Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Shabbat Shira: A Shabbat of Poetry

Rabbi Mishael Zion Bronfman Fellowships | Text and the City | BeShalach 2013
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

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.

Would we
finally be dead.
Installed together.

© 2007, Admiel Kosman, from: Alternative Prayerbook
© Translation: 2010, Lisa Katz and Shlomit Naor

II. The Manifest Name Chava Pinchas Cohen

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!

Heikhalot Rabati Chapter 10:1-2, Israel, 3-7 Century (Talmudic Era), Translated by T. Carmi in The Penguin book of Hebrew Verse

שֵׁם מְפורָשׁ - חוה פנחס-כהן

כֻּלָּם כְּבָר הָלְכוּ אֶל הָהָר וּמְחַכִּים
מְחַכִּים לִרְאוֹת, בְּשֶׁקֶט רַב מְחַכִּים,
שֶׁלֹּא כְּמִנְהָגָם גַּם הַחֲמוֹרִים, גַּם הַגְּמַלִּים
בַּשֶּׁקֶט הַזֶּה צִפּוֹר לֹא צִיְּצָה
גַּם יְלָדִים עַל כִּתְפֵי אֲבוֹתֵיהֶם,
וְהַשֶּׁקֶט רַב מִנְּשׂא כְּמוֹ לִפְנֵי דָּבָר
נוֹרָא וְגָדוֹל וַאֲנִי עוֹד רָצִיתִי
לְהַסְפִּיק וְלִתְלוֹת אֶת הַכְּבָסִים
לַעֲשׂוֹת זְמַן לְעַצְמִי לְתַקֵּן רֵיחוֹתַי
וְחִמַּמְתִּי אֶת הֶחָלָב לַתִּינוֹק, שֶׁלֹּא יִרְעַב
שֶׁלֹּא יִבְכֶּה חָלִילָה, בָּרֶגַע הַלֹּא
מַתְאִים, כַּמָּה זְמַן עַד כְּלוֹת. הַצִּפִּיָּה
שֶׁתִּתְיַבֵּשׁ הַכְּבִיסָה וְהַתִּינוֹק מָה.
אִישׁ לֹא יָדַע
וַאֲנִי רָאִיתִי שֶׁרוּחַ קַלָּה, כְּמוֹ נְשִׁימָתוֹ שֶׁל אִישׁ יָשֵׁן, עָבְרָה
בַּכְּבָסִים וְנִפְּחָה כְּרֵסָהּ
שֶׁל כֻּתָּנְתִּי וּמַפַּת הַשַּׁבָּת
הָיְתָה מִפְרָשׂ לָבָן בְּאֶמְצַע הַמִּדְבָּר
וְיָצָאנוּ מִשָּׁם עַל הַתְּכֵלֶת
הַרְחֵק לַמָּקוֹם בּוֹ 

נִפְרֹט רִמּוֹנִים וְנֹאכַל עֲסִיסָם
לַמָּקוֹם בּוֹ
שֵׁם מְפֹרָשׁ

Havva Pinchas-Cohen, Journey of the Doe (1994), 7.

,פנים נאים, פנים הדורים
,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.

(בעריכה של ט. כרמי

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