Mirror — sometimes clear, sometimes cloudy

Themselves In Espaclaria*

They were all explicators of the text.
They turned it and turned it
Believing everything was contained within.
A few of them were esoterics.

In places without sense
They made sense.

After a few generations
They left a legacy imprinted in their biology.
The kabbalists became vaudevillians,
Singers of songs and tellers
Of the miracle tale.
The dark receded.

They supposed no history,
Forgetting for a moment
The present is always a narrow bridge.
On the other side — what.

Only one of them
remembered everything.


*a mirror — sometimes clear, sometimes cloudy,
Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97b

The Thirty Six Are Hidden

Big John

John disappeared from the club for six months. What happened to John? I asked when I noticed he hadn’t been around in a while. He’s in the hospital, very sick, the only hope an experimental treatment.

I went to the hospital to visit, but there was no visiting. The sign on his door was definite. The nurse said it wasn’t a good time for visitors.

It was that way for months. No visitors, no exceptions. Then I heard his mother and his sister had come to town. What did that mean?

Several weeks later, one Sunday morning I was at the club. Someone was standing at the juice bar, thin, didn’t recognize the face but something about him was familiar. I stared at him, thinking I know this person but unable to name him.

It bothered me all morning. I hadn’t heard John’s name mentioned around there for months, and it didn’t look like John. John was big, this guy was slight. That’s not John, or is it? I really wasn’t sure. I couldn’t tell.

I later found out that was one of John’s first days back. John had been more of an acquaintance to me than a friend until he was out of the hospital. Then John and I became good friends.

One day we were sitting around the club, and I asked him about the hospital. That’s when John began to open to me his experience in the hospital room.

I was there six months, John said. I thought I was going to die. I think everyone thought I was going to die. I did die a few times, he said. They had to bring me back.

What was it like? I asked. Dying, I mean. It was like you read about, John said, a lot of light, friendly faces and a Presence, safe and not at all scary. I remember floating up above the bed and watching myself from somewhere near the ceiling, and I remember being kind of recalled to my body. That’s the only way I can describe it.

I’ll tell you this: when I was lying there alone in the hospital, dying, I could hardly remember the attitude that saw me through things, the way I used to be. It was gone.

That was the worst part about it, everything I thought I knew was gone. Emptied out.

I went in with all my spiritual resources intact, or so I thought, John said. But there came a time when it all went right out the window. I was going to die and I wasn’t ready and I was scared and pissed and all the serenity I thought I had was gone. Completely gone. I was an empty well.

Then my mother came from Florida. She sat next to my bed for weeks, most of the time I was incoherent. When I wasn’t, I asked her to tell me that she loved me. My sister came and I asked the same of her, tell me, I asked her, what is it that you love about me? Be specific. And they told me. They told me how they loved me, they reminded me how they have always loved me, why they loved me, what it was about me they loved the most, they recalled our entire story together, over and over. That’s what saved me. They loved me well. When I couldn’t do it for myself, they did it for me. Does that make any sense? Pretty soon I was no longer afraid. It was the most amazing trip.

Then John told me a story that he had heard from his friend Janet.

There is an old man in summertime who sits on the bench in front of the court building and says hello to her. Everyday. He is always there, nattily dressed, a skimmer hat perched on his head. He always smiles, always nods hello to her. Then one day he isn’t there. And the next day, and the next. Janet looks for him. A few weeks of summer passes and Janet wonders what happened to her friend.

Then one day he returns. He nods and smiles and for the first time she says something to him. Where’ve you been? I thought you had gone away.

No, missy, he says. It’s been too hot out here lately, so I’ve been sitting over there, across the street, inside the lobby of that building. I could see you from there, the whole time. He smiles and Janet imagines him watching her, smiling at her from within the lobby of the air conditioned building across the street. She pictures herself looking for him the days he didn’t appear and imagines him watching her frustration and sadness at not seeing him. I’ve been watching you. He smiles.

