YK Stories

From the 9/11 Stories Part 2

Abbaye said, “there is not less than thirty six righteous persons in each generation who receive the Shekhinah [the inner presence of Godliness], as it is said, ‘fortunate are all who wait for him,’ and the word for him [lo] has the numerical value of thirty six.”

Rav said, “all the ends have passed, and the matter of the Messiah’s arrival depends only on transformation [teshuvah] and good deeds.”

But Shmuel says, “it is enough for the mourner to stand in his mourning.”

— Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97b

In Abbaye’s teaching on the thirty six from the Talmud, the world required a minimum of thirty six righteous individuals, but for what, to exist? To be just? To be authenticated somehow? Thirty six who draw down Godliness into the world, without them, what?

After a gig one night in Arizona, Sam said, “there are not less than 36 righteous persons in the world, that’s it, it’s a minimum.”

Someone I did not know, it may have been someone who wandered in off the street, said, “It’s a minimum, as if to say, there may come a generation, there may have been, that does not contain thirty six righteous individuals.” She was wearing thick glasses and her glance moved from face to face in the circle when she spoke.
“That’s the problem, what happens if there are not enough good people in the world, what then? It happens, again and again: Auschwitz, Sarajevo, Rwanda, not enough righteousness. It’s not theoretical,” Sam again.

Ida sat next to Sam. She put a tissue to her eyes and only then did I notice her.

“What then?” said Ida.

“Some sort of complete transformation, a radical overthrow,” said Rick.

“Tears,” said Sam, “weep the world well. That’s what it takes. I’m still crying.”
“I called my project ‘the legend of the hidden Thirty Six,’ ” Todd said, “was it a later necessity that the 36 be hidden, weren’t they necessary to redeem the world?”

A young woman with black leather boots emitted a low groan, heard from one end of the room to the other, a deep sigh of sadness, “where could we find such people today?”

There was an old man who came in from the rain with disheveled hair and holding a cup of coffee, he said softly, “they are present in every generation. Present but secret. The difference is then they were manifest, now they are hidden.”

I felt the sadness and the optimism in the arguments of Rick and Sam, the necessity for the tears to somehow wash the world clean — not to change it in the common ways — simply to weep the world well, to cleanse it with our tears. A sad redemption, but a redemption. I felt it in my fingers and my fingers played it on my lute. I have tried to explain it, but I played it better. I cleansed myself with the music and many times since, with my tears, I wept myself well.

I don’t know how the world is to be saved, unless it is to repair it with tears. To weep the world well.

I recalled the artist I met in Italy and the stories that he occasionally told, especially the tender ones. I recalled the softness, the weeping in his eyes when he told them.

I was talking with J. on Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of teshuvah transformation between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. He was telling me about a friend of his son who had died in a car accident. “I was in New Jersey with a big big client,” J. said. “I live for this stuff, but I didn’t want to be there.”

“You don’t live for this stuff,” I said, “not for this, not for that, but for everything that issues from the mouth of God.”

“My heart hurts,” J. said.

“You’re saving the world,” I said, “you’re saving the world with your tears.”

Again, it was the weeping that drew me to these stories. When I returned home, I began to wonder why if I told such stories, where were my tears? Then, one day while playing music with one of my friends, I began to weep, quietly and inwardly. I had learned how to cry in such a way that no one noticed.

The world would not be saved in the common, obvious ways; it may not be saved even by the righteous, there may be too few of them, nor by sincere acts of repentance.

It would be saved only by our tears. To wash the world clean.

james stone goodman
united states of america

The Last Diary Entry of Josef K

The Last Discovered Diary Entry of Josef K

It’s kind of like Yom Kippur for me every day, actually, I am certainly guilty (that I know). Guilty of what, I can’t say. But I awaken with the thought: I am guilty. Perhaps on this Yom Kippur, I can apologize because I have learned there is a difference between asking for forgiveness from other people, and asking for forgiveness from G-d.

For aveirot — unfinished business, between human being and human being, Yom Kippur does not atone. That means I have to go to that person myself, and ask for forgiveness face to face.

For unfinished business between human beings and G-d, Yom Kippur does indeed atone. These are purely private matters, between G-d and myself, best taken care of with quiet, personal moments of prayer.

Now, let me go and find as many people as I can and say this to them:
“If I have done or said anything in the past year that has hurt you, that has offended you in any way, I am sorry. I am truly sorry.”

After I say that, perhaps I should stand and wait for a second with a look of expectation on my face. Oh, I am so hoping that the person will say, “yes, yes! I forgive you.”

However, they might say, “well, you’ve done nothing, nothing at all to me.” I’ll take that as a sign of forgiveness. That might be unsatisfying (for me anyway) since I am sure I have done something though what it is I cannot say. I don’t know.

Or they might say: you can’t hurt me, actually, I am not renting you
space in my life to do that.

I will keep a tally, yes I will jot down a little chart, those who have forgiven me, those who have not forgiven me, those who don’t know what I am talking about, those who think I am nuts. Then I will take it back to my desk, and make a forgiveness chart.

