Betzalel Story #33

Mishkan

Clayton Jail-house
Summer, 2013

The next time I saw Betzalel 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 mentioned 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 [his Hebrew name, recently bestowed], and he tried to say Betzalel but it didn’t come out right.

In the Bible coming to you they call him Bezalel, with a z, 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 Betzalel 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, realizing he had been studying Hebrew and once again I betrayed my bias and how wrong I was to assume he had 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 were talking by phones through the jail-house window — he is a black man and when the keepers of the purse asked 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 my questioners know what a tzaddi is anyway?

Forgive me, I thought, I smiled 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.

jsg, usa

————

What to do, where to start.

I felt some urgency in bringing these stories out, we have been too secret with our stories of ascendance and recovery, and our stories of descent and tragedy, we have been too secret all around. I searched out ways to reach more people, to lift the shame curtain on our addictions and our depressions and our imprisonments and our secret illnesses when the inner world goes dark.

I felt that our spiritual and our social institutions were like gated communities behind which stories are kept for ourselves. I think we could work better together to serve our communities with more intelligent strategies. The first step: tell the stories.

Some of the stories are triumphant, some difficult. All are true. Though the stories are stripped of details, names, identifying qualities, almost all the individuals mentioned are heroic meaning they value the necessity to serve. They want to turn their experience into benefit for someone else. Confidentiality does not mean secrecy. Secrecy is part of the problem.

Thus this series: These Are The Stories.

Vigil: In Spain With the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra

West Eastern Divan Orchestra

In Spain With the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra
August, 2006

It’s past midnight and we are trying to decide on a plan
some of us ready for tonight’s rehearsal
some withholding —
Beethoven’s Ninth.
Most of us haven’t the strength for it just now.

We have brought our politics with us into the practice tent
the original dream of our collaboration corrupted for now
we don‘t have to agree — on that we all agree —
still we are stuck, unsure how long.

Our project is called Divan in Arabic Diwan
a compilation of music or poetry.
Our ensemble takes its name from Goethe’s West-Eastern Divan*
his last great cycle of poetry —
Goethe himself inspired by the divan of the Persian poet Hafiz.

*The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, founded by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said in 1999. We are not generals or politicians, we are musicians. We are not solving even our own problems, much less the world’s problems.

We are hosted in Spain, Andalusia,
the president of Andalusia* remembers the Jews, Muslims, and Christians
who lived in his part of Spain
one thousand years ago
a kind of Golden Age.

*The president of Andalusia and maestro remind us of our history and our vision. We are musicians from different sides of the wall, we might not have gotten to Beethoven’s Ninth this year, nor the Leonore Overture No. 3, nor Mozart’s sinfonia concertante for winds, Bottesini’s Fantasia on Themes by Rossini, nor Brahm’s First Symphony.

There are 92 of us in the orchestra
we have written a statement* that we break out
every concert: there is no military solution
our destinies are inextricably linked
our project stands in sharp contrast to the cruelty and savagery of the present war.

*Still – seven of us voted against it but it stands, our little declaration of principle.
It stands for the peace we seek through music – one of our violinists said,
you don’t have to agree on everything to be friends. We live on different planets –
this has opened my eyes.

Said maestro,
if there were no conflict
there would be no need for our project.

I hear the strings warming up —
here in Andalusia the night is stale.
Past midnight
are we going to play?

james stone goodman
Vigil

Story #10

Kafka Monday

I talked to her on the phone several weeks before. I wonder if you remember me, she asked, of course I remember you. She hadn’t been around in a while. I wondered where you’d gone off to, I said. She was smart, older than most of the others in the group, and well informed.

She described to me on the phone what she took away from the teachings, the music, the approach we took and it was as sensitive a profile of what we were doing as I have heard. She had been paying attention. She had more background than most of my students and knew the language to describe what she took away.

When I called back, her daughter told me she had been bouncing in and out of a series of institutions. They say she’s depressed now, her daughter said with weariness in her voice, she asked me to call you.

