O holy Shabbes Inspiration Vayishlach

O holy Shabbes Inspiration Vayishlach
Maqam Saba,

in which Peniel, the face of God, becomes the site of a wrestle,
big-time wrestle of confrontation and transformation.
Jacob the heel becomes Yisrael
the God wrestler
Yakov to Yisrael transformed
with a price —
the limp a sign.

He becomes Israel
no longer will it be said that your name is Jacob but Israel
for you have striven sarita im Elohim
and with anashim – human beings
because you have striven sarita wrestled with God
and with human beings
and have overcome. [Gen.32:29]

The root sin resh heh used only one other time in this form
in the entire Hebrew Bible.
Yisrael hundred of times

but the verb form, this form, is used twice,
here and in Hosea. What gives?
The one who strives wrestles with God?
Why don’t we find it everywhere as a verb?
Jacob the only wrestler with God in the Bible?
I don’t think so.

We are all wrestlers with God
we are all of us
all the time
going to the mat with Hashem.
All of us striving struggling wrestling
so let’s not pay too much attention to that
Jacob doesn’t
sometimes Jacob
sometimes Israel
he is both.

Here’s the question:
Can a person overcome character
the capacity to transform
to change so radically that what formerly defines
now limits, can someone shed old skin acquire a new name
limp away from the confrontation bearing
the mark of transformation in his walk?
He does, Mr. Sometimes Jacob Sometimes Israel —
we do –that’s always the point.

The price for transformation —
your angel or your demon beckons you into the ring
lets you know you won’t be getting out without a good fight.

Al Tira Avdi Yakov we sing on Saturday night
do not be afraid my servant Jacob
what has Jacob to be afraid of?
Himself transformed.
Himself untransformed.

Later when Esau and Jacob meet again
(I overheard Rashi the poet quoting Rav Shimon)
Esau’s compassion was lifted in a moment
and he kisses Jacob with all his heart [Genesis 33:4]

Mr. Sometimes Jacob Sometimes Israel:
I meet my brother on the road
Can we reconcile?
How will he receive me?
He is strong, I will send him gifts.
I will protect myself with strategy.
Do I hug him
do I slug him?
Do I kiss him
do I hit him?
We meet
the moment erupts in love.

Mr. Esau:
I run to him
I kiss him
hug him,
over my head
a ribbon of light.
I weep.
Any moment now
might erupt
the memory that heals.
Holding his foot
as we chuted toward the light,
when we hug
I remember.
And again
over my head exploding
a ribbon of dots
a ribbon of light.

O holy Shabbes Inspiration VaYetzei

O holy Shabbes Inspiration Va-Yetzei
Maqam Ajam

Va-yetzei Yaakov me B’er Shava va-yei-leckh Haran-ah
And Jacob left from Beer Sheva and went toward Haran.
[in trope] — Gen. 28:10

When it is mentioned first leaving from a place
it means the place is diminished by the leaving
or a big person
leaves a big space behind her


Va-yetzei Yaakov me B’er Shava va-yei-leckh Haran-ah
And Jacob left from Beer Sheva and went toward Haran.
[in trope] — Gen. 28:10

Here it’s him
it’s Jacob our ancestor
notice also that he is leaving specifically Beer Sheva
and he is going towards
in the direction of
The hei at the ened Haran-ah
hei ha-me-ga-mah
the hei of direction.

He knows where he is leaving from
not sure where he is going to –
he has a direction but not exactly

You’re ________ years old
and you surely know what it is like
to leave somewhere
and not know exactly where
you are going

only the place where you have come from –
you must leave.

Va-yetzei Yaakov me B’er Shava va-yei-leckh Haran-ah
And Jacob left from Beer Sheva and went toward Haran.
[in trope]– Gen. 28:10

A direction
not a destination exactly
but a way towards.

