Roll the Story; Small alef Vayechi 2

Father about to die
I am fishing around for the beginning;

It‘s closed
s’tumah —

No separation between this week and last week’s text;
Clue.

The poet:
Our eyes are closed –

As the story rolls
toward slavery.

Our decline a rolling of events
– can we enter the story and stop it at any place?

As if to stop the movement down –
as if to accelerate the movement Up.

jsg, usa

Two lives; small alef poetry Vayechi

And He Lived

Father Jacob really living now
even in Egypt he is alive;

We want to believe as he dies
in real life, full life –

Jacob lived
in the land of Egypt seventeen years;

And the days of Jacob, the years of his life,
his two lives were one hundred and forty seven years.

The time approached for Israel to die
so he called for his son, for Joseph.

His two lives were about over
the life of Jacob; the life of Israel –

Two lives
Sometimes Jacob sometimes Israel;

The giver the taker
All of us two lives too.

jsg, usa

Rashi’s Plan for Peace

Rashi’s plan for Peace
From Vayigash (see Rashi to Genesis 45:24)

After Joseph discloses himself to his brothers, he sends them off with gifts to return to Jacob and the rest of the family in the land of Canaan.

Joseph’s last words to his brothers are “. . .do not become agitated on the way” (Genesis 45: 24). They got a load of goods, their brother has become a holy man, (it was not you who sent me here, but G*d,” Genesis 45:8), and they are going home to reunite their family. What do they have to become agitated about?

Rashi the poet pauses long enough over Joseph’s words to offer three interpretations: 1) do not occupy yourselves with a matter of halakha (law), 2) do not take long steps, 3) do not quarrel along the way about the matter of his (Joseph’s) sale. Rashi calls this the pshat (the plain sense).

This is how I have come to understand Rashi the poet’s visionary plan for peace:

1) Don’t get theoretical. Stay away from general principles. Make peace out of relationships, person to person, not theory to theory.

2) Take small steps, one at a time, make peace manageable. Peace will take time. Start with a treaty. Start with a cessation of hostilities.

3) Peace starts now. Stay out of the past, out of guilt, recriminations, who did what to whom, begin the peace now. Stay away from blame and shame. Let the peace begin.

Why not peace? Why not a plan?

I parsed Rashi’s poetic plan for peace on parshat Vayigash, and many Shabbosim since, then I wrote it up, not as a poem, but as a plan, with a prayer.

Because I imagine it.

Barukh Atah Ad*nai
Eloheinu Melekh Haolam
Holy Muse
Imagining Peace.

Amen.

rabbi jsg

Plan for Peace

Rashi’s plan for Peace
From Vayigash (see Rashi to Genesis 45:24)

After Joseph discloses himself to his brothers, he sends them off with gifts to return to Jacob and the rest of the family in the land of Canaan.

Joseph’s last words to his brothers are “. . .do not become agitated on the way” (Genesis 45: 24). They got a load of goods, their brother has become a holy man, (it was not you who sent me here, but G*d,” Genesis 45:8), and they are going home to reunite their family. What do they have to become agitated about?

Rashi the poet pauses long enough over Joseph’s words to offer three interpretations: 1) do not occupy yourselves with a matter of halakha (law), 2) do not take long steps, 3) do not quarrel along the way about the matter of his (Joseph’s) sale. Rashi calls this the pshat (the plain sense).

This is how I have come to understand Rashi the poet’s visionary plan for peace:

1) Don’t get theoretical. Stay away from general principles. Make peace out of relationships, person to person, not theory to theory.

2) Take small steps, one at a time, make peace manageable. Peace will take time. Start with a treaty. Start with a cessation of hostilities.

3) Peace starts now. Stay out of the past, out of guilt, recriminations, who did what to whom, begin the peace now. Stay away from blame and shame. Let the peace begin.

Why not peace? Why not a plan?

I parsed Rashi’s poetic plan for peace on Shabbat Vayigash, and many Shabbosim since, then I wrote it up, not as a poem, but as a plan, with a prayer.

Because I imagine it.

Barukh Atah Ad*nai
Eloheinu Melekh Haolam
Holy Muse
Imagining Peace.

Amen.

rabbi jsg

Small alef; poetry Come Close

Occupation please — [47:3]
we’re shepherds.

Oud playing shepherds
we also play flutes.

Our ancestors —
Also shepherds.

