Three Weeks

I keep three weeks

There is a hilltop in Jerusalem
Where heaven and earth touch
After the destruction the bride began to weep
The ground wept 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
Wash myself clean

This I have been taught
After a river of tears
Expect the messiah

jsg, usa

Jeremiah’s Plan

Jeremiah’s Plan for Peace

Behold, the days come says God
— Jeremiah 31:30 ff.

A new agreement
a starting over always
My teachings shall I place
in your deepest —
in your hearts.

I will be God
you will be human beings
we will each live
up to our dream
of one another,

Certain knowledge
no one will blame
accuse or intimidate —
everyone will know Me
from the littlest to the
starting now.

The past –
entirely forgiven.
I have forgotten it
we will cease calling it
it is now
— the future.

Who lights the fires of the future?
Who writes the stories?
The sun by day
the passing of the moon
the lights by night
who stirs up the Sea?

If you can measure heaven above
search out the earth below
— just as likely
I will abandon you.


jsg, usa

To David

To David, the Sweet Singer of Israel

To David a song
first the Shekhinah came and sat on his shoulder
then David played flat out on that axe of his

A song to David
first David started to scat
THEN the Shekhinah came and kissed his face

so sweetly he sang the secret bird
song of King Solomon
who knew the

Shekhinah would not descend
when there is laziness or sadness
silliness light talk but

when there is joy
the deep joy of the mitzvah
then WOW your mind Is BLOWN like

when the slow hand player came to play
the hand of God rested
UPON him and

a northern wind blew
through David’s singing
harp in the palace of the King

jsg, usa


Now these are the last words of David: The saying of David the son of Jesse, and the saying of the man raised on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet singer of Israel:
— 2 Samuel 23:1

Seven days shall you keep a feast unto Adonai your God in the place which Adonai shall choose, because Adonai your God shall bless you in all your increase, and in all the work of your hands, and you shall be altogether joyful.
— Deuteronomy 16:15

Sforno: altogether joyful ach sameach = sameach bilvad (happiness only) — don’t mix it with sadness.

“Then I commended joyfulness,” Kohelet 8:15, this is the joy of the mitzvah. . . the Shekhinah rests upon a person not through gloom, nor through laziness, nor through frivolity, nor through lightness, nor through talk, nor through idle chatter, but only through a matter of joy in connection with a mitzvah, as it is said, “but now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of God came upon him.” (2 Kings 3:15)
— B.T. — Shabbat 30b

The formulation, leDavid mizmor [to David a song], shows that the Shekhinah rested upon him and then he uttered the song. [The formulation] mizmor leDavid [a song to David], shows that he lifted up his voice in song first, and then the Shekhinah descended upon him afterwards. This teaches that the Shekhinah rests upon a person neither when there is laziness, sadness, laughter, levity or idle talk, but where there is a thing of the joy of the mitzvah, for it is said, “but now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, the hand of G-d came upon him.” 2 Kings 3:15
— B.T. Pesachim 117a

A northern wind would blow on David’s harp and it would play
— B.T. Berakhot 3b

The northern wind ruach haTzeFoNit is the ruach haTzaFuN (the hidden spirit) in a person’s heart – this is the spirit of life.
— R. Nachman, Likkutei Moharan, #8

Tzafon is lacking
— B.T. Baba Batra 25b

God will give you what your heart lacks
— Psalms 20:4


This is the story we discussed at study. More stories of contact to come, next: the Bosnian Sufi – Kabbalist connection.


