The Kabbalah of Age
At Eighty Nine*
*[Eighty is pei, Nine is tet]
Pei is mouth
Pei follows ayin, 70, the eye,
The Kabbalistics of Sage-ing.
The mouth follows the eye
at eighty we have earned with watchfulness
the words we parse the world.
The pei eighty oral Torah
we are Oral Torah
we are commentary on the text of G*dliness.
Tet is nine
nine months of gestation
giving birth to something — New.
Articulate the hidden
from G*d’s mouth to the future
the power of speech
the thirty two paths of wisdom
twenty two letters plus ten energies.
Blessed is the One who spoke
and the world came into Being –
also blessed the quiet and sure
need not be spoken.
The year 5774 A Day At A Time
Every day I get up and say you‘re the master of the Universe
Now give me the strength to do the right thing
Answer this –
What’s new this passage this Rosh Hashanah.
Every day I get up and present
I take three small steps and place myself in front of you
What’s my assignment
Make me a vessel of your will
Help me do the right thing
Plant within me the strength to be the person you intended me to be
Let me be grateful for all the days I have been given —
A day at a time.
I am I say
I am You say
Let us be I am for each other.
Every day I get up and I listen for the voice of clarity
There is small clarity
Not much certainty
I am listening I promise you
There is posturing
There is a move here and there
The best is a good move but it’s a move
It’s rehearsed and it’s a practiced move
I am looking for the spontaneous move of deep sincerity
That kind of move.
I have been rehearsing for that move
When it’s time to produce
It will seem unrehearsed
It will surprise me most of all
That kind of move –
It may inspire you.
To my community
Your moves inspire me
Because you’ve gotten up every morning and said
Master of the Universe
Into Your hands I entrust my spirit
At the time I lie down and the time I rise up
And with my spirit my body too
You are with me
I will not fear –
Give me the good move
I need it now I think.
I begin with the kabbalah of repair
The instrument when it is broken and repaired
Is stronger more beautiful than if never broken at all
I love the broken, the wounded, the partial, the incomplete
Because it integrates and even if not, it is whole.
The partial is the All
In the individual is the One
There is something in each individual version
That recapitulates the Whole
There is no broken no incomplete
The wounded the broken a sense of Everything.
The transformative days of awe preoccupation
I will turn away from here and approach There [Rashi]
Teshuvah – to be unstuck.
Not arrival but journey
Not destination but pathway
Not there but here
The story is told with the daily transformation in the
The moon is the image [Zohar Emor and Kuntres Uma'ayan Ma'amar 18]
The growth arc this time of year
The moon when it’s hidden at the beginning of the month.
Go outside and watch the dim image of the new moon Tishrei
We draw something new into the world
Something entirely new
On Rosh Hashanah it’s hidden
Like the moon
And not revealed fully understood
Until the full moon of Sukkot the 15th of the month,
Make a tekiah with the shofar awakening something new [Ps.81:4]
What it is — might not clarify right away
Each day it reveals more
Like the moon
From the first to the fifteenth of the month
This is the time of all time
To pay attention
The growth arc this time of year.
This year is the year of the good intention
May it be the year of Iyyun
The year of Ayin and dalet
Iyyun – focus
Ayin for seventy faces of the Torah (Numbers R. 13:15)
This year: the focus on the elusive dalet
The fourth letter
Dalet the door the passageway
The movement toward to not arrival
Let all the signs
The stars too
All the angels and energies totems and intentions
Conspire to be the year of the good intention
The focused action
May it be the year –
It is supposed to be.
Ever year a prayer for the future.
We meet the challenge of the future
With more than a wish –
With more than happy new year.
I give to you a gift, an intention, an understanding between us
We are trying to know something
Beautiful sustaining –
The transformational images
We share these Days of Awe,
5774 since the creation of the world
A day at a time.
Ayin and dalet
Iyyun that dalet
Less preoccupations this year
When less is more –
And the elusive dalet
Openng onto –
This is the time
Let’s get at it.
james stone goodman
united states of america
How I Met Mordecai Kaplan
It was 1976-77 my first trip to Israel also first year at Hebrew Union College. I showed up with a suitcase and a guitar and sat on the steps at 13 King David Street in Jerusalem and unpacked my instrument, attracted the attention of an excellent Israeli player-entrepreneur who soon had me on the road in a Rhythm and Blues then a Country and Bluegrass then a Jazz and Blues Review that covered the country. I tried to conceal this part of my life. I was often gone and missed a lot of the tiyulim [trips around the country organized by my school].