We’re quiet
We speak the Maqams*.

jsg, usa

Every Shabbat is associated with a musical figure called a *maqam,
Arabic cognate to Hebrew maqom, Place.

Maqam Bayat (D E half-flat F G)
Small alef; poetry Vayigash

First of all, what does it Mean

First of all what does it mean what does it mean has to be asked by smarter people who are not satisfied with incremental fragmented responses, people who think in more comprehensive terms; it’s not only gun control or mental health services or sensitivity to perceived individual problems or the media it’s the culture it’s the culture it’s an us problem and an everything and everyone problem and we ought to call a manhattan project on social change at the grandest most integrative level. Violence is a symptom of severe social distress, that’s the single problem of Noah’s sorry generation. There are a dozen outrages we live with that continue because we are not grander larger thinkers who can take a step back and examine our personal and communal lives as totalities, our problems a poisonous hydra with multiple heads. The Herakles Project. We are so smart and so incremental.

Let’s find an image and a way of operating that is a different model; let’s not attack the problem, let’s sit and consider it, let’s make it our necessity to heal ourselves in a comprehensive way through the smartest people we have who will sit together and think act ourselves into solutions strategies a new wisdom, a new wisdom entirely.

jsg, usa

Confession

Confession/Vidui

I settled into silence, into the heart of grief mourning for the dead and the living dead. After three days I got up.

We have failed every single dream and fine idea that was planted in me and in my generation when I was young and I accept responsibility.

Part of the world I am; sacrificing every fine young/old idea that I was given or I thought through myself. I can’t bear to hear another cliché or partial solution to perceived problems.

We are undone.

We should all be in deep mourning for what we as a people failed to be, and unless we look deep into the mirror of our culture and claim its reclamation and repair, we dedicate the future to the same failed set of ideas we inherited and neglected to fix.

We are sacrificing our children now to our sorry promises and hollow, empty language.

Enough.

Better, more, smarter.

jsg, usa

December 14, 2012

December 14, 2012

I heard it on the radio. As the day wore on, more information, a lot of it false. The name of the brother of the shooter confused with the shooter, the numbers, etc. Something big and unthinkable but too soon to know, pushing time on the radio. By 2 PM, the numbers were close to finalized, the story, I stopped in a coffeehouse, called an end to my day, sat at a table and put my head down.

I remembered the words of a great rebbe of a previous generation, when asked about the unmentionable horror he himself experienced during the War, put his head down on the table and cried.

I know the first response to grief is pre-lingual, pre-conceptual, before words. No-words, not silence because silence implies some sort of peace-ful-ness; before words.

I tried to push everything out of my mind, and after a few hours I began to feel myself slipping into the drain of unspeakable sadness that Newtown, Connecticut, was coming to mean, sucked down into it, as if the whole country was tipped eastward and if we let ourselves we might slide on a river of tears down the drain of darkness to that little school that went up to the fourth grade in Newtown, Connecticut.

I didn’t want to think anything; I honored the dead and the living dead with silence and the pieces of my heart inclining eastward to that little town, a lot like my little town.

After a few hours, I allowed a collection of images, patiently waiting in a mind-queue, to occupy my thoughts. They were all buried deeper than I would have predicted and they all surprised me.

First there was a rabbinical principle about great hate and great love, both of them, overturning upsetting subverting the normal. Do something different when you get up to do something, I felt.

It was getting close to time to go to prayers for evening. I didn’t hold the prayers in the designated prayer space, I held them around a table lit only by the candles of both the Hanukkah menorah and the Shabbes licht, ten candles all together. I put on sunglasses for a moment, experimenting I suppose with the idea of business not as usual, subverting the normal, do something different. I played a kind of melancholy raga on one of my ancient instruments and began the singing low and stable allowing the melodies and the environment of tears to overtake the melodies and kick them up when it was time for them to accelerate. They accelerated and with that a kind of emotional vertigo where I felt the river of sadness threatening to break through the song.

We made the melodies the same but differently. Everything was the same but different.

The next image patiently waiting was a strange ritual from Deuteronomy 21, again something I hadn’t thought of in a long time and I was sure was residing somewhere deep in my subconscious.

