Vision for a Next Year No. 4a

Vision for a Next Year

R. Gamaliel, R. Eliezer b. Azariah, R. Yehoshua, and R. Akiva
came to the Temple Mount
they saw a fox coming out of the Holy of Holies,
they all burst into tears, except Akiva
Akiva laughed. [Makkot 24b]

I saw the foxes on the narrow dirt roads of the lower Galilee inching my way along in a Spanish-built car directioning myself by intuition and finding my way to my destination. But I saw the foxes, it was the week before Tisha B’Av this summer and there was nothing in the obvious associations lost on me. The foxes were small, beautiful, car savvy, easily outrunning me on the car/foot/bike path darting in and out of openings in the foliage at the side of the road where they no doubt lived and thrived. Little foxes.

I felt neither the inclination to burst into tears or to have a particularly optimistic read on the future, though the Akiva laugh is always present within; neither via positiva or via negativa, just via ambiguosa. Who the hell knows what the foxes prefigure: you may as well laugh. They thought it was desolate, Akiva thought it was funny, George Moon thought it was desolate and funny; I think when presented with the sensory information, you may as well laugh.

I also feel the proximity between the laughing and the tears, to me they are right next to each other on the spectrum of human responses to existence when it is not a linear notion but a circular notion. Tears are sitting in one spot on the circle, right next to the tears the funny man and the distinction between the two is subtle. You might think you’re sitting in the tears spot and a moment later you’re cracking up and you realize you are in the next seat, laughing. I spend a good deal of every day in both seats as do most of the people I love.

I recall the description of Bar Yochai, Akiva’s student: one eye smiling, one eye crying.

Akiva, I am sure, knew the prophecy from Zechariah 8:4ff, Old men and old women shall sit again in the streets of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand because, well, they’re old. The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.

If so, don’t take this prefiguring of the foxes too seriously; better days are coming. Akiva of the long look. I begin every year thinking about this.

Or maybe what Akiva had was a real vision. He actually saw into the future and saw what Zechariah described happening; it wasn’t a matter of attitude or posture, it was Akiva gazing into the future and seeing so much restoration that the implication of the ruin brought by the foxes meant nothing to him. He might have been laughing at everybody else’s limited imaginations. Behold the foxes; here’s the story of the foxes drawn in a homiletically limited way, Akiva saw beyond that, eschewed homiletics entirely, had confidence in the future and knew G*d provides. Relax, said Akiva, I saw it and quit making sermons. You’re boring me with your tears drawn from those cute little foxes.

Secret: every so often — what we have here – is a real vision. I enter less safe territory now.

I was in Israel this summer and the second or third evening in the Land, I twisted my ankle in a rather dramatic and frightening way. I saw this at least a week before I came. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t believe it myself; it was just a dreamy imagining that I hurt my ankle when I came to the Land and I couldn’t do much. I had myself a vision; I also didn’t want my friends and family to think I’m crazy, crazier, it’s just not comfortable.

I’ve had visions before and they are not induced by drugs (sometimes by dreams for sure) and some I pay attention to some I don’t, some have changed or authenticated the course of my life. They are not acid flashbacks; I came of age in the Sixties but I bet I smoked less grass than my high school teachers and I was lead singer in a great band and couldn’t get a girl for the life of me. Not any of that. I lived across the street from the MC5 and I spent all my free time in the library. I’m not bragging; this hasn’t as a matter of fact paid off for me at all until about a year ago. There’s just a door that opens once in a while in my head and I look through or out. That’s what I saw about two weeks before I left the States for Israel: an injury, a foot or leg injury in Israel, myself laid up.

What I didn’t see was the virus that followed, one I assume I picked up while visiting the holy Rambam at the hospital in Haifa that really laid me out, drove up a fever that crashed the bell over my head and made me delirious for at least one night and achy and stomachy and prepared for a clean colonoscopy by day two of said Vee-roos [Heb.]. No visions however, just hurt.