Then I will spend some time in quiet prayer with G-d and ask for forgiveness for all the things that Yom Kippur does indeed atone for.

I will also make atonement to myself, for renting space in my mind to those who I think may have offended me.

Yours truly,

Franz Kafka

I forgive you
I don’t forgive you
I don’t know what you’re talking about
I think you’re nuts

Ground Zero

Ground Zero
On the end of Monuments

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

Is this so? Has not Rava said that the row before the Holy One is comprised of eighteen thousand, as it is said, “surrounding are eighteen thousand?”
— Sanhedrin 97b

On Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol would enter the Holy of Holies where he would perform the rituals of ketoret or mixing of the spices.

— from Ketoret, the Neve Shalom Machzor

These are some of the rituals at Ground Zero.

I saw them first in New York City when I attended a conference sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services, discussing the aftermath of 9/11 as a mental health disaster. It was not a part of the conference schedule to visit Ground Zero. I had to see it. I asked my friend who lives downtown if he would take me there. It was November 11, 2001.

We took the subway down to Fulton Street. It was almost midnight. They were still cleaning out the subway and fortifying its walls. It was dusty in the subway corridors and overhead I could discern the reinforcements in the ceiling and on the walls.

We walked up out onto Fulton Street and a short distance to the site. Though it was past midnight, there were quite a few people in the area. On the site itself, we could see the iron workers finishing up their welding for the night, but the lumbering trucks did not cease moving the mountain of debris that remained of the World Trade Center.

From a distance, I could see the crude natural memorial of the terrible disaster: the piece left of the aboveground skeleton of the towers that I had heard New Yorkers calling “the potato chip.” It didn’t look anything like a potato chip to me; it was two hundred feet tall and it looked like the ruin of a holy place, stately and dignified, ruined and demeaned, all at the same time.

It reached out of the ruins and up towards the sky like a sign of both the horrific destruction and the heroic aftermath of inspiration and courage. It embodied both ruin and reach.

I was drawn to get a clearer look at this beautiful terrible remnant. We walked 360 degrees around the site, and on the west side, facing New Jersey, we stopped in front of one of the spontaneous shrines that appeared all around what once was the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

There was an old man kneeling in front of this particular shrine, reading the notes and pictures and stories that made up the altar on a wooden fence. We stood there next to him for a while, all of us reading the stories given in pictures and words, prayers from children to their parents, letters from parents to their children, lovers to lovers, friend to friend, each story an entire world.

It was then, that moment, in front of one of many spontaneous shrines, that the tragedy of the World Trade Center ceased to be theoretical for me. I felt the weight of three thousand broken worlds times the number of intimates who do not forget, a set of multiple thousands sitting in a circle around God.

All of a sudden, next to the shrine where we stood, opened a section of the wooden fence, and out rolled one of the trucks laden with debris from the site. The gates remained open and we were granted one of the few clear visions into the Ground Zero ruin. We were all standing now, looking past the shrine, the stories, the pictures, the prayers, into the site of the ruins of the World Trade Center, Ground Zero, watching the dump trucks lumbering out loaded with debris. We sat in silence watching for ten minutes, then the old man now standing next to me said, “so began the age of fear.”

My friend and I continued to circle the site, walking around it, from every angle entranced by the monument both heroic and horrific that loomed over us, reflecting the stadium lights that shined after dark, the truest symbol I had seen of the now altered sense of the world, the Age of Fear, a remnant in metal of what it feels like in the aftermath of disaster.

There were still dozens of people walking with us. No one was sightseeing. I felt like we were all on a holy pilgrimage, praying with our feet, circling the ruin that rose in the distance, the last remnant of the skeleton, a totem in the massive graveyard that the World Trade Center had become. It stuck in the site like a tombstone, a monument inspiring in me not vengeance, but awe, respect, quietude, determination, endurance, and hope.

It was close to three AM by the time we headed back. We had spent three hours in walking meditation, the smell that everyone talked about in the air then; what was that smell? Was it acrid, was it sweet, was it something burning, but burning sweetly, a mix of Levitical incense? Was it the kabbalah of ruin and redemption, was that the feeling — descent and ascent, the grotesque and the beautiful not in opposition, but bound up, interpenetrated, the unholy and the holy — symbolized by the broken cathedral that had risen out of the ruins where there once was a building?

I recognized the feeling, it was a form of mourning. It was the quality of brokenness when what is released from the ruins of the heart is something quiet and beautiful, strong and sure. It was the deep knowledge of both impermanence and permanence, to be drawn to the core and know that something good there endures.

jsg, usa


Remember the Days of Old

Give ear O heavens and I will speak
and may the earth hear the words of my mouth
May my teaching drop like the rain
my utterance flow like the dew
like storm winds upon vegetation
and like raindrops upon blades of grass.
[Deut. 32:1ff.]

Remember the days of old.

G*d is a rock
all G*d’s paths are just.

From his hands Moses picked out a lightning bolt
that had burned itself into his flesh
he threw it to the ground.