Yeah, said John, that’s what happened to me. That’s just the way it was with me.

jsg, usa

Legend of the Thirty Six

The Secret of Shabbat
From “The Legend of the Thirty Six”

. . .Abbaye said, “there is not less than thirty six righteous persons in each generation who receive the Shekhinah [the inner presence of Godliness]
— Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97b

“Tell me the Secret of Shabbat,” I said to Mihaly. “The secret of Shabbat is the secret of unity,” he said. “The inner and the outer: one. The separations, gone.” He told it to me as if he were reading it off the wind above his head. “The secret of Shabbat is that the deep swallows the artificial, the inner subsumes the outer. I need meaning. It completes me. That is the secret of Shabbat.”
— from “The Legend of the Thirty Six”

We were sitting in a circle after the gig. I mentioned the waiting. I am always waiting. I am only waiting.

Sam opened his eyes and said in an Eastern European accent, “We are all waiting. Our House of Holiness has been destroyed, we are waiting for its rebuilding. We are in-between. I am patient. I am waiting.”

“But I believe perfectly well that I am waiting for something. Do you know the story of Joshua ben Levi? He goes looking for the Messiah, Mashiach. He sees Elijah standing by the entrance of Bar Yochai’s tomb. He asks Elijah, where is he? Elijah says, he’s outside the gates, with the lepers, bandaging their wounds one by one. Joshua ben Levi finds the Messiah and asks him THE question: when will you come? You know what his answer is? Today. When Joshua ben Levi returns, Elijah asks him, ‘psst Joshua ben Levi, what did the Messiah say?’ Joshua ben Levi tells him and Elijah interprets it: ‘today, if you will hear his voice.’ Well, I am waiting, today. It’s not passive because I am on fire with expectation, today. I will be on fire tomorrow too.”

There was silence in the room.

“It’s like tzimtzum” [the contraction of Godliness], Pearl said. “God said, wait here, I’ll be right back. . . dot dot dot. We live in the ellipses, isn’t that what it’s called? The three dots. I live in the ellipses. I am always waiting for God.”

“I live in the ellipses,” I repeated. “Yes, I live there too.”

There was more silence in the room. Then I told the story that Judah told me, a story that he had heard from Reb Shlomo, may his memory be a blessing. At the end of the story, the Kotzker Rebbe finds his friend Reb Isaac, who is waiting next to the Sea of Tears, and he has sworn that he will not leave that place until God has dried every tear.

My voice broke towards the end of the story, and again it had swept me away, the story-picture of Reb Isaac leaning on his staff at the edge of the Sea of Suffering, swearing he would not leave that place until God had dried every tear. That is just the version of waiting I hold in my heart, that sense of waiting, that is it exactly. I know it and it breaks my heart more.

Later that night we swam after midnight. I was exhausted. It is good, good to be outside the camp, and beautiful, so beautiful in the land of exile. I looked up in the sky at a thousand stars over the midbar [wilderness] and every one of them is a soul on its way, somewhere new.

James Stone Goodman
United States of America

Three Weeks

I keep three weeks

There is a hilltop in Jerusalem
Where heaven and earth touch
After the destruction the bride began to weep
The ground wept too
The bride returned as a bird
Perched at the wall

For three weeks in summer
I sat low in sadness
I planned to bleed
Wash myself clean

This I have been taught
After a river of tears
Expect the messiah

jsg, usa

Jeremiah’s Plan

Jeremiah’s Plan for Peace

Behold, the days come says God
— Jeremiah 31:30 ff.

A new agreement
a starting over always
My teachings shall I place
in your deepest —
in your hearts.

I will be God
you will be human beings
we will each live
up to our dream
of one another,

Certain knowledge
no one will blame
accuse or intimidate —
everyone will know Me
from the littlest to the
starting now.

The past –
entirely forgiven.
I have forgotten it
we will cease calling it
it is now
— the future.