What is Marabout?
I think it has to do with cement.
Yeah. He’s here on business. Cement I think is what he said.
Is that his business suit?
My son Jake was referring to a long gold and patterned robe that he wore, surely close to seven feet tall this African man, he attracted our attention along with everyone else in the gate area. He was with another man. The other man had brought him to the check-in, airport New York, but was not accompanying him on the trip.
Tall African man, shaved head, no English. The other man translated for him, walked him through the check-in ritual at the gate.
That’s when I stepped up.
Look, I said to the English speaking man, I’m on the flight to Baltimore too. If I can be of any help, I speak French. I thought I had heard them speaking French, and another language I didn’t recognize.
In the gate area, I found a small Pakistani man to escort the tall African man to the baggage, to retrieve his luggage and find his way out of the airport in Chicago, his destination, not mine.
As we got on the airplane, we sat near each other but the roar of the plane was too loud to talk. I helped him get an apple juice and I watched him go through the ninety nine names of God with a string of silver prayer beads he had in his briefcase.
We arrived at Baltimore and my son and I got bumped from our plane to St. Louis and onto the same Chicago flight that our African friend was on. We explained this to him and to our Pakistani helper, who did not seem to understand much more English than the African man.
We checked in and sat down near the gate. I introduced myself to the African man again, this time using a familiar form of my name that seems to register easier with non-English speakers. He introduced himself to me, Idrissa.
Idrissa. I wrote it out. No, he said, write me in Arabic. I wrote it out in Arabic, and he corrected a mistake. Good, he said, you write Arabic?
Write your name, he instructed me.
I wrote out my name in Arabic, and he looked at it for a while. Then he took out a piece of paper from his briefcase, wrote his name and my name in proximity, and made a series of jottings, pictures and calculations with lines and numbers underneath.
What is this? I asked.
What is Marabout?
Maybe your wife has left you. She has gone away somewhere. You have a problem. You come to me. I give you certain sacrifices and do certain calculations, your wife, she comes back to you.
I was wondering whether I understood him correctly, particularly the part about sacrifices.
My son was watching all this from a seat across the aisle from us.
Marabout is not about cement, I said to him.
Sacrifices, I said slowly to Idrissa, is it something psychological?
Sacrifices, I said, is it something spiritual?
No. Sacrifices. Offerings.
My son strung some beads for Idrissa. Do you have a wife? I asked Idrissa.
Does she have holes in her ears?
Here, these are a gift.
Thank you, he said, and he put the earrings into his briefcase. He had a high pitched giggle that did not match his appearance.
He finished his calculations and began to tell me my future. Some can be repeated, some cannot he said. I am about to change professions. I will make a load of money. My son will marry and raise up many children. He also will have a lot of money.
Then he described the sacrifices that my son and I are required to make in order for these things to happen. They must be made soon. Mine will be rough.
What is he saying? my son asked.
You are going to have a bunch of kids. I am about to change professions. Lots of money all around.
That’s good, Jake said.
One other thing, good news — your sacrifice does not involve animals.
Sacrifice? What’s my sacrifice?
Too holy to tell you now, I will tell you later when I can give it some respect.
Yes, that is what he prescribes. Sacrifices. It has something to do with Marabout.
Idrissa gave me his card, it read clearly, Marabout.

Later I looked up Marabout.
It comes from the Arabic, murabit, which means one who is garrisoned. It referred originally to a member of a Muslim religious community who lived in a ribat, a fortified monastery. Marabout is a Muslim holy man. When Islam came to western Africa in the 12th century, its proponents became known as al-Murabitun (Almoravids), and every missionary who organized a community was known as a Murabit. In the 14th century, when the Sufis came to the Maghreb, northern Africa, any organizer of a Sufi fraternity became known as a Murabit, or a Marabout. A Marabout is a Muslim holy man, a mystic, a Sufi.
Who is this priest, this Kohen that was prescribing sacrifices for me in an airport waiting room in Baltimore? I realized who I was meeting here: Myself. My Levitical progenitors. The sons of Aaron, pursuers of peace, the priests and Levites of the Jerusalem Temple dealing in sacrifices, though we did not call them sacrifices, they were not something psychological or something spiritual, they were what they were, the avenue of approach, korbanot, signifying coming closer to God. They were not like anything.
Be like the sons of Aaron, seek peace and pursue it (Avot 1:12). Is this what he was doing? Seeking peace in the Levitical way, the prescribed peace offerings? He seemed so certain about their efficacy.

