“When the Holy Blessed One gave the Torah to Israel, He gave it to them like grain from which to make finely sifted flour; and as flax from which to make fine linen” (Seder Eliyahu Zuta, p171).
Blogging one grain of Torah and unraveling the many garments made of it, "in those days and in our times". With a cultural eye and the assumption that "The Torah is a commentary on our lives, and our lives are a commentary on the Torah."
In honor of the “Shabbat of Song,” named after the Song of the Sea read this week, I offer three poems. The Parasha, BeShalach, describes how a terrified nation of refugees, redeemed miraculously through a split sea, break out into song. They attempt to give communal language to their redemptive experience. The midrash describes that the Children of Israel actually “saw” God, with even the simplest of Israel achieving an experience higher than the greatest mystical prophets of the Bible. What does it mean to see God in the 21st century? These poems offer two bold contemporary visions, and one ancient one. All three describe an encounter with God, but all are quite far from the standard language we usually see. At times I wonder if in between these lines are the building blocks of speaking about God in a Secular Age.
The search to describe an encounter with the Divine is always a search for metaphors. Here Kosman turns to the metaphors of the day: computers, information technology, bandwith. This poem is part of a series written in English using Hebrew letters. While translating it back into English loses some of the effect, reading the text with a fake Israeli accent revives the feeling. The Hebrew text is attached at the bottom.
Installing You my Lord, in da middle of the night. Installing You and all Your programs. Up and down da night goes, in my Windows, slows, installing You and da kruvim, installing you and da srafim, installing all da holy crew, until da morning come.
Installing You my Lord. Installing all my questions. All da darkest night. Installing all debates. Installing all relations. Troot. Installing all pretending actions.
Installing lite, installing life, installing you with love, with awe. Installing all da night long below until da end, my Lord.
Referring to the שם המפורש, the explicit, ineffable name of God,the poet describes her alternative experience of God’s manifest revelation at Sinai. This Israeli feminist poem is best compared to the American feminist “We all Stood Together” by Merle Feld.
They’ve all gone to the mountain to wait To wait and see, most quietly they wait, Against their nature even donkeys, even camels in this quiet a bird did not chirp even children on their fathers’ shoulders, the quiet too much to bear as if before a matter so awesome and great but I still wished to first finish hanging the laundry to make time for myself, to refresh my aroma and I warmed the baby’s milk, lest he be hungry, lest he cry, perish the thought, at an improper moment, how much longer till it ends. The expectation that the laundry will dry and the baby, what. No one knew But I saw a light wind, like the breath of a person asleep, pass Through the laundry and inflate the middle Of my shirt and the Sabbath tablecloth Was a white sail in the middle of the wilderness And we went from there on azure Far to the place where
we’ll split open pomegranates and devour their juice to the place where love has a manifest name.
Havva Pinchas-Cohen, Journey of the Doe (1994), 7. Translation based on “Creator are you listening? Israeli Poets on God and Prayer” by David C. Jacobson
III. Seeing God in Heikhalot Literature This text, by an anonymous author who lived sometime in late antiquity (4-7 CE) somewhere in the Byzantine Empire, is a strange and bold description of God. Mystical “travelers” would ascent to the heavens and describe the wondrous visions experienced there. Maimonides’ hated these texts, but it is the experience behind them which animates prayers like “Anim Zemirot” and provide the theological underpinnings for “Psukei deZimra” and “Yistabach”.
The Shema in a Kabbalistic siddur Lovely face, majestic face, face of beauty, face of flame, the face of the Lord God of Israel when He sits upon His throne of glory, robed in praise upon His seat of splendor. His beauty surpasses the beauty of the aged, His splendor outshines the splendor of newly-weds in their bridal chamber.
Whoever looks at Him is instantly torn; whoever glimpses His beauty immediately melts away. Those who serve Him today no longer serve Him tomorrow; those who serve Him tomorrow no longer serve Him afterwards; for their strength fails and their faces are charred, their hearts reel and their eyes grow dim at the splendor and radiance of their king's beauty.
Beloved servants, lovely servants, swift servants, light-footed servants, who stand before the stone of the throne of glory, who wait upon the wheel of the chariot. When the sapphire of the throne of glory whirls at them when the wheel of the chariot hurls past them, those on the right now stand again to the left, those on the left now stand again to the right, those in front now stand again in back, those in back now stand again in front.
He who sees the one says, 'That is the other'. And he who sees the other says, 'That is the one'. For the visage of the one is like the visage of the other; and the visage of the other is like the visage of the one.
Happy the King who has such servants! and happy the servants who have such a King! Happy the eye that sees and feeds upon this wondrous light - a wondrous vision and most strange!
,פנים של יופי, פנים של להבה פני ה' אלהי ישראל כשהוא יושב על כסא כבודו .וסלסולו מתוקן במושב הדרו. ,יפיו נאה מיפי גבורות, .הדרו מעולה מהדר חתנים וכלות בבית חופתם.
,המסתכל בו מיד נקרע .המציץ ביפיו מיד משתפך כקיתון המשרתים אותו היום שוב אין משרתים אותו למחר, והמשרתים אותו למחר שוב אין משרתים לפניו – כי תשש כחם והושחרו פניהם תעה לבם ונחשכו עיניהם .אחר הדר יופי הדר של מלכם
!משרתים אהובים, משרתים נאים, משרתים ממהרים, משרתים קלים ;העומדים על אבן כסא הכבוד והנצבים על גלגל המרכבה -- כשאבן כסא הכבוד מחזר עליהם, כשגלגל המרכבה מחטיף אותם ;העומדים לימין, חוזרים ועומדים לשמאל ;והעומדים לשמאל, חוזרים ועומדים לימין ;והעומדים לפנים, חוזרים ועומדים לאחור .והעומדים לאחור, חוזרין ועומדין לפנים
.הרואה את זה, אומר: זה הוא זה ;והרואה את זה, אומר: זה הוא זה .וקלסתר פניו של זה דומה לקלסתר פניו של זה
,אשרי המלך שאלו משרתיו .ואשרי משרתיו שזהו מלכם אשרי עין הנזונת והמסתכלת באור המופלא הזה.