Who lights the fires of the future?
Who writes the stories?
The sun by day
the passing of the moon
the lights by night
who stirs up the Sea?

If you can measure heaven above
search out the earth below
— just as likely
I will abandon you.


jsg, usa

To David

To David, the Sweet Singer of Israel

To David a song
first the Shekhinah came and sat on his shoulder
then David played flat out on that axe of his

A song to David
first David started to scat
THEN the Shekhinah came and kissed his face

so sweetly he sang the secret bird
song of King Solomon
who knew the

Shekhinah would not descend
when there is laziness or sadness
silliness light talk but

when there is joy
the deep joy of the mitzvah
then WOW your mind Is BLOWN like

when the slow hand player came to play
the hand of God rested
UPON him and

a northern wind blew
through David’s singing
harp in the palace of the King

jsg, usa


Now these are the last words of David: The saying of David the son of Jesse, and the saying of the man raised on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet singer of Israel:
— 2 Samuel 23:1

Seven days shall you keep a feast unto Adonai your God in the place which Adonai shall choose, because Adonai your God shall bless you in all your increase, and in all the work of your hands, and you shall be altogether joyful.
— Deuteronomy 16:15

Sforno: altogether joyful ach sameach = sameach bilvad (happiness only) — don’t mix it with sadness.

“Then I commended joyfulness,” Kohelet 8:15, this is the joy of the mitzvah. . . the Shekhinah rests upon a person not through gloom, nor through laziness, nor through frivolity, nor through lightness, nor through talk, nor through idle chatter, but only through a matter of joy in connection with a mitzvah, as it is said, “but now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of God came upon him.” (2 Kings 3:15)
— B.T. — Shabbat 30b

The formulation, leDavid mizmor [to David a song], shows that the Shekhinah rested upon him and then he uttered the song. [The formulation] mizmor leDavid [a song to David], shows that he lifted up his voice in song first, and then the Shekhinah descended upon him afterwards. This teaches that the Shekhinah rests upon a person neither when there is laziness, sadness, laughter, levity or idle talk, but where there is a thing of the joy of the mitzvah, for it is said, “but now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, the hand of G-d came upon him.” 2 Kings 3:15
— B.T. Pesachim 117a

A northern wind would blow on David’s harp and it would play
— B.T. Berakhot 3b

The northern wind ruach haTzeFoNit is the ruach haTzaFuN (the hidden spirit) in a person’s heart – this is the spirit of life.
— R. Nachman, Likkutei Moharan, #8

Tzafon is lacking
— B.T. Baba Batra 25b

God will give you what your heart lacks
— Psalms 20:4


This is the story we discussed at study. More stories of contact to come, next: the Bosnian Sufi – Kabbalist connection.