Va-yetzei Yaakov me B’er Shava va-yei-leckh Haran-ah
And Jacob left from Beer Sheva and went toward Haran.
[in trope] — Gen. 28:10

This is the message I am picking up from Jacob leaving Beer Sheva
Be a big person
Try to be the kind of person that leaves a mark behind you when you leave
try to be the kind of person that has a direction.

Go toward it.

Va-yetzei Yaakov me B’er Shava va-yei-leckh Haran-ah
And Jacob left from Beer Sheva and went toward Haran.
[in trope] — Gen. 28:10

Then he had a dream
first a direction
then a dream

And he had a dream, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and top of it reached to heaven, and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And behold, God stood beside him, and said:

I am Adonai, the God of Abraham your father
and the God of Isaac.
[Gen. 28:12-13]

Abraham your father?
Isn’t Isaac’s Jacob’s father?

Did you know your grandfather?
There is a grandfatherliness
that is like a spiritual parenting
you might separate from your father
like Jacob separated from his father
your grandfather
your father
your grandfather
your father
you may become your grandfather’s child

and he went to sleep
and he was awakened
by thinking what he didn’t know

And Jacob awakened out of his sleep and he said, Surely there is God
in this place and lo yadati
. [Gen. 28:16]

Surely God is in this place and I, I didn’t know
my I didn’t know
there was no I
so much God no I
more God less I
surely there is God in this place and I
–I don’t know a darn thing.


Now I can learn the world
even God
maybe Nature
on its own terms

the world can break in on me
without interference —

the beginning of wisdom.

What Kind of Grateful

What The Prince Wants

The Prince wants to do something right
maybe this can help me

He wants to be filled up
Prince wants most
to be significant
He wants to be remembered as having

He sees someone bagging groceries
late one night
there is one grateful man
thinks Prince

He sees the grocery bagger another night
soon Prince goes back to the store
whenever he needs a reminder
watches the man bag groceries

One night he feels the opportunity
I am watching you, says Prince,
what makes you so happy?

I used to take from this store
says the grocery bagger
now I work here
now I am giving something back

There is nowhere
I would rather be right now
than here

Says the grocery bagger
he looks at Prince to see if he understands
I’ve said enough

jsg, usa


from The Case for Mendicants

Before Thanksgiving one year
Junior said, let’s invite a beggar to eat with us.
We don’t know any beggars, said Mother,
a mendicant is no longer an honorable profession.
Father said, We don’t know any poor people at all,
do we dear? How about a stranger?
They called Leon,
friend of monastics, beggars, and mountebanks.

I’ll send someone, said Leon.
The night of Thanksgiving
all around the table they went
each expressing thanks
and a wish, if only one were given.

Health, someone said right off,
money – honest from a kid,
a nice son-in-law, a good school for the children,
a brand new carpenter’s bench with new tools.
Then the poor man’s turn:

I wish I were a powerful king
of a large important country.
One night, they would invade my country
conquer my palace with no resistance from my guards.

I would be awakened from a deep sleep
with no time to dress.
I would escape in my nightshirt.
Fleeing over hills, through a valley,

I would arrive right here, to this house,
and I would be sitting here with this family,
right now. This is my wish.

That’s nice, Father said,
but what good would that do you? Really.

I’d have a night shirt, the poor man said.

jsg, usa

Making the Case for Happiness

I am trying this on for Thanksgiving

Making the Case for Happiness
A Blessing
Part I,
I try to capture the elusive gratitude jinn
on a visit to the sculptor in Chicago

You shall be completely happy [Deut.16:15]

What if an animal
an insect for example
crawled up your shirt and bit you
say it was one of those bugs that can alter your life —

or what if it didn’t happen
but you were thinking that way
because something did bite you
drew blood
and you waited to see if you were sick?
You might think:
how fragile is this life
a bug can crawl up your shirt
alter your life
what is this a case for?
For happiness maybe
for gratitude
be grateful you might think
a human being is created for gratitude and happiness
not just for survival
but for survival with the bonus expectation of joy.