Are you Muslim? he asked me.
Jew. Yahud.
Ah. So close he said.
Close and far.
Yes, we will both have to make sacrifices. We will each have to give away something we think is dear. I am working on it. Truth and justice, peace, he said, and he winked.
We began to discuss the names of God that are cognates in our sacred languages: ir-Rahman, ir-Rahim, Rahmana, HaRahaman, the Compassionate One, giving, without restraint, and those that are not cognates. We sat there in the waiting room, moving through the beads, praying the names of God that are common in our holy languages, teaching each other the ones that were not common.
My son and I got on the plane and flew to Chicago with Idrissa. I found the Pakistani guy and in Chicago they went off together toward the baggage claim.
Before he left, Idrissa held me, asked me to write down my phone number and address. I will be calling you, he said to me in French, I think, I am not sure which language he was speaking.

Dad, what is the deal with your new friend? Jake asked.
Muslim holy man, I said. He sees into the future, and as far as I can tell, long term it looks pretty good.
We left Idrissa in Chicago and during the short leg from Chicago to St. Louis, Jake and I got to frame the story in a way we wanted to remember it.
You know, Jake, I said, we were praying together. When we were going through his beads? We were speaking a common language. It was the one language we truly shared, the names of God. That’s a good sign.
This conversation occurred precisely at the time when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was heating up. Jake and I agreed that we had experienced a secret glimpse into the future. Like Abraham, we ascended to the top of the chariot of Ezekiel, it was covered with the dew of light. We saw the possibility of peace, real peace, deep peace, sacred peace. Maybe through us, maybe through our children, maybe that’s why it was Jake and me meeting Idrissa, two generations, one completing what the other could only begin, making our sacrifices, our offerings, for peace. A peace that might take generations, a peace that could not be completed by the ancestors, a peace that only the descendants could realize.
There was something broken in the generation of the parents that only their children could repair, this from the Zohar, the classic text of Jewish mysticism. Something broken in the generation of Abraham that only the children of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael, and all the Isaacs and Ishmaels of the future, could repair.

Several days later, I came home from work and my daughter said, somebody called for you. No English. I couldn’t understand him.
Did he say anything about sacrifices?
Sacrifices? Yeah, I think he did.
Since then, he has been calling frequently, chattering away with me about sacrifices, about the future, about the necessity to give your overflow away, because when you have as much as I am going to have, you have to give it away in order to keep it. I think that is what he said, I’m not sure because he wasn’t speaking French for sure anymore, but if I understand anything of what we have been talking about, I will receive just what I am willing to give away.
Great sacrifices will be required of us all, but if we have the courage to let loose of what we think we own, what we think we are, we will receive whatever it is we want, even peace. Peace above all.
Seek peace, he said, I think, pursue it.

A few days after the Twin Towers catastrophe, I came home and my daughter said to me, he called again.
The guy who speaks French, or whatever it is he is speaking. Your friend from Africa, the holy man.
What did he say?
Not sure, she said, his voice was sadder this time, but I did hear this: Marabout? he said, Marabout – not this. Marabout is peace. If you kill peace, you kill God.

Commit: Double Portion This Week

O holy Shabbes Inspiration Mattot-Masei

Double portion this week
both long poems
the necessity to read Devarim on the Shabbes before Tisha B’Av
a double measure of wisdom to prepare for the vision
— this week Mattot and Masei

It begins with oaths and vows
oaths – shevuot – related to sheva
the full cycle
according to the Rambam
when he takes up the subject of vows, nedarim, in Mishneh Torah

Vow the neder
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 anytime 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

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
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
this from the Talmud [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

Something else:
Mattot and Masei
Mattot in the opening verse [Numbers 30:2]
rashei ha-mattot the heads of the tribes
two words for tribes in our poem
this mattei (singular) mattot (plural)
and shevet
both words signify a branch
a staff
part of a tree
how a branch becomes a tribe
I am thinking about as I stoop
to kiss the ground

A staff a stick an emblem a totem
the tribal stick remote but —

Tree consulted by its branches
branch separated from the tree
as in exile
separation and exile in the notion of tribe

All branches separated from the tree of life
the staff the branch the tribe
what does it owe to the tree?