I went up to see her. They buzzed me up to the second floor. I was familiar with the building.

I hadn’t seen her in about ten years. She was sitting near the door by herself. I stood in front of her and called softly her name.

Oh sir, you came she said, she repeated that several times ascending in enthusiasm until she reached a pitch that was a little more than polite. Oh sir, she repeated, you came, you really came. She moved over several seats away from the other person who was sitting near. Come with me here, she said again: you came to see me.

She put her hand on my sleeve, I moved to hold her hand. I don’t want to hold your hand, she said, I just want to lay mine on your sleeve. It was a modesty thing I think.

We talked and she filled me in that she felt alone and abandoned, that they told her she was depressed and she supposed she was, but there was so much in her life that was overwhelming. She moved quickly through time, now the indignity she felt in being carried around to so many institutions in such a short time, her inability to look after herself properly. She felt as if she had no one left.

I gave her a booklet I made for her of teachings I had written about the approaching holidays. Oh sir, she said, thank you thank you. I’m not reading right now, she said she couldn’t focus her eyes, will you read some to me?

So I read to her some of the poems I had written based on the seven messages of consolation from Isaiah.

As I read she stopped me and asked to repeat a line, which I did. Each time she commented on the line in the intelligent, informed, sensitive way I remembered from her. What she didn’t understand she said right out: I don’t understand that. What does that mean? And the lines she thought especially beautiful she stopped to comment: I love that phrase. Oh that word, so good.

Every valley a high place, that’s so beautiful she said, so optimistic. Lift up your voice from low places, yes she said, that is so hard to do. Give yourself a name, give everything a name. I don’t know what value that is, she said with weariness, I know Adam gave out names but what does it mean? What does it mean if you can name it? Does that really change anything?

__________

What to do, where to start.

I felt some urgency in bringing these stories out, we have been too secret with our stories of ascendance and recovery, and our stories of descent and tragedy, we have been too secret all around. I searched out ways to reach more people, to lift the shame curtain on our addictions and our depressions and our imprisonments and our secret illnesses when the inner world goes dark.

I felt that our spiritual and our social institutions were like gated communities behind which stories are kept for ourselves. I think we could work better together to serve our communities with more intelligent strategies. The first step: tell the stories.

Some of the stories are triumphant, some difficult. All are true. Though the stories are stripped of details, names, identifying qualities, almost all the individuals mentioned are heroic meaning they value the necessity to serve. They want to turn their experience into benefit for someone else. Confidentiality does not mean secrecy. Secrecy is part of the problem.

Thus this series: These Are The Stories.

james stone goodman

Noah, part 2: Come Into The Word

Noah manuscript

Come Into The Word

On Noach

Part 2

Then there’s the story of your decline. You turned to the sauce (Gen.9:21). It’s no excuse to say you humiliated yourself the way you did (with your children present yet) because you were spiced up, as Grandfather used to say. You got attached to substances. When you get attached that way Noah anything can happen and often does. You begin to violate all the codes of behavior you thought you would never violate. The first step Noah: take responsibility. It was not the drink acting, it was Noah drunk.

Here is the secret sense of that problem: the emptiness within. That sense of entitlement Noah you began with (6:9), if you don’t move through that you could be lost that way your entire life. And you will leave behind a world of mess: your children – a legacy of mess (9:25).

There is no filling a hunger that isn’t physical; that emptiness within Noah, we know that’s the root problem. You can’t drink enough you can’t drug enough you can’t eat enough you can’t spend enough you can’t fill enough a hunger that isn’t physical. The only antidote is spiritual, the perennial remedy, the real deal, a spiritual remedy.

The clues are all in the Book, Noah. Come into the teivah (7:1), the Book invited you. It means Word in addition to Ark. And if you didn’t know that or if you forgot, someone should have reminded you: Come into the Word.