What if such a bug came to you
bit you then planted this idea:
here is the best case for gratitude —
the goal of life to be happy.

We might think as I once did
who has the right to be happy?
Life is soo messy
happiness is an unrealistic simplistic
fanciful kind of goal
but not for real thinkers.

A bug can crawl up your shirt and alter your life
that’s not reason enough to be happy?

Be grateful
celebrate the possibility of joy
make it a mitzvah
there’s some disagreement among our ancestors
whether joy can be considered a mitzvah
their problem not the expectation of joy but
how can it be required
it’s such an elusive quality
still there’s a line in Torah
v’hayita ach sameach [Deut. 16:15]
and you shall be —
it’s that ach that’s the key
you shall be ach sameach
you shall be ach happy
it’s a modifier
what’s ach?
Either you shall be mostly happy
or you shall be completely happy
unmixed unmitigated
you shall be entirely happy
that’s how most of the commentators
come down on it.
You shall be entirely happy
grateful beyond measure for life as it is lived
within our range
it’s necessary
it’s the Torah teaching us how to live
ach sameach
completely happy.
Sforno the Italian: unmixed.

Who thinks like this?
We turn the old teachings and turn them
shake them upside down to see what falls out
we are obsessed with life
not on life’s terms
but our dream of life
we are the world’s greatest dreamers
we are obsessed with life to the maximum
we are ach people
entirely extremist obsessive
completely engaged by the tinker with existence
to make the world beautiful
ach sameach
entirely happy
completely grateful.

How we got this way
and not negativists is a wonder to me.
I have lived both ways so I know the draw of the opposite
I am an achi person now
my expectation is be entirely happy
happiness is so daily
yom yom
entirely happy
completely grateful

I remember the day I realized I could be an achi person
I had permission to squeeze life for complete joy
it’s required of me
as taught by my obsessed
cracked ancestors
who stared into the basements of hell
and came up with this dream of life —

to be blessed with achiut

After I read this piece in his gallery
where many poems greater than mine have been read
from much darker places
the sculptor Jerzy tapped his head
and said to me
“it’s all so right in here”
as if it is now
but hadn’t always been.

jsg, usa


“Then I commended joyfulness,” Kohelet 8:15, this is the joy of the mitzvah. This teaches that 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) — Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 30b

LeDavid Mizmor
Mizmor LeDavid

The formulation, leDavid mizmor, shows that the Shekhinah rested upon him and then he uttered the song, mizmor leDavid, 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
— Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 117a

Thanksgiving Stories

Two Thanks-giving Stories

There was a contest on the radio. Write or speak your gratitude on this Thanksgiving. What are you grateful for? the radio announcer asked. Send in your story.

I heard the winners. It was a tie. Two women, one from California, one from Massachusetts.

First, the woman from California spoke. She was a sheep rancher, she raised sheep on a ranch in California. Her father before her worked the ranch. The ranch had been in her family for several generations.

She was, I imagine, a woman in her late forties. Her husband now also worked the ranch, along with her eighty year old father. They all lived right there on the ranch.

She spoke of the difficulties in running such an enterprise these days. The cost of harvesting and processing the wool is for the first time greater than what it can be sold for, in addition to which there has been five years of drought in her area. “There’s dust in everything,” she said, “and the grazing land is parched and cracked,” her flocks thin and diminished, her father old and tired, herself and her husband frustrated.

I waited for the punch line. What was she grateful for on this Thanksgiving? I wondered.

The night before telling her story, it rained, she said. It rained an inch and a half. The dust liquified back into the earth, the earth smoothed and healed off some of its cracks, but this was not the source of her gratitude. Certainly all the difficulties of running a sheep ranch in these days were not solved by an inch and a half of rain. This was a bonus, a sign, perhaps a clue but not a solution, not even a temporary one, it may have been a joke: God writes straight with crooked lines. Rain, as if that would make a difference.

