion than by invoking one of my favorite French poets, Mallarmé. Mallarmé, that most obscure and musical of 19th century symbolist poets was the editor for a time of a Paris fashion magazine. His approach to poetry let the images speak for themselves in a highly musical context. This is the approach that I have chosen to espouse for this week's poem. Thanks for reading and Shabbat Shalom!
--
Costumed Man

Costumed man--
blue, silver, gold,
ringéd Promethean petals
glow.

Through a curtain,
stems twitch where
dew withers--
in a frontlet,
in an ephod,
in a wave that crashes to earth--

like a royal scepter.