Noah, you could have walked into the Word, become a tzaddik in language, talked through all your complicated stuff because that is the enduring remedy. Talk it work it get honest about it confront it ultimately eclipse it. Grow beyond your limitations. Talk with your healers, let them mix medicines when you need that kind of help – science and spirit — and deal with it. Go to any lengths. Enter the Word. That’s the healing power, the power in language.

You could have become a tzaddik in loshen, Noah, a righteous person in language, and saved everyone.

jsg.usa

Come Into The Word

byzantine-art-noah-drinking-wine-mosaic-baptistery-of-st-mark-s-basilica-venice-italy

Come Into The Word

On Noach

Come on back in Noah. You had such a good start, a guy with promise. The way the Book refers to you, ish tzaddik (Gen.6:9), such a lofty description. A righteous man. Maybe that’s what held you back, too much opportunity. Maybe you had too much and you know how that happens, you felt entitled. Everyone telling you you’re an ish tzaddik, a righteous person, maybe as you grew you didn’t develop and came to expect what you had not earned. Hey, who’s the righteous person in the room?

That may be part of the problem for you: the room. The Book reads a righteous person then a couple of qualifiers: just right for your generation (6:9). Uh oh. What if your generation was not so elevated, what if you were born into a generation that was not so lofty? To be an ish tzaddik in that generation might not be such great shakes.

Grandfather of blessed memory used to refer to you as a tzaddik in peltz. What kind of tzaddik might you be? He would ask. A tzaddik in a fur coat, and then he would laugh that laugh that was heard from one end of the room to the other, the kind of laughter that suggested we’re all a little ruined here. When you’re cold, you can light a fire at the hearth and everyone warms up. Or you can put on your fur coat. That’s the Noah kind of tzaddik, he would say, a righteous person in a fur coat.

That’s a hard problem Noah and we all have some sympathy for you. Later in life, if you had learned to read better, you might have seen the signs in the Book. The clue to your redemption is there too. Come into the teivah, Noah, the book reads (7:1). That could have been your salvation. Come into the Ark, teivah, same word used for our beloved teacher Moses (Ex.2:3,5) who came out of the teivah in the bulrushes. You might have entered the wrong kind of teivah, Noah. In that ark you saved yourself, your kids, the wives, and two of every kind of those sweet Dr. Dolittle animals.

Then there’s the terrible acting out of your decline. You turned to the sauce (Gen.9:21). It’s no excuse to say you humiliated yourself the way you did (with your children present yet) because you were spiced up, as Grandfather used to say. You got attached to substances. When you get attached that way Noah anything can happen and often does. You begin to violate all the codes of behavior you thought you would never violate. The first step Noah: take responsibility. It was not the drink acting, it was Noah drunk.

Here is the secret sense of that problem: the emptiness within. That sense of entitlement Noah you began with, if you don’t work it you could be lost that way your entire life. And you will leave behind a legacy of mess. Your children — they will inherit a legacy of mess (9:25).

There is no filling a hunger that isn’t physical; that emptiness within Noah, we know that’s the root problem. You can’t drink enough you can’t drug enough you can’t eat enough you can’t spend enough you can’t fill enough a hunger that isn’t physical. The only antidote is spiritual, the perennial remedy, the real deal, a spiritual remedy.

The clues are all in the Book, Noah. Come into the teivah, the Book invited you. It means Word in addition to Ark. And if you didn’t know that or if you forgot, someone should have reminded you. Come into the Word.

Noah, you could have walked into the Word, become a tzaddik in language, talked through all your complicated stuff because that is the enduring remedy. Talk it work it get honest about it confront it ultimately eclipse it. Grow beyond your limitations. Talk with your healers, let them mix medicines when you need that kind of help and deal with it. Enter the Word. That’s the healing power, the power in language.