What was she grateful for had to do with her tired 80 year old father who has seen so many seasons come and go on the ranch, something to do with herself and her husband working the family ranch scouting the sky week after week, month after month, year after year for rain. It had to do with the shared judgment about their business which is fragile, outdated, bound up with the shared destiny of one family, one plot of land, one generation after another, being in that thing together, the tenderness as she described her father waddling into the farmhouse after a long day of work and the brave possibility that the ranch would yet turn a profit somehow. Another season. The possibility, the hope of a future, measured not only in rain but in the dignity of these human beings who hope, who imagine it working again, for the sacred possibility of the future — hope, hope, hope. Hope sustains, everything possible when you have hope.

The second woman tied for first prize in the radio contest. She was from Massachusetts, a Jewish woman I imagined from her name, from her brand of humor. She was very funny. About the same age as the other woman, late forties. This was her story: It has been almost a year since he died, she began, and still she hasn’t set up a tombstone for him. It was a marriage no one thought would work — he had been married 3 times previous, she several times herself. Neither looking to get married ever again, they met. Against all advice, against their own better judgment and plans for living, they married anyway. Out of the chaos of two lives and ex-wives and kids and step kids and recriminations they found deep love, love that outlasted the complexities of their lives, and calmed them, tamed them both.

She spoke her story touching, funny, sad. A year after they married, he was diagnosed with a serious cancer, given not much hope for even another year. He lived six, living with cancer, with dignity and joy and living more deeply than ever before because everything was so precious. Every moment.

Now he was gone. She was broke. Public aid in Massachusetts had all but dried up. She had not been able to find full time work, she was substitute teaching in Boston. What was she grateful for? I was waiting to hear.

This: first, many friends. They called her regularly and invited her to meals, she usually declined but loved the invitations. Someone brought over a load of firewood to heat her wood burning stove as winter came on. She was grateful because she had felt her heart unlock to life so freely that it would never close again, the great gift of love that changed her permanently.

The last thing she said: I’m alone, broke, but not unhappy, not in the least afraid. As a matter of fact, I’m rather content, she said, because I believe something, my little way of thinking about things, that may sound wacky but I really believe this —

I think of him as if he has gone away somewhere ahead of me, as if to find the perfect apartment, you know something near a bookstore, where there is a cafe that serves fresh raspberries all year round. He has gone there ahead of me to find the perfect place for us, she said. I am as certain of this as I am of anything: we will meet again, and because I believe this, I am full of gratitude this Thanksgiving, content and not at all afraid of the future. Everything is possible when you believe in something.

These are the two American stories of gratitude that I heard on the radio just before Thanksgiving.

I listened and then I wrote my own tale of gratitude. It had to do, like the ones I had heard, with health, and loving somebody, with what I believe gets me through the long nights, with a vague sense of possibility that everything is going to be all right, of hope, I suppose, that accompanies all our lives like a sense of something fine arriving from the distance, something good, hope, that’s it.

In the distance, it’s God you are discerning, or nature, or whatever it is you believe in that animates your life. This is what you are hearing bearing down on you:

be grateful, it’s going to work out, somehow,
it’s going to be just fine.

james stone goodman, united states of america

O holy Shabbes Inspiration Toldot

O holy Shabbes Inspiration Toldot
Maqam Mahour

If so why
me [Genesis 25:22]
it hurts too much for complete sentences
two worlds struggling within her
one world actually
one world split in two.

We’re working on
bringing them back together
been working on it for the last
three, four thousand years.

She goes to inquire of God
this is the second most important word in the Torah
lidrosh – to inquire [25:22]
to explain
make up a story
fill in the spaces
the white fire.
First use.

Rashi says she goes to inquire
at the beit ha-midrash
the study hall of Shem
quoting the Targum Yonatan.
She goes to the study center
where she finds you over a text
we are all in the beit midrash
the house of explication
all the time.

Rebecca stepped out of the story
and finds the future
she walks through a mirror
to enter the inquiry of students
she comes to the Beit Midrash
where we sit.