What is Marabout?
I think it has to do with cement.
Yeah. He’s here on business. Cement I think is what he said.
Is that his business suit?
My son Jake was referring to a long gold and patterned robe that he wore, surely close to seven feet tall this African man, he attracted our attention along with everyone else in the gate area. He was with another man. The other man had brought him to the check-in, airport New York, but was not accompanying him on the trip.
Tall African man, shaved head, no English. The other man translated for him, walked him through the check-in ritual at the gate.
That’s when I stepped up.
Look, I said to the English speaking man, I’m on the flight to Baltimore too. If I can be of any help, I speak French. I thought I had heard them speaking French, and another language I didn’t recognize.
In the gate area, I found a small Pakistani man to escort the tall African man to the baggage, to retrieve his luggage and find his way out of the airport in Chicago, his destination, not mine.
As we got on the airplane, we sat near each other but the roar of the plane was too loud to talk. I helped him get an apple juice and I watched him go through the ninety nine names of God with a string of silver prayer beads he had in his briefcase.
We arrived at Baltimore and my son and I got bumped from our plane to St. Louis and onto the same Chicago flight that our African friend was on. We explained this to him and to our Pakistani helper, who did not seem to understand much more English than the African man.
We checked in and sat down near the gate. I introduced myself to the African man again, this time using a familiar form of my name that seems to register easier with non-English speakers. He introduced himself to me, Idrissa.
Idrissa. I wrote it out. No, he said, write me in Arabic. I wrote it out in Arabic, and he corrected a mistake. Good, he said, you write Arabic?
Write your name, he instructed me.
I wrote out my name in Arabic, and he looked at it for a while. Then he took out a piece of paper from his briefcase, wrote his name and my name in proximity, and made a series of jottings, pictures and calculations with lines and numbers underneath.
What is this? I asked.
What is Marabout?
Maybe your wife has left you. She has gone away somewhere. You have a problem. You come to me. I give you certain sacrifices and do certain calculations, your wife, she comes back to you.
I was wondering whether I understood him correctly, particularly the part about sacrifices.
My son was watching all this from a seat across the aisle from us.
Marabout is not about cement, I said to him.
Sacrifices, I said slowly to Idrissa, is it something psychological?
Sacrifices, I said, is it something spiritual?
No. Sacrifices. Offerings.
My son strung some beads for Idrissa. Do you have a wife? I asked Idrissa.
Does she have holes in her ears?
Here, these are a gift.
Thank you, he said, and he put the earrings into his briefcase. He had a high pitched giggle that did not match his appearance.
He finished his calculations and began to tell me my future. Some can be repeated, some cannot he said. I am about to change professions. I will make a load of money. My son will marry and raise up many children. He also will have a lot of money.
Then he described the sacrifices that my son and I are required to make in order for these things to happen. They must be made soon. Mine will be rough.
What is he saying? my son asked.
You are going to have a bunch of kids. I am about to change professions. Lots of money all around.
That’s good, Jake said.
One other thing, good news — your sacrifice does not involve animals.
Sacrifice? What’s my sacrifice?
Too holy to tell you now, I will tell you later when I can give it some respect.
Yes, that is what he prescribes. Sacrifices. It has something to do with Marabout.
Idrissa gave me his card, it read clearly, Marabout.

Later I looked up Marabout.
It comes from the Arabic, murabit, which means one who is garrisoned. It referred originally to a member of a Muslim religious community who lived in a ribat, a fortified monastery. Marabout is a Muslim holy man. When Islam came to western Africa in the 12th century, its proponents became known as al-Murabitun (Almoravids), and every missionary who organized a community was known as a Murabit. In the 14th century, when the Sufis came to the Maghreb, northern Africa, any organizer of a Sufi fraternity became known as a Murabit, or a Marabout. A Marabout is a Muslim holy man, a mystic, a Sufi.
Who is this priest, this Kohen that was prescribing sacrifices for me in an airport waiting room in Baltimore? I realized who I was meeting here: Myself. My Levitical progenitors. The sons of Aaron, pursuers of peace, the priests and Levites of the Jerusalem Temple dealing in sacrifices, though we did not call them sacrifices, they were not something psychological or something spiritual, they were what they were, the avenue of approach, korbanot, signifying coming closer to God. They were not like anything.
Be like the sons of Aaron, seek peace and pursue it (Avot 1:12). Is this what he was doing? Seeking peace in the Levitical way, the prescribed peace offerings? He seemed so certain about their efficacy.

Are you Muslim? he asked me.
Jew. Yahud.
Ah. So close he said.
Close and far.
Yes, we will both have to make sacrifices. We will each have to give away something we think is dear. I am working on it. Truth and justice, peace, he said, and he winked.
We began to discuss the names of God that are cognates in our sacred languages: ir-Rahman, ir-Rahim, Rahmana, HaRahaman, the Compassionate One, giving, without restraint, and those that are not cognates. We sat there in the waiting room, moving through the beads, praying the names of God that are common in our holy languages, teaching each other the ones that were not common.
My son and I got on the plane and flew to Chicago with Idrissa. I found the Pakistani guy and in Chicago they went off together toward the baggage claim.
Before he left, Idrissa held me, asked me to write down my phone number and address. I will be calling you, he said to me in French, I think, I am not sure which language he was speaking.