You could have become a tzaddik in loshen, Noah, a righteous person in language, and saved everyone.

jsg.usa

Great Librarians I Have Known

Ancient library alex

A Founding Father’s Books Turn Up
– NY Times, Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dear Dr. L.,

I feel so many opportunities in the course of life these days to think of my teachers from the old school. You have weathered the years well. Not only do you live in my memory, and in my imagination, but what you taught me by virtue of standards and models alone has enriched my life and I am sure account for the measure by which I parse the world in my own little way, sometimes to my frustration for what you planted for me has grown slowly or not at all in other places, ways, people (heaven forbid that I am judging but – I am).

Recently there was a conversation on one of our list-servs (a place where people express opinions without thinking) in which one of the older colleagues implied that the newer colleagues have not the tools as we were encouraged to develop in the former days when we consulted the books in your province – the library. The proof is of course in the product – do we write better, do we think better, are the standards advancing – of course they are not.

Often I feel how I would like to inform you of this or that – something I have read or something discovered that you would appreciate – in the world to come you are no doubt preoccupied with greater pursuits, sitting with texts, taking sunshine with the great Rabbis, pouring over the manuscripts you couldn’t identify in life but suspected were of the hand of this scribe, that scribe, sitting with the Holy One in the great yeshivahs on high learning the mystery texts that disappeared in life and are now in the great libraries of the next world, the genizah on high — yours is a blessed existence I am sure.

I read something in the newspaper that delighted me and I am sure would have delighted you, and if it’s not available there, I want to share with the one person who I know would chuckle and I can see that smile curling the corners of your mouth hesitating toward the peak where you were thinking this is funny but never daring to expose your feelings in so blatant a way (no doubt emotional residue from your pause in England on your escape route from the Nazis to the rare books collection at the College where you tutored me, old school).

Dr. – in the town where I live they recently identified 74 books that belonged to the library of one of our early Presidents who of all the Presidents of our youthful country was the most bibliophilic. I just had to tell you. They have had these texts in their collection since 1880 [!?].

One of the founders of the university in my town — a grandfather of the celebrated poet, less than friendly to our people, Thomas Stearns (who became English and snooty) and whose grandfather seems to have been a colleague at Harvard of the donor of President Jefferson’s books (our third President, Thomas Jefferson) — that grandfather and founder of the university in my town received a certain part of President Jefferson’s retirement collection of books. Thomas Stearns’ grandfather donated them to the university in our town around 1880.

To identify those books must seem to you a rather simple pursuit when I consider that you were the curator of ancient books identifying for our modest College manuscripts from several millennia by location and date and sometimes even by scribe.

These books of President Jefferson have been in the collection in the library of my town since 1880 and – this is the part I know you would appreciate – the President labeled his books with his initials “TJ.” Isn’t that wonderful? In 2011 the scholarly resources of the university library identified the books as belonging to President Thomas Jefferson and everywhere in my town they were celebrating this remarkable find [lost-and-find].

My beloved teacher, I just had to share this with you. I find myself in awe at the world as it has formed and the one whose image you placed in my mind, in the distance between the two I fill with memories of your demonstrated excellence and the others of your time and depth. We are so diminished. You planted us deep with a lofty reach.

I knew you would enjoy this story and if I could peek into the other world for just a moment, I would witness again the corners of your mouth beginning that managed rise north-wards, not quite a smile but you and I know how funny life is.

I often wear red socks and my trousers too short in your honor. Your student always,

James Stone Goodman
C’81

Gate of Compassion

gates-golden

Shaar HaRachamim/Gate of Compassion

It’s two gates
The gate of compassion next to the gate of teshuvah*
Teshuvah a turning-return-response
Both gates are bricked up
If we open onto teshuvah*
We might push through the gate of compassion
We might have to open it up that way.

With Rav that’s the way to open the gates
Everyone will have to make the Changes
With Sam
We will have to stand in our suffering
Cry the world well
I’m crying every day all day
In the silent inner way I have cultivated.

The gate of teshuvah* is on the north side
Where the wind blew
Through David’s singing harp
In the palace of the King.

Make the Changes delight in the north wind
When the north wind is slight.