My handlers drove me to Jerusalem and dropped me in a hotel room by myself for two days with no food. But it was good; I felt like I was a street addict detoxing except I was overlooking the Old City. So much romance I could hardly stand it.

Blake saw G*d outside his window when he was four. I don’t doubt this at all. Read Blake. My own son picked out angels when he was just beginning to speak, his first word was “light,” and don’t think you know where those angels are congregating. It’s more like Wings of Desire than in the expressed environments of such spirits; in Temple Shemini Atzeres Corporation not a trace. I checked, returning to wisdom of Exodus 25:8, build it and I will dwell within them. Them, not it. All the clues are in our holy Torah. We have to think like Holmes.

After several days in the hotel room overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem this summer, I began to return to my senses. The hotel staff was kind, they knew something was wrong but did not ask. I was there to do some teaching, most of which I had to reneg on, and to study with my music master with whom I met enough to have acquired my pieces which I diligently worked. I had a load of books and the Wifi and figured out foreign access to Netflix, I had a very tasty borrowed Turkish style oud and a lovely German guitar I purchased in Prague and keep in Israel because I have been studying there every summer with my musical muse. I laid on the floor and didn’t speak to anyone for days.

I didn’t have that much to teach anyway. I have entered the listening learning curve of my life, having moved through the talking teaching curve I think as a young man when I had the hubris to think I knew something. I am on the less is more track, find your silence, give it give it give it all away, etc. track. I love it here.

I was high enough overlooking the valley Kidron that the breezes obviated the need for air conditioning, which was wonderful. The air and light of Jerusalem during the various changes of the day is one of the great pleasures of being there. I wondered how the weather was at home? [I knew; wanted to end this piece without pity].

Epilog

I passed away in Jerusalem. It was some kind of strange Kawangee fever that I picked up over the African Asian rift where germs wander when they are bent on revenge.

Until my death, I never once believed in the germ theory.

When found I was laid out on a pallet on the floor of a hotel room cradling a tasty Turkish oud in my arms with a look of such ecstasy on my face that the room keepers thought I was sleeping for two days. Then they decided I was dead.

They wrapped me in a sheet and went about looking for who I was. I left few clues.

They held my funeral between two groves of olive trees. The officiant was a blind holy man, perhaps a woman (“there are so many more than two possibilities,” s/he said when asked), who was called Tiresias, an irony in the Land but just right for the essential ambiguity of the way I experienced life as sacred and ridiculous.

Tiresias described me as light and sound; my soul a luminescent blue, my sound the thrum of insects at night.

Of course I wasn’t dead. I revived. I only seemed to be dead. Ready for the next year.

jsg, usa

Intention for the End of an Experience

I was determined never to look at my retirement account until it was time for me to retire and spend it. I applied for the position of oud player to the Court of the King, to teach quiet people to string words together like beads for the sake of heaven.

So – I said to no one in particular – I think I will. That was last year at this time, during the closing of the gates that we call Neilah.

I felt happy. I knew in my bones in my blood that this is the way I was supposed to feel. It was still light as I was returning the tools of my trade back to the Rainbow Village, a cluster of dwellings for the developmentally disabled where the synagogue meets. That was Saturday, September 18, 2010. That night I went to bed happy and I woke up happy on Monday, September 19, and I’ve gone to bed happy and woke up happy every night and morning since. I am a happy man. Ach Sameach Torah calls it (Deut.16:15).

Today is Sunday, October 9, 2011 and I intend to be happy today.