Give ear O heavens
let the earth hear the words of my mouth
he plied a thunderbolt out of his teeth
and buried it in the ground,
he began to teach:

G*d was like an eagle
arousing its nest
hovering over its young
spreading its wings
and taking them
carrying them
touching and not touching. [Rashi on 32:11]

Compassionate eagle
gently returning to the nest
not to disturb its young,

Protecting eagle
covering us in flight [Ibn Ezra on 32:11]
as G*d covers us flying flying.

Blessing dwells and awakens the life force within
where we are rooted
inwardliness – awakening the life force
heaven and earth
the stories and the written text.
let the teachings drop like rain [Deut. 32:2]
bringing forth fruit,

Remember the days of old.

So you got fat [Deut. 32:15]
G*d would have suckled you with honey from a rock
and oil from a flinty stone
butter of cattle milk of sheep
fat of lambs
but you became thick
and kicked —

Well, you can always come back.
Return, O Israel.
kick and drink the good wine from the grape
unfermented blood of the grape.

Give up your non-G*ds
become real.
You’re a generation of reversals. [Deut. 32:20]

Who is a rock
who is perfect
whose paths are just —
what is the climbing vine
the fructifying rain.

Remember the days of old
understand the years of generation to generation.

Return O Israel to your G*d [Hosea 14:2]
I will heal their disloyalty
I will love them freely. [Hosea 14:5]

Tell them
they can always
come home.

Moses spoke all the words of this poem
into the ears of the people
Moses and his successor
Hoshea son of Nun.

Then G*d spoke to Moses on that very day

apply your hearts to all these words
[Deut. 32:46-47]
for it is not an empty thing
it is your life.


An angel came to me and brought Torah Haazinu

Maqam* Bayat (D E half-flat F G)

*The Oriental Maqam gives a distinct musical character to every Sabbath.

This Could Be The Year

The Year of the Ayin Alef
Tih’yeh sh’nat Ayin Alef or Iyyun Alef*

Master of all the words,

We are breaking in on the year 5771
Since the Creation of the world as we reckon time
In our language of acronym
Secrets clues and anagrams
Tih’ye SH’nat Ayin Alef
The year of the ayin alef
May it be this year — the year of the eye
Elusive alef
Silent One
Unity expressed in diversity
G*dliness itself.

Let all the signs
The stars too
siman tov and mazal tov
All the angels and energies, totems and intentions
Conspire to be the year —
It is supposed to be.

This year we begin with ayin
With the eye
With Iyyun
Sense of deep investigation
Ferocious of vision
The gaze within,

And the added alef
The attentiveness attached to deep listening
Alef — silent and whole –-
G*dliness in its most expressive
Most quiet.

All our years begin with hope
Possibilities present for the secret good
Congealed in language.

Now – the year of ayin alef —
The eye, seventy, conceiving
Vision depth of focus
Deep listening for the silent alef
Bring down its unity –

Now explode the alef into a vuv and two yuds
The numerically alive 26
The postured vuv the Great Connector
The elevated conjunction And
Drawn by the hand Above
Protected beneath by the hand Below —

Something entirely new coming
Better than good when good is not enough
Deeper than surfaces
The vision into events
Into Self
When events and self-ful-ness lose their opacity
And surfaces release**
— For a moment —
To vision
Ferocious Inwardliness —

This could be the year


james stone goodman, united states of america

* The year we are entering is called in Hebrew Tav Shin Ayin Alef — Tih’yeh Sh’nat Ayin Alef — an acronym that corresponds to 5771.

We play a word game with language, here game is something serious but with an aspect of play. Every year’s acronym is an opportunity for intention.

**All signs are significant. B.T. Horayot 12a, Keritot 6a

Absolute Relative

Tekiah – sustained note
Original unity
From where we have come
Before exiles —

Before separations
Before the terrible twos of existence.
The universal —

Teruah – the relative.
Against the universal tekiah
Is the teruah.
Three yevavot
Wavering, crying
A longing to return.
When we lose our way
The roads go into mourning.

Shevarim – broken
We are breaking up
Weeping in our brokenness.

The Great Tekiah
The promise of return.

It is a sad and beautiful world.
Sad – so far away
Beautiful – so hungry
We are to

jsg, usa

Direct Talks

Direct Talks

Great is teshuvah*, for it brings healing to the world.
*Teshuv[ah] – the restoration of the Hey

I turned it around —
whatever it is I did

at least the intentional became unintentional.
Sins to errors,
sins to advantages even.

I felt you staring out at me
from the past.

I felt you looking into my soul
gazing into my tent —
I know what you saw.

Something broken in the past
only the future could repair –

a correction,
something wrong
only the future could right

— the future has arrived.


I Mean It

Give ear O heavens
And I will speak
Listen earth
To the words of my mouth

I stood on a rock
With You
You were wrapped in a tallit of light
And there I was given forgiveness
For all of us

When I came down the mountain
My face was fire
And on that fire
A mask

If we believe in justice
It is a double course justice
If we believe compassion
There is no stranger
Or we are all strangers
Not just then
But always

If we believe in good
There is good
And only good

If we choose life
We take each day
With the intention of joy

You are endlessly forgiving
When will You abandon us?