Friday, April 16, 2010

Parshat Shemini

Dear Readers,

I hope you had a meaningful Pesach and are enjoying stuffing yourselves with all the chametz that you missed for a week. Sadly, I lost my grandmother, Ruth Virginia Snowden, the second day of Yom Tov. She raised me, taught me to read, write, cook, be polite, came to all of my concerts, and listened to even my worst poetry. She was the person other than my wife, Asia, to whom I have always felt closest and it is a generally difficult and challenging time for me.

Since sitting with a meditation chavura/sangha at Manhattan's JCC before Pesach, I have been engaged in deep questioning of what are my own narrow places, my Mitzrayim (Egypt) from which I must escape. There is an old adage that goes loosely like "too much of a good thing is a bad thing." Perhaps too much love can even be negative because it forces us to be attached to things. If HaShem is clear about any lesson that He teaches us, it is that we mortals must not be attached to anything at all. Perhaps a cold reading of our confined places or metzarimare people and things that we are too attached to. Perhaps HaShem is a tyrant asking us to serve Him above all else, as many biblical narratives suggest.

The love that I shared with my grandmother was one of, if not the strongest, positive force I have ever experienced in my life. But after her 87 saintly years, HaShem called her home. Granted this is a solipsistic view of the death of a loved one, but death itself reflects a theological problem. Why has HaShem created death but to make us need Him and not any of his creations, including people. Perhaps I was too attached.

What is interesting about this is the beginning of this week's narrative regarding Nadav and Avihu. These are two figures who are chastised for their very attachment to G-d and performing seemingly additional, or at least unfitting service in His sanctuary. The narrative demands us to ask why should we also be punished for seeking G-d too much? This is a problem I grappled with this week, have yet to solve, and attempt to explore in the poem. That having been said, I will also contrast their spiritual lust with the reaction of their father, Aharon, upon learning of their death who does not respond but is simply quiet.

As a mourner myself, I feel there is a deep meaning to this narrative for those who are grieving. Namely, sometimes there is pain that is so poignant, so scathing, that the only consolation or condolence can be found in the quiet, i.e. that which cannot be expressed. Further, conversation with that kind of quiet only comes from relinquishing our own desires and attachments. Aharon understood this; his children did not.

Shabbat Shalom!

Nadav and Avihu

We only wanted to drink a case of you,
sip the rising smoke as if it were more,
more of your cloudy, far away breath.

But this foreign flame
lapped the trickling liquor
of our melting dreams.

Even on the altar
noi, l'allegra brigata,
cannot escape the plague.

And Aaron Was Silent

My offspring have melted,
swallowed by flames;
silence is my savior.

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