Last year, the guy who lives in the Rainbow Village who hums and clicks was
walking by me and it’s not as if he started talking as I am talking, he hummed and clicked as he always does but this is what I heard:

Isn’t it wonderful to be alive
Aren’t you grateful for this day and all the days of clarity you have been given
Isn’t it a privilege to have done your good work today with your mind and your hands
And to be tired in the sun with the added advantage of returning your tools to their resting places

That’s what he said

Isn’t it good good
To be alive this day in the afternoon
To be carrying the tools of your trade after having put in a day’s work
To have taken upon yourself the yoke of the kingdom of heaven
To have put on your yoke of service like all working animals and served well your Creator
To have been rewarded with nothing loftier than this perfect day in the sun that you will remember not only from recall —

But from your intention to put on your poet’s wild yoke and write stories and poems and songs and float them

Over the internet
Onto the wind
Out to the sea

Amen.

james stone goodman, united states of america

Ten days, 10b

Kol Nidre/All Vows

I am an imperfect perfection
G*d has blundered more than once
in creating me whole

with broken parts.
I have learned
that all my broken parts are whole

and even if not —
none of us are partial
we are all miniatures of the Name

in some inscrutable way
that will clarify if not in this world
in the next.

I apologize
for anything I have said or done
intentionally or inadvertently

in the past year
or I may do or say in the year to come
that has hurt or may hurt

in any misconstrued way —
forgive me.
I need you more than you know,

your friend
always,
jsg, usa

If I run into the angel Gabriel
I will tell him how fine fine super-fine
you are.

Ten days, 10a

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
Then there is good
And only good

You are endlessly forgiving
Compassionate
When will You abandon us –

Never

jsg, usa

Number 9, ten days

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 giving you room 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 myself most of all, for dwelling (in what I call my mind) on those who I think may have offended me.

Yours truly,

Josef K

Ten days, day 8

Legend of the Thirty Six

Rav said, “All the ends have passed, and the matter . . . 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

“I called my project ‘the legend of the hidden Thirty Six,’ ” Todd said, “was it necessary that the 36 be hidden — 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 Rav and Shmuel, 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 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 G*d.”

“My head 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, 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.

jsg, usa

Ten days, day 7

Wash the World Clean

. . . .Abbaye said, “there is not less than thirty six righteous persons in each generation who receive the Shekhinah [the inner presence of G*dliness], as it is said, ‘fortunate are all who wait for him,’ and the word for him [lo] has the numerical value of thirty six.”
— Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97b

Rav said, “all the ends have passed, and the matter 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 G*dliness 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.”

Forgiveness, day 6

It’s about forgiveness

“It’s about forgiveness” the poet said, forgiveness of whom?

“Say a prayer to the G*d of your understanding,” I heard a voice saying, is it the poet, is it an angel? “Say it in whatever form is necessary. Say it in whatever form is helpful,” I heard.

Jazzy the chinchilla died two days before Yom Kippur. It lived in D’s room. She fell apart. “I should have looked at her this morning,” she said wailing, “I didn’t even look at her. If only I would have looked at her, maybe I would have seen she was sick, I could have taken her to the vet earlier. . .”

“D,” I said, “it’s not your fault. You took care of Jazzy like a mother. It’s not your fault.”

“No,” wailing, “I could have done better.”

Her friend Lizzie in the car with her after burying Jazzie turns to her and says, “D, that’s teshuvah. It’s not your fault. You’re forgiven. It’s teshuvah, say a prayer and you’re forgiven. That’s how it works.”

We are taught by the sages and by ten year olds that G*d is forgiving, it’s the heart of G*d to forgive. Am I forgiving? My inner poet is asking: have you forgiven yourself? For all the lost trails, for the journey that calls me back to itself, for the roads that have gone into mourning every time I have been distracted from my way, for the errors of omission for the sins of commission for the sin that I have committed in deed, in thought, in speech, for the sin committed willingly, for the error done unaware, for all these things, I forgive, for the sins done to me by omission or commission, aware, unaware, in thought, deed, speech, I forgive, I forgive them all, I forgive, I forgive them all.

“G*d,” I say, “forgive me for my sins, my errors, my shortcomings what I have done what I didn’t do, forgive me for not forgiving myself, forgive me for the sins against you the sin of not loving you the sin of not loving life the sin of not loving myself created in your image. . .” and from somewhere on the track I hear “you are forgiven, as you have spoken.” Is it a G*d thing or a poetry thing?