Standing with my beloveds
At the Gate of Compassion
Shaar HaRachamim
Bricked up since the 15th century
We’re fixing to storm that gate –

Make the changes
Sing it open
Swing it open
Weep it open.

jsg.usa

A northern wind blew on David’s harp and it played
— BT Berakhot 3b
The northern wind Ruach HaTzeFoNit is the ruach haTzaFuN (the hidden spirit) in a person’s heart – this is the ruach/wind/spirit of life.
— R. Nachman, Likkutei Moharan, #8
Tzafon [North] is lacking
— BT Baba Batra 25b

Rav said, all the ends have passed, and the matter depends only on teshuvah* and good deeds.

But Shmuel says, it is enough for the mourner to stand in mourning.
– BT Sanhedrin 97b

Hidden And Full

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— Couple watching lunar eclipse, Brooklyn, NY. Photo Todd Weinstein

Hidden to Full

Make a tekia on the moon with the shofar
when it [the moon] is hidden/bakesse
toward the day of our chag [full moon Sukkot] — Psalm 81:4

The moon is the image
growth arc this time of year.

Begin with Rosh Hashanah
new moon of Tishrei
barely discerned –
we draw down
every Rosh Hashanah
something entirely new.

Ba-kesse
hidden on Rosh Hashanah
until Sukkot moon
fully plumped —

Supernal Mother
the higher light
drawn down.

When the moon is full
tell me what you’ve learned
this year* how you’ve learned.

jsg.usa

*5776 super moon lunar eclipse

Commentary:

The verse is re-figured, I think the holy Zohar reads it this way. Bakesse the word here it is taken to mean hidden, like the new moon. [ed. Through the agency of teshuvah and sound of the shofar does the moon shine and it does not shine until the tenth day]. The tenth day is Yom Kippur. On that day the Supernal Mother gives its light to the moon. Yom Kippurim (pl.) two lights illuminating, the higher lighting up the lower. The higher spiritual light, the Supernal mother, not the sun. – Maxwell

The moon is the growth-image. On the new moon, what is new that is drawn into the world remains hidden (like the moon). By Yom Kippur, what I am learning begins to articulate, on Yom Kippur it is revealed in the higher realms. On the full moon of Sukkot, it is at the level of makif, a kind of surrounding wisdom but not internalized, not digested so to speak. Only at the end, the eighth day, Shmini Atzeres, does it enter the inner realm, penimi, it burrows itself into my kishkes. I heard this from my Grandfather of blessed memory who brought it down from the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe I think. – Perle

It’s the light and soul of the whole year! This is how the light is drawn down from Ein Sof to ignite the other worlds. – Billie

For me it hangs on the preposition – l’yom in the Psalm verse – the sense of movement toward the holiday, that sense of awareness plumping with the moon, from hidden to revealed. – Gracie

Where did you learn this? – Fred

A northern wind came and blew through David’s singing harp in the palace of the King. – ed.

Sweet. — Fred

These Are The Stories

Story #2

She wrote me a note before we did a community session on suicide. She was not in a place, she said, to come to the session but she wanted to make a contribution.

She gave me permission to use her words as a prompt for the participants to write about their experiences. The following is from the original piece she wrote to me, her words:

I am a survivor I suppose. I have attempted suicide several times in serious ways
and I believe I am alive to share a few things I’ve learned. I feel some sort of purpose, I am always looking for that but here goes — I hope this helps someone.

People could listen more with their eyes as well as their ears. When you are contemplating suicide, you don’t conceptualize it. You may not express it.

Be observant. Don’t ignore anything. Take everything seriously. I wanted someone to hold my hand – I’m not going to leave you, G*d will not leave you, I’m with you, I will never leave you, that’s what I wanted to hear.

And most importantly: This feeling is going to pass.

You don’t think it’s going to pass. You think it’s never going away. It feels permanent.

I wanted someone to say to me: I wish I could be there with you. Call me. Don’t be alone.
Some time later I met with her at a coffee shop.