Dad, what is the deal with your new friend? Jake asked.
Muslim holy man, I said. He sees into the future, and as far as I can tell, long term it looks pretty good.
We left Idrissa in Chicago and during the short leg from Chicago to St. Louis, Jake and I got to frame the story in a way we wanted to remember it.
You know, Jake, I said, we were praying together. When we were going through his beads? We were speaking a common language. It was the one language we truly shared, the names of God. That’s a good sign.
This conversation occurred precisely at the time when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was heating up. Jake and I agreed that we had experienced a secret glimpse into the future. Like Abraham, we ascended to the top of the chariot of Ezekiel, it was covered with the dew of light. We saw the possibility of peace, real peace, deep peace, sacred peace. Maybe through us, maybe through our children, maybe that’s why it was Jake and me meeting Idrissa, two generations, one completing what the other could only begin, making our sacrifices, our offerings, for peace. A peace that might take generations, a peace that could not be completed by the ancestors, a peace that only the descendants could realize.
There was something broken in the generation of the parents that only their children could repair, this from the Zohar, the classic text of Jewish mysticism. Something broken in the generation of Abraham that only the children of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael, and all the Isaacs and Ishmaels of the future, could repair.

Several days later, I came home from work and my daughter said, somebody called for you. No English. I couldn’t understand him.
Did he say anything about sacrifices?
Sacrifices? Yeah, I think he did.
Since then, he has been calling frequently, chattering away with me about sacrifices, about the future, about the necessity to give your overflow away, because when you have as much as I am going to have, you have to give it away in order to keep it. I think that is what he said, I’m not sure because he wasn’t speaking French for sure anymore, but if I understand anything of what we have been talking about, I will receive just what I am willing to give away.
Great sacrifices will be required of us all, but if we have the courage to let loose of what we think we own, what we think we are, we will receive whatever it is we want, even peace. Peace above all.
Seek peace, he said, I think, pursue it.

A few days after the Twin Towers catastrophe, I came home and my daughter said to me, he called again.
The guy who speaks French, or whatever it is he is speaking. Your friend from Africa, the holy man.
What did he say?
Not sure, she said, his voice was sadder this time, but I did hear this: Marabout? he said, Marabout – not this. Marabout is peace. If you kill peace, you kill God.

Commit: Double Portion This Week

O holy Shabbes Inspiration Mattot-Masei

Double portion this week
both long poems
the necessity to read Devarim on the Shabbes before Tisha B’Av
a double measure of wisdom to prepare for the vision
— this week Mattot and Masei

It begins with oaths and vows
oaths – shevuot – related to sheva
the full cycle
according to the Rambam
when he takes up the subject of vows, nedarim, in Mishneh Torah

Vow the neder
weighty to take a vow
to stay away from something that is permitted
I take a vow to stay away from meat
from saturated fats
potato chips how I love potato chips
or to take on something I think is right
but is not required of me
elevating the act to mitzvah status
I vow to drive every single person who asks me
to the airport anytime they want

Vows are a fence around separation [Avot 3:17]
I take a vow in order to help separate from a problem
distance or in our lingo

You love those Little Debbie treats?
can’t eat just one?
you’re hiding vodka around the house?
cruising the dark streets for white powder?
special problems require special strategies
willing to go to any lengths with the vow
in order to make a fence around the problem
separate from it

It’s serious this vow-taking
Maimonides recommends we don’t do it at all
let your yes be true and your no be true
this from the Talmud [Baba Metzia 49a]
we are expected to do what we promise
if we have to resort to vows
something is wrong

In conversation we say
bli neder
without a vow used in the sense of without a doubt
if I have to take a vow
I’m not good on my intention
I need a vow to get something done?
do it

Something else:
Mattot and Masei
Mattot in the opening verse [Numbers 30:2]
rashei ha-mattot the heads of the tribes
two words for tribes in our poem
this mattei (singular) mattot (plural)
and shevet
both words signify a branch
a staff
part of a tree
how a branch becomes a tribe
I am thinking about as I stoop
to kiss the ground

A staff a stick an emblem a totem
the tribal stick remote but —

Tree consulted by its branches
branch separated from the tree
as in exile
separation and exile in the notion of tribe

All branches separated from the tree of life
the staff the branch the tribe
what does it owe to the tree?