Someone is found killed. They go to the nearest town and bring the priests and the elders from the town to a wild place. The elders of that town and the priests make a ritual sacrifice, they axe a calf called eglah arufah, they wash their hands and say about the crime: we didn’t do this. Rashi the poet asks: who would imagine they had anything to do with it? The point is everyone is implicated in such horrors. Who is not involved? It’s the culture it’s the culture. It’s all of us and it’s everything.

From there I thought of a quote from Rabbi Heschel, I think from The Prophets and the first prophet he deals with Amos. I feel still so raw and spontaneous that for the sake of this writing I’m not going to look it up; I remember it this way: some are guilty, all are responsible.

It was the seventh night of Hanukkah that evening and as with all the nights of Hanukkah the last several years I invited a new take every night of the question the Talmud poses: Mai Hannukah, what IS Hanukkah? As if there were a dozen versions, I had already written several dozen myself. Every night I opened myself to answer that question. I called it Raza de Hanukkah, the secret of it.

My teacher reminded me that Rashi the poet adds: it’s a miracle, but which one? He came down on the side of the oil and the light, and his grandson across the page in the Talmud came down on the side of the battles and the wars, the ascendance of the few over the many as depicted in the prayer we say Al HaNisim, About the Miracles.

I wrote this about that:
Rashi and His Grandson

On the seventh night there was a pause in festivities
From one side of the page Rashi lifted up the light
The miracle of the oil;

From the other side of the page his grandson lifted up the war
The few against the many
Finding redemption in the battle;

Then something terrible happened in our land
Something so broken;

And Rashi and his grandson
Called across the page —

How came we to be this way
How might we become something else;

We are all responsible
It’s all of us and it’s everything;

So we sat in our sadness
Resisting the simple

Until we found our silence
And mourned for those who lost.

I then thought about the argument of the Babylonians Rav and Shmuel, each head of an academy in what is today Iraq, responding to the question: what if there isn’t enough goodness to sustain a generation? What then?

Rav said, “all the ends have passed, and the matter depends only on transformation [teshuvah] and good deeds.”
But Shmuel said, “it is enough for the mourner to stand in his mourning.”
– Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97b

I heard the President say words that stung me more than all the other words he spoke, and I wrote this, echoing the voice of Rav; Rav’s version of the Unspeakable.

Raza de Hanukkah 7

“These children are all our children.” – President Obama, Dec. 14, 2012

All the ends have passed, and the matter depends only on transformation [teshuvah] and good deeds. Rav, BT Sanhedrin, 97b

On the seventh night there was a halt in festivities
And the question:

What is it?
Took on a new sense:

Something terrible happened in our land
Something so broken.

We considered how we came to be this way
How we could become something else;

To find a way
Out of our breakage;

We are all implicated
It’s all of us and it’s everything;

We had to sit in our sadness
Resist the simple and the fragmented —

To find our silence
And mourn for those who lost.

That night, I slept fitfully and waking for an hour or so between two and three AM I wrote this, thinking “these are not our children,” speaking now the version of Shmuel.

December 14, 2012

But Shmuel said, “it is enough for the mourner to stand in his mourning.”
– Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97b

They are not our children
If they were
The danger being drawn into the tehom
That Deep
Drawn down into it
To cry and never stop.

We are hanging on to the edge of Equanimity with our fingertips
A half a country away.

If they were our children
We would be drowning in that Deep
Tehom
That silence
That Unformed and Empty Voicelessness before Tears;

Empty and unreplenished.

After the deep
And the spirit of G*d hovering
How long in that And.

And the earth was without form, and void;
and darkness was upon the face of the deep*/tehom;
And the spirit of G*d hovered over the face of the waters.
Gen. 1:2

I took all this to the prayer space with me the next morning and talked it; we ended with T who said, enough talk, I am feeling it and he broke off with tears and we all sat with our tears for a moment and we leaned eastward, planted ourselves and sat in our silence until it was time to go home.

jsg, usa

December 14, 2012

They are not our children
If they were
The danger being drawn into the tehom
That Deep
Preceding the sound of those moms and dads crying.

We are hanging on to the edge of Equanimity with our fingertips
A half a country away.

If they were our children
We would be drowning in that Deep
Tehom
That silence
That Unformed and Empty Voicelessness before Tears;

Empty and unreplenished.

After the deep
And the spirit of G*d hovering
How long in that And.

jsg, usa

Gen. 1:2 And the earth was without form, and void;
and darkness was upon the face of the deep*/tehom;
And the spirit of G*d hovered over the face of the waters.