Soft moist the shevet
dried out inflexible the mattei
the soul’s journey out from God
the exile of the partial from the whole
Israel among the nations
me from myself
the soul soft moist to its divine origins
or inflexible and brittle soul
souls dried out and far away from divine moistness

So too in exile
a connection with the Source
or a sense of far-away
inflexible to our origins
dried out
tribes either softening to the tree
or broken off and brittle from the tree of life

Turn all mattot into shevatim
turn all brittleness to moistness
turn the hard inflexibility of separation
into moistness and relation with the Source
draw down the definitions
bring us into relation
make us moist
turn us all into shevatim
moist particulars of the whole
divine remnants

return always assured

Hazak hazak v’nitchazek
be strong be strong
we are stronger
when we are moist


jsg, usa

Rashi’s Plan

In honor of Rashi’s 902nd yahrzeit [anniversary of passing]
29th ofTammuz

Rashi’s Plan for Peace [see Rashi on Genesis 45:24]

Rashi, Bible scholar, (1040-1105 CE), Troyes, France

I was visiting with Rashi the poet on a hillside in eastern France,
it was winter. Snow on the ground. We were sitting on bales in a circle as the sun began to set. During our discussion, Rashi’s daughter I think her name was Miriam, was speaking in quiet tones from behind a screen to her father.

My daughter reminds me, Rashi used a word in medieval French for reminds,
there is a plan for peace concealed in the text. Rashi then told us three ideas, his plan for peace.

It was getting dark so Rashi lit some candles. He also gave us grapes about then, they were translucent dark, blue black, almost lapis, I had never seen such grapes. Rashi opened with this: don’t get theoretical. Stay away from general principles. Make peace person to person, not theory to theory. We were all eating grapes.

The second thing he said was to take small steps, one at a time, make peace manageable. Peace will take time. Start with an agreement, a treaty.

Here’s the third thing: Peace starts now.
Stay out of the past, out of guilt, recriminations, who did what to whom, stay away from blame and shame. Let the peace begin.

By this time it was dark. The candles had burned down. There were no candles left. Rashi asked me to get some icicles from across the field. I brought back four or five icicles, Rashi put them in the candle holders, lit them, and we continued learning.

Rashi said, the first light, created day one, was specially created, the light that sustains but was hidden away for the future.

As he spoke I saw him gather the light with his hands, like he was moving the air around above the flames, like he was gathering light into his arms.

james stone goodman
united states of america

Healing Prayer

A Prayer for Her Healing

All the accompanying angels appeared for her because it takes a squad
a platoon of angels, a division,
moroccan prayer beads pinned to the surgery bed,
and the general
to make a complete healing.

Later in the night when everyone sleeps
they parachute in from the east and west,
angels ascending, descending
they wander in from the coasts.
Some have satchels slung over their shoulders filled with amulets
others are entirely dreams.
All the energies converge for her
who lies silent in the dark with her mantra.

Her mantra.

It was not:
help me help me help me help me,

But it could have been.
Or it could have been another prayer for healing,
a specially created voice howling in the square
the words suspended between thought and deed,
not wishes but why not,
why not a wish,
with her hands clutched to her chest
right hand buried in the left.