Soft moist the shevet
dried out inflexible the mattei
the soul’s journey out from God
the exile of the partial from the whole
Israel among the nations
me from myself
the soul soft moist to its divine origins
or inflexible and brittle soul
souls dried out and far away from divine moistness

So too in exile
a connection with the Source
or a sense of far-away
inflexible to our origins
dried out
tribes either softening to the tree
or broken off and brittle from the tree of life

Turn all mattot into shevatim
turn all brittleness to moistness
turn the hard inflexibility of separation
into moistness and relation with the Source
draw down the definitions
bring us into relation
make us moist
turn us all into shevatim
moist particulars of the whole
divine remnants

return always assured

Hazak hazak v’nitchazek
be strong be strong
we are stronger
when we are moist


jsg, usa

Rashi’s Plan

In honor of Rashi’s 902nd yahrzeit [anniversary of passing]
29th ofTammuz

Rashi’s Plan for Peace [see Rashi on Genesis 45:24]

Rashi, Bible scholar, (1040-1105 CE), Troyes, France

I was visiting with Rashi the poet on a hillside in eastern France,
it was winter. Snow on the ground. We were sitting on bales in a circle as the sun began to set. During our discussion, Rashi’s daughter I think her name was Miriam, was speaking in quiet tones from behind a screen to her father.

My daughter reminds me, Rashi used a word in medieval French for reminds,
there is a plan for peace concealed in the text. Rashi then told us three ideas, his plan for peace.

It was getting dark so Rashi lit some candles. He also gave us grapes about then, they were translucent dark, blue black, almost lapis, I had never seen such grapes. Rashi opened with this: don’t get theoretical. Stay away from general principles. Make peace person to person, not theory to theory. We were all eating grapes.

The second thing he said was to take small steps, one at a time, make peace manageable. Peace will take time. Start with an agreement, a treaty.

Here’s the third thing: Peace starts now.
Stay out of the past, out of guilt, recriminations, who did what to whom, stay away from blame and shame. Let the peace begin.

By this time it was dark. The candles had burned down. There were no candles left. Rashi asked me to get some icicles from across the field. I brought back four or five icicles, Rashi put them in the candle holders, lit them, and we continued learning.

Rashi said, the first light, created day one, was specially created, the light that sustains but was hidden away for the future.

As he spoke I saw him gather the light with his hands, like he was moving the air around above the flames, like he was gathering light into his arms.

james stone goodman
united states of america

Healing Prayer

A Prayer for Her Healing

All the accompanying angels appeared for her because it takes a squad
a platoon of angels, a division,
moroccan prayer beads pinned to the surgery bed,
and the general
to make a complete healing.

Later in the night when everyone sleeps
they parachute in from the east and west,
angels ascending, descending
they wander in from the coasts.
Some have satchels slung over their shoulders filled with amulets
others are entirely dreams.
All the energies converge for her
who lies silent in the dark with her mantra.

Her mantra.

It was not:
help me help me help me help me,

But it could have been.
Or it could have been another prayer for healing,
a specially created voice howling in the square
the words suspended between thought and deed,
not wishes but why not,
why not a wish,
with her hands clutched to her chest
right hand buried in the left.

Why not a wish or a prayer or a whisper,
she sneaks away for a chat with God.
Come on God, take a card
just this once

and God said

Nachman ben Tzvi