Like my ancestor Jacob, the experience is not enough for me, I have to know. “Tell me your name,” I say in an ultimate kind of mind.

“Yah — who is it?” I hear. Is this the holy name of G*d, is it G*d answering the door, is it the poet answering my question with another question, is it G*d calling to me like to Adam?

Are you poet are you angel are you G*d — is this the voice of the secret society of poets, “Yah who is it?” Is it my friend hugging a tree in a field? Of course I want to know. I want to believe this is G*d’s holy name. I want to fall on my face and say blessed is Hashem’s most secret unknowable most holy glorious name forever and ever, but no, it is surely the secret society of poets calling me to respond.

Yah — who is it? Hello?

jsg, usa

The Source of All Theological Confusion, Day 5

The Source of All Theological Confusion

There’s one other runner on the track. He’s walking the track, earphones, black socks. I pass him. It’s tall John.

“Remember me?” I say to him. “Sure I remember you,” tall John says. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” I say.
“Some dream you had last night,” he says.
“Yeah,” I say, feeling invaded.
“You know,” he says, “it’s all about forgiveness. Forgiveness is at the center.”
“Yeah,” I say, “but who’s forgiving whom, who’s being forgiven? Am I forgiving? Am I forgiven? Do I forgive myself?” Tell me, tall John, you’re the one who brought it to me, I am thinking, more annoyed than awe-struck.
“I wish I could tell you,” tall John says. “But I’ve been sworn to secrecy.”
“By whom?”
“By the secret society of poets. They sent me. It’s not a G*d thing, it’s a poetry thing. People often call the poetry thing a G*d thing, people confuse us with angels, that delights us poets to no end but the society of poets is a secret society. If I were an angel instead of a poet, I would tell you what to do. Poets will never tell you. It takes a lot of discipline to remain secret,” he says.
“Discipline?”
“Discipline,” he says. “There’s so many temptations to go public. Our meeting, for example, is as public as we get.”

I’m trying to sort all the things I thought were G*d things that were actually poetry things, all the poetry things that were actually G*d things, understanding now the source of most theological confusion.

“Find someone you want to ask forgiveness from, something unfinished, something unsaid, some hurt something intentional or unintentional,” tall John says. “Ask them for forgiveness,” tall John says. “Say — ‘I am sorry please forgive me for anything I have done to hurt you’ ” tall John says. “We are not reconciled, with ourselves or with G*d, until we have made peace with one another.”

“When you have done that,” said tall John, smiling, “then you speak to G*d, to the G*d of your understanding. Say it out loud ‘I screwed up — forgive me.’ Just say it, with your moon roof open driving down Ladue Road at night, in the shower with the hot water splashing on your face, say it. Out loud. ‘I messed up, forgive me.’ And you are forgiven, when you have spoken. Isn’t it wonderful?”

jsg, usa

Ten days #4

Then John told me a story that he had heard from his friend Janet.

There is an old man in summertime who sits on the bench in front of the court building every day and says hello to her. He is always there, nattily dressed, a skimmer hat perched on his head. He always smiles, always nods hello to her. Then one day he isn’t there. And the next day, and the next. Janet looks for him. A few weeks of summer passes and Janet wonders what happened to her man.

Then one day he returns. He nods and smiles and for the first time she says something to him. Where’ve you been? I thought you had gone away.

No, missy, he says. It’s been too hot out here lately, so I’ve been sitting over there, across the street, inside the lobby of that building. I could see you from there, the whole time. He smiles and Janet imagines him watching her, smiling at her from within the lobby of the air conditioned building across the street. She pictures herself looking for him the days he didn’t appear and imagines him watching her frustration and sadness at not seeing him. I’ve been watching you. He smiles.

Yeah, said John, that’s what happened to me. That’s just the way it was with me.