Why not a wish or a prayer or a whisper,
she sneaks away for a chat with God.
Come on God, take a card
just this once

and God said

Nachman ben Tzvi


For the miracles who sit around the tables
Thursday nights

Master of the Universe,
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps — [Step 12]
We are about to have lunch. [Ex. 24:10-11]
Muse of rooted serenity and integration*
Let peace rise from the kitchen
Let us repair the world from our seats at the lunch counter.
Shall we save ourselves and not help others?
We want peace and we want it now
We are starving for it
For it and the living God
For everything that issues from Your mouth. [Deut.8:3]

We will receive each of us to our own capacity [Ex.16:21]
Along this journey of secret destinations
We who have sat long and alone
On deserts of our own and other’s making
Instruments of the working out of all things partial becoming whole
Schooled by nothing loftier than the poetry of our own lives
Our hearts unlocked because God entered through our wounds

The last place we expected.


james stone Goodman
united states of America

* Wholeness, she-lei-mut, comes through the vehicle of blessing.
The power of the upper root descends. — Sefat Emet on Noach

R. Ishmael

Thirteen Principles of Rabbi Ishmael

Rabbi Ishmael’s mother purified herself in the ritual bath, as did his father, before joining each other in bed. On one occasion she immersed herself forty times, said God to the angel Metatron, go stand before that holy woman and tell her this night she will become pregnant with a son and his name will be Ishmael.

Ishmael’s form was beautiful like the form of Metatron and every time Rabbi Ishmael wished to ascend to heaven he would pronounce the name of God.

Three of the thirteen principles open onto universals from particulars. Logic really. We wanted a way to parse our lives, from the individual to the universal. We knew that every experience, each thought might ascend to consequence, even the trivial.

We students of Rabbi Ishmael delighted in the details, the deeds, the book speaks in the language of human beings we were told.

None of us believed we had to make a case for the particular while we were living it. Still we would tell the stories of our yearnings and our waitings until many years later we saw the protecting angel standing at the doorway scribbling away or the angel of death at the foot of the bed.

The angel Michael (Who is like God?) standing to the right, the angel Gavriel (God is my strength) to the left, the angel Uriel (God is my light) in front, the angel Raphael (God is my healer) in back and above our heads –the Shekhinah.

Rabbi Ishmael returned to us with his insistence: all particulars open onto universals.

By then we knew it.

jsg, usa

The Thirty Six Are Hidden

I pulled out this story for my man Jeff, the master blaster, who just returned from Jerusalem. I dispatched him on an adventure: oud picks and mystical books from Lichtenstein’s. He brought me two oud picks, one he can’t find, and a very tasty Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer.

Master of Tales and Tunes

or The Kabbalah of Repair

Oud: eleven or twelve stringed instrument
ancestor to the lute

I turned it over in my mind for months. What was the safest way to carry my oud to Israel? I knew that if I packed it into the hard shell case, the airlines would have the option of checking it through, which they prefer to do. On the other hand, if I carried it by hand I would have to pack it into the soft case, and the soft case has no protection, but when you are carrying the instrument and laying it in the luggage bin above your head, what sort of protection do you need? This is how I figured and that is what I decided to do: carry my beloved oud in my arms, in the soft case, so that there was no chance of the airlines spiriting it away and abandoning it to the handling of the baggage druids, about whom I have heard a hundred cautionary tales from other musicians.

At Kennedy airport, we checked all our luggage and I had my hands free to clutch my instrument to my heart as I stood in the line waiting to board the TWA flight from New York to Tel Aviv. They called for boarding, allowed us to pass into the “people who need assistance boarding and small children” line, and as we were waiting to enter the plane, someone pushed me and my oud was pinned for a split second between myself and the wall of the terminal. It happened so quickly and innocently that I had to recreate the scene later to understand what had come about, but by the time I entered the airplane, I was holding my beautiful oud in my hands like a duck prepared for a Chinese feast, dead in my arms, limp neck, the headstock snapped, its carved rosette popped out of the sound hole and crashing about the bowels of the instrument. As I laid my oud to rest in its compartment over my seat, I felt the folly of all my planning, to have arrived before the trip began with the very eventuality I tried most to avoid. We hadn’t even left the United States and my instrument was broken.