It’s her request that is so difficult.
She is asking for some significance to her suffering.
Im zeh lamah zeh anokhi
if this, why this. . .me. . .
She actually gets what she asks for:
a larger me.
Her story expands — two nations are struggling within you [25:23]
we howl at her
she gets what she asks for, a context for her suffering.
She gets it in the beit midrash
forever we will associate suffering
with learning.

Rebecca steps out of her own story comes and joins our circle.
Our circle is oracular and redemptive.
Why? Because it teaches meaning.
The response to suffering becomes learning
or –
suffering is an inadvertent teacher.

Something else:
And these are the generations of Isaac Abraham’s son,
Abraham fathered Isaac. [Gen. 35:19]

Isaac is Abraham’s son
notice how Isaac authenticates his life –
he is Abraham’s son.
Abraham fathered Isaac
that is how Abraham authenticates his life –
he is the father of Isaac.

The word generations toldot is written half haser (partial).

Was it not enough that each of them
father and son, derived his worth from the other?
When one of them was haser/lacking,
he could fill up with the other.

I love you enough, said Abraham, I love you enough
I give you the gift of my love
when you cannot find it in yourself.
I love you that much.

I love you enough, said Isaac,
to give you the gift of my love
when you cannot find it in yourself
I give it to you
I love you that much.

I told my children –
I love you that much
whatever you cannot find in yourself
you may fill your emptiness from me.


The Night of Broken Glass

Kristallnacht Night of Broken Glass
November 9, 1938

God’s candle is the soul – Proverbs 20:27

Surely this is the beginning of the end
outside they are howling in the street
Broken glass everywhere

books burned
My business destroyed
humiliation and assault

This night remember as
the official beginning of war against the Jews
Goebbels’ pogrom,

the threat of international Jewry.
Synagogues destroyed 101,
businesses destroyed 7,500

Jewish souls arrested 26,000
confined to camps
91 dead.

What kind of threat are we?
To the Future –
this is what I want you to remember:

They took our property our livelihood
it began with greed
emptied out onto evil

It has a face: the passivity of a hollow nation.

Light a candle
remember us

Do not respect the darkness.



Three days after Kristallnacht, on November 12, Goering called a meeting of the top Nazi leadership to assess the damage and discuss strategy. Goering, Goebbels, Reinhard Heydrich, Walter Funk and other high Nazi officials.

The intent of this meeting: shift responsibility for Kristallnach to the Jews, and to create strategy using the events of Kirstallnacht to promote a series of antisemitic laws designed to remove Jews from the German economy.

An interpretive transcript of this meeting is provided by Robert Conot, Justice at Nuremberg, New York: Harper and Row, 1983:164-172):

“Gentlemen! Today’s meeting is of a decisive nature,’ Goering announced. “I have received a letter written on the Fuehrer’s orders requesting that the Jewish question be now, once and for all, coordinated and solved one way or another. Since the problem is mainly an economic one, it is from the economic angle it shall have to be tackled.”


For the miracles who sit around the tables
Thursday nights

Master of the Universe,

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps — [Step 12]
We are about to make tea. [Ex. 24:10-11]
Muse of rooted serenity and integration*
Let peace rise from the kitchen
Let us repair the world from our seats around the table.
Shall we save ourselves and not help others?
We want peace and we want it now
We are starving for it
For it and the living God
For everything that issues from Your mouth. [Deut.8:3]

We will receive each of us to our own capacity [Ex.16:21]
Along this journey of secret destinations
We who have sat long and alone
On deserts of our own and other’s making
Instruments of the working out of all things partial becoming whole
Schooled by nothing loftier than the poetry of our own lives
Our hearts unlocked because God entered through our wounds

The last place we expected.


* Wholeness, she-lei-mut, comes through the vehicle of blessing.
The power of the upper root descends. — Sefat Emet on Noach

james stone goodman