I’m starting to feel like I want to get out more, she said, to be of service to others. I often feel a terrible negative energy running through my being, but I think I can offer something. If I could help someone else, it would mean so much.

______________

What to do, where to start.

I felt some urgency in bringing these stories out, we have been too secret with our stories of ascendance and recovery, and our stories of descent and tragedy, we have been too secret all around. I felt that lives were at stake and I searched out ways to reach more people, to lift the shame curtain on our addictions and our depression and our imprisonments and our secret illnesses when the inner world goes dark.

I felt that our spiritual and our social institutions were like gated communities behind which stories are kept for ourselves. I think we could work better together to serve our communities with more intelligent strategies. It’s a matter of saving lives, the first step: tell the stories.

Some of the stories are triumphant, some difficult. All are true. Though the stories are stripped of details, names, identifying qualities, almost all the individuals mentioned are heroic meaning they value the necessity to serve. They want to turn their experience into benefit for someone else. Confidentiality does not mean secrecy. Secrecy is part of the problem.

Thus this series: These Are The Stories.

The Story of Mychal Judge

amd-judge-jpg

In every generation, there are a finite number of stories that authenticate, define the generation. In every event of significance, every catastrophe, every jubilation, there are a certain number of stories, thirty six, thirty, one, ten thousand, thirty six stories that define the catastrophe.

The defining story for me of 9/11 is the story of the fire fighters of New York City, and a particular account of those fire fighters given by a Board member of the Fallen Firefighters Foundation, Vena Drennan (sp?). Her husband Capt. John Drennan was killed on the job in 1994.

She was interviewed by Noah Adams on All Things Considered, this is what I heard listening to it on the radio:

Mrs. Drennan: We went down to the firehouse which is below Fourteenth Street. I went to the wake of one of the firefighters. They have a sense of optimism. They had decided to pray to my husband who they feel still watches over them. And they said, Capt. Drennan — show us where the eleven [missing] members are. And one young one said, I knew just where to put my shovel. Ladder Five is so comforted that they were able to find five of their own and return their bodies to their families and honor their deaths in a proper and magnificent funeral.

ATC: Mrs. Drennan are you saying that those on the scene believed that the spirit of your late husband helped them to find those who were fallen?

Mrs. Drennan: Yes, you lose your religion after a large crisis but you sure get a spirituality about it.

ATC: There’s a photograph of something you don’t often see in the magazines in the recent US News and World Report, of firemen carrying a dead man, the Reverend Mychal Judge fire department chaplain you know him, sixty eight years old,

Mrs. Drennan: He was one of my best friends. . .

ATC: As you know he was administering last rites and was killed by falling debris.

Then she told the story of Mychal Judge and how he had comforted her after the death of her husband, and how he had remembered her on her anniversary every year thereafter.

Mrs. Drennan: When he prayed, it was the most blessed thing,
you felt that his prayers were a direct hotline to God.

ATC: He was a Franciscan priest.

Mrs. Drennan: Mychal was administering last rites to a firefighter that had just been hit by a body of a woman. People were falling out of those towers so they wouldn’t burn. In the midst of this here he is kneeling and giving last rites. The firefighters when they realized he had perished they carried him up to St. Peters church and they laid out his body on the altar and they put his rosaries in his hand and they pinned on his fire department badge and they prayed over him. Later that night they wouldn’t let his body go to the morgue. They brought him to their firehouse and they laid him in the back room and the friars across the street of St. Francis of Assisi came and they lit candles and said a vigil.
He was beloved by every firefighter in the city and the fire department will grieve many many years for the loss of his beautiful life.

That is the defining story for me, a story of such piety and beauty that I know we are going to be all right. There were many such stories, this is the one for me. There are a number of stories that define an event, and one of them, one of those stories, may be the one that saves us, this is the story that is saving me.

How will the world be saved? Not by this, not by that, but through hope and poetry, beauty and piety, story.

jsg.usa