By the time we arrived in Jerusalem, I had decided to pack up the pieces and ship it home to myself, and when I returned six or eight months later, I would take it to my instrument repair man who I was quite sure could fix it. I had no confidence in the ability of Israeli technicians to fix my instrument, so I didn’t bother to inquire. They hadn’t as yet created instruments as fine as mine in the Middle East, how could they repair them? One day, as I went to visit a friend in a quiet neighborhood in Jerusalem, I passed a violin repair person whose shop was just a short block away from my friend’s office. I stopped in out of curiosity and told the man about my instrument. What kind of instrument is it? he asked. I told him it was a big lute. What kind of lute? An oud, I said. Do you play it? he asked. He had heard of my teacher, and he assured me that he could fix my instrument. I brought it to him.

Two weeks later, I picked up my oud from the violin repair man. I was sad to see it, because it looked like it had been broken. It was not fixed the way my repair man would have fixed it at home. At home, I would not have seen the break, the finish would have matched perfectly, the filler undetectable. The finish the Israeli violin repair man applied was glossy while the rest of the oud was rubbed with a dull finish. I saw the separation of woods and some discoloration. He was trained in the former Soviet Union, and I wondered if he had the products available to him that we had in the United States, but I didn’t ask.

When the instrument was broken, I felt all the notes fly out of it like the letters that flew off the tablets when Moses broke them on the way down the mountain. I told this to the violin repair man, who was formal in conversation. He called me Mar Goodman (Mr. Goodman) and I called him Adon, which is a little more formal. He bowed slightly from the waist when I came into his studio. When I told him the story of the notes flying out of the oud, he smiled and said (in Hebrew), there is always that danger. Then he asked me to play for him, so I sat down in the middle of dozens of broken violins, I tuned it (he admonished me to always put pressure on both sides of the headstock equally, a technical as well as a metaphysical critique), and I began to play, slowly, tentatively.

Maybe it was the place, a single large room that opened up to the street through an opaque metal curtain that was drawn across the entire front of the studio. Perhaps it was Jerusalem, and this the first time I heard my instrument played there. Maybe it was the repair, there is a notion in the Kabbalah that a weakness when repaired is stronger than if there had never been a weakness at all. Perhaps it was the proximity to the source of sound, there is a teaching that when the rope that connects us all to the Source is cut and knotted up again, the distance is diminished.

I started to play, he closed his eyes and listened, then he asked me to play louder, turn it up please he said in Hebrew, and I played a little louder. I heard a sound I had never heard before emerge from my instrument. Do you hear? he said. Yes, it’s beautiful, I said, in Hebrew. Thank you, he said, in English. He was smiling an impish smile, as if the secret of the broken oud and its music was something familiar to him, something that we had now shared. He had gathered the notes back into the instrument after fluttering around his studio. His name, by the way, was a Russian name that means heart of the strings. Heart of the strings had returned the notes to my oud. Ahhhhh, he said.

I left heart of the strings, and I walked out into the darkening Jerusalem evening clutching my oud to my chest. It was almost night, the sun making its way home in the west. I walked slowly up Palmach Street, past the Islamic Museum, past the President’s House, that’s where I saw him, just on the other side of the President’s house, before I came to Wingate Square.

He was walking in front of me, it was now dark dark, he took advantage of the deep breath that the city exhales at nightfall and appeared without anyone noticing. But I am sure that I saw him. He walked like an old man but he may have been young, bound up with muscles. He was carrying a notebook with the stories and songs of Jerusalem under his arm, a hat on his head, he walked slowly and methodically ahead of me. In his notebook were not only the stories, but the interpretations, the obvious and the non-obvious, the known stories and the unknown, and the notes that had returned to my instrument in a way I had never imagined them.

james stone goodman
united states of america