My friend and co-player lived on ibn Ezra street I think the corner of Keren Kayemet if I am remembering correctly. He had a nice mirpeset [balcony] and almost every day during the week I would stay late in the library then make my way down Keren Kayemet street where a lone Temeni [Yemenite] restauranteur who stayed open late fed me a spectacular cuisine like he was my mother then on to Moshe’s mirpeset for some late night every night guitar playing.
We did that the entire year. I would sometimes see an elderly man dressed dark shuffling with a cane down the same Keren Kayemet street when I came earlier in the day who paused in front of a mercolet [small notions store] and barked Adon! [sir] and the proprietor would bring out the newspapers.
On Shavuot someone asked if I would like to attend a tikkun [late night teaching] at Mordecai Kaplan’s apartment, a rare occasion I was told during those years. I went with my sweetheart who later became my wife. Mordecai Kaplan was taken with her and gave her a sweet little book.
The tikkun was great. His wife was welcoming and I don’t remember much about what we learned because I realized that he was the man I saw shuffling on the street and moreover it was directly next door to where Moshe and I played guitar every night. Oh no, I thought, I’m keeping this man up at night. I think he was 95 at the time.
I wasn’t going to say anything but after he spoke he retreated into another room and his wife (I assumed it was his wife) was pleasant and social and enjoyed a little conversation before we left. It came up in conversation that my guitar playing friend lived in the building right next door. I grimaced.
You’re the guy who plays guitar on the mirpeset at night?
Yeah, that’s me, I started to apologize.
He loves listening to you. He waits for you every night. When you’re not there, he asks where’s my guitar player?
That’s how I met Mordecai Kaplan. I was his guitar player.
james stone goodman
united states of america
Between the Narrows
There is a hilltop in Jerusalem
Where heaven and earth touch
After the destruction the bride began to weep
The ground 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
To wash myself clean
This I have been taught
After a river of tears
Expect the messiah
And he was afraid, and said: how dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of G*d (Gen. 28:17). From here you learn that anyone who prays in this place, in Jerusalem, it is as though praying before the Throne of Glory. For the gateway to heaven is there and the door is open to hear prayer, as it is said, “And this is the gate of heaven.”
• Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, chapter 35, English Friedlander pp, 265-66.
And so David said, Jerusalem is built like a city joined together (Ps. 122:3), that is, as a city G*d built, and the Targum Yonatan translates: Jerusalem was built as a city in the heavens to be joined with the one on earth. And G*d swore that the Shekhinah would not enter the city on high until one below has been rebuilt.
• Tanhuma Exodus, Pikudei section 1
The main custom is to sit on the floor (until Midnight on Tisha B’Av). One may sit on a cushion or on a low stool.
• Shulchan Aruch w/Mishnah Brurah 559:3, MB 11
My [Elijah] son [R Yosi], what sound did you hear in this ruin? I replied: I heard a divine voice, cooing like a dove.
• BT. Berakhot 3a
There were two types of birds at the wall. The doves nesting quietly in the Wall, and the swifts screeching and careening madly for the minute or so it took to speak the mourner’s prayer.
I told the story to Miri, long time resident of Jerusalem.
She said to me, the swifts were not always here. I know an Arab man in the Old City who told me that before the Jews came back in ’67, there were no swifts here. The swifts returned to the Wall with the Jews.
• Aggadat Miri
Behold the gates of mercy an arbitrary space
And none of us deserving the cruelty or the grace
• Eliezer HaKohen
Though the gates of prayer are closed the gates of weeping are not.
• BT. Berakhot 32b
On the day the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed, Messiah was born.
• Eicha Rabbah 1:51
July 8, 2013
Mr. B of the Clayton jail called to tell me he had an inmate requesting kosher food. Mr. B generally interviews those who request kosher and he always asks what’s the most important Jewish festival? I think Mr. B generally doesn’t get much of an answer, but this guy gave him a list of half a dozen. Still, he was suspicious.
Oh yes, I know him I told Mr. B. He used to come by the Thursday night group for recovering addicts and he came to the synagogue too. Then he vanished.
Well he’s here and he’s detoxing off of heroin I think.
I hope you’ll give him some good kosher food while he’s coming down.
You know him?
Yes I know him.
I didn’t know him well but I remembered him and remembered when he came around he came with regularity and I found him a job after a while, an assistant cook in a nice restaurant.
When I went to see him I asked, what happened?
Couldn’t stay with it. I messed up.
He was picked up with drugs and later I found out there was a weapons violation involved uh oh and he was looking at serious time.
I’m often surprised by these guys, many of them are smart and seem sincere and sometimes I can’t figure how they get into the messes they get into. With this guy, he missed a basic lesson. I asked him whether they had meetings in the jail house, he said no just Christian. What do you mean? No Jewish prayers.
No I said, I don’t mean prayer services. I know there’s a lot of Christian prayer meetings in prison, I’m talking about AA meetings, NA meetings.
Oh, I don’t know, he said.
I realized then that for him Judaism was his program. That’s backwards.
Sobriety is your religion now, I said, recovery. AA is your religion NA, get yourself to meetings. Make your sobriety the center of your life. Everything else will follow. I don’t think anyone ever said that to him before, he looked so surprised.
I’ll get you a Hebrew Bible I said, in English, soft cover. I’ll get you a calendar. I’ll put together a book of teachings for you. You get yourself to meetings.
I need a Hebrew name, he said.
His given name had no precise Hebrew equivalent. What is it you love?
I work with my hands. I can build and fix anything. I want to fix up old houses.
I told him about Betzalel, the first artisan, and how without him the Temple could not have been built. G*d showed Moses the pattern floating in the sky but without the artist Betzalel it could not have been built.
Betzalel? He said it with a little difficulty.
Yes, you like it? The artisan. The builder.
Yeah that’s right. Let’s pray with it.
What’s your mother’s name?
What’s her name?
Her name was Deborah.
That’s a Hebrew name, you know, you’re Betzalel ben Devorah and now I’m going to chant a holy prayer for your healing in your name and the name of your mother through whom your healing comes.
I sat there in the jail house cubicle separated by the thick glass with the phone to my face him a foot away and I chanted some healing prayers naming him and his mother and praying for his complete healing.
Thank you, he said, he thanked me again. Say it again? He asked. I did. Several more times.
The next time I saw him I had given Mr. B a Hebrew Bible in English translation soft cover and asked him to give it to Betzalel. I put a note on the inside with the page number where Betzalel is mention in Exodus 31 and I highlighted the verses.
I went up to the cubicle. We talked some more. He would be at the Clayton jail longer than he thought and he knew he was looking at serious time. I told him that Mr. B had a soft cover Hebrew Bible in English translation for him.
How do you say it, and he tried to say Betzalel but it didn’t come out right.
In the Bible you’ll be getting they call him Bezalel, you can use that if you like and I felt myself beginning to speak easy English to him thinking he’s not going to get this Bezalel easily and in mid-sentence as I was explaining how he could say Bez-a-lel nice and slowly, he said:
It’s a tzaddi — (the Hebrew letter that is more correctly transliterated as tz or ts though there is no exact English equivalent).
Yes, I said, it’s a tzaddi, knowing he has been studying Hebrew and once again I betray my bias and how wrong I am to assume he has not entered deep into his name into this search he is on for meaning and how irrelevant it is that he is a foot away separated by thick glass we are talking by phones through the jail house window he is a black man and when the keepers of the purse ask me who are the people you see in the prison house are they white are they black are they Jewish how completely irrelevant that is on so many levels and how many of them know what a tzaddi is how many?
Forgive me, I think, I smile a big smile shamed by my bias, yes I said it’s a tzaddi just say it slow and in syllables until it becomes comfortable: B’tzal-El. It means in the shadow of G*d.
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 any time 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 abstinence 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 separation 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 [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.
We call these pieces Morning Kook. They were inspired by material I have been learning from the notebooks of Rav Kook. The notebooks are short entries, often with imagery that is startling and evocative to me. While we learn, I am writing poetry. Some of the imagery from the notebooks appears in my poetry.
I took the poetry and made simple musical accompaniment, enhanced by my friends Brothers Lazaroff, who fleshed out the melodies to accompany the poems.
We then took the images of my friend Todd Weinstein and we put them into short video pieces, to honor the sources, to lift up the inspiration of Source and Collaboration.
Here is the first piece: I hope you enjoy. We will be posting them throughout the week.