Alma vida y Corazon: Tall John pt.1

Preparing for the Days of Awe

Tall John, part 1
It’s about forgiveness

I fell asleep on the couch. Didn’t feel too good the entire night. Tired out. Fell asleep in my clothes on the top of my bed, boots and all. Ordinarily I love falling asleep with my boots on, like sleeping on the prairie, but Saturday night I just fell asleep. Unreconciled. Unforgiven. Disappointed. Vague but present feelings of inadequacy. Unreconciled is the word. Unreconciled is the world.

I dreamed that I couldn’t find my way, missed all my connections, alone and wandering, lost in a strange location, adrift on a dangerous sea in a rudderless boat. Woke up Sunday morning early, same feelings. Like my boots, I awoke with the same feelings I had on when I went to sleep. Unreconciled. Unforgiven. Disappointed. Had a meeting at nine A.M. was running the track at eight A.M. writing the residue that the dream had left in me. Unsettling unreconciled abandoned even.

Running the track at eight A.M. a little pocket notebook and a pen around my neck. Stop and write. It’s about forgiveness I write. Sure a little angst this time of year is entirely appropriate I am thinking (summertime, just before the holidays, Elul to be precise). It’s about forgiveness. That’s right. Forgiveness? I am searching my memory for something I have done that begs forgiveness.*

Some time earlier, I was asked to perform a wedding in a park. Dancing and storytelling, a little music. A tall man with an interesting face hovering over the rest of the crowd riveted by the ceremony totally present. I am introduced to him, tall John, we exchange pleasantries. He withholds his wisdom but I see it on his face. I knew he had something to say, something important, but we never got to it. I regretted it standing there against a metal rail, staring at the crowd, silent. Too shy, I.

Two years later I am performing another ceremony. I am granted the rare second chance. Tall John present again, hovering over the crowd, completely present, beautifully engaged. This time I intend to mine his wisdom. I know he has it. I wander over to him after the ceremony. Everyone else is congratulating bride and groom, tall John and I snatch a few moments of conversation. He is a poet and is telling me about one of the most powerful religious experiences of his life. “It’s about forgiveness,” he said to me. “It’s all about forgiveness. I asked for it. I prayed for it. I felt it. What a ceremony. . .”

I had not forgotten tall John nor his message. So Sunday morning I’m running the track at eight A.M. after being abandoned in my dream, I am writing in my little notebook to make sense of the dream residue. It’s about forgiveness I write. It’s the cargo of forgiveness rolling through me that I am feeling, bad dream, lousy sleep, I am unreconciled, unforgiven, disappointed.

Whose forgiving whom? 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 in the first place, 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 society of poets. They sent me. It’s not a God thing, it’s a poetry thing. People often call the poetry thing a God thing, people confuse us with angels which 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,” he says. “There’s so many temptations to go public. Our meeting, for example, at the wedding is as public as we get.”

I’m trying to sort all the things I thought were God things that were actually poetry things, all the poetry things that were actually God 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 God, until we have made peace with one another.”

“When you have done that,” said tall John, smiling, “then you speak to God, to the God 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?”

Was it an angel speaking to me, or a poet?

Boom boom boom boom I’m running the track again.

jsg, usa


Alma vida y Corazon: Tall John pt.2

Preparing for the Days of Awe

Tall John 2
It’s about forgiveness

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

“Say a prayer to the God 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 God is forgiving, it’s the heart of God 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’ve neglected 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.

“God,” 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 God thing or a poetry thing?

Like my ancestor Jacob (Genesis 32:30), 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 God, is it God answering the door, is it the poet answering my question with another question, is it God calling to me like to Adam (Genesis 3:9)?

Are you poet are you angel are you God — is this the voice of the secret society of poets, “Yah who is it?” Is it my friend Marlon being silly hugging a tree in a field? Of course I want to know. I want to believe this is God’s holy name. I want to fall on my face and say blessed is God’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?

james stone goodman
united states of america

Commit: Shabbes Inspiration Vaetchanan

O holy Shabbes Inspiration Va-et-cha-nan

The most famous passage this week
Shema Yisrael [Deut. 6:4]
Listen up Israel
translated in its several possibilities
God is one
God alone [Rashbam and Ibn Ezra]
God the one and only
God integrated and unified [Moshe Cordovero]
the seamless embrace of Existence
O holy God help me understand —

Just let me know it
Eid – be a witness
let me climb up that large ayin
slide down the big dalet
let me know it, let me be a witness to the seamless –
or let me turn it around in dyslexia
plow the language like a palindrome
Da’ – let me climb the Hebrew running right to left
let me jump it back left to right
let all directions fold into the ascent of the letters
into knowing
Da’ – let me know
Adonai Eloheinu
Adonai Echad.


Shabbes Nachamu this
the first of seven Shabbosim of Consolation
I need it because I am recovering from the sadness
in the three weeks
three weeks I sat in sadness
seven weeks I am taking to recover.

Listen O Israel
everything is going to start getting better now.
Slowly slowly
but we are into the ascent.

Something else:
in this portion my favorite Rashi, on
Behold, I have taught you rules and laws,
as God has commanded me
that you should keep them,
in the land to which you are coming to possess.
You shall observe them and do them.
[Deuteronomy 4:5-6]
Here’s the Rashi:
Observe them – this is Mishnah.
And do them: as it implies.

You want rules don’t you —
you want clarity and simplicity don’t you —
you want perpendicularity don’t you —
you want the rules and laws.
Observe them – these are the rules and laws.
Do them – these are the implications.
The laws are clear
the implications complex.
It’s life — it’s messy.

It’s the beginning of the portion I turn to now
that word
not common
sends me running for the book.

translate: I entreated, I pleaded
I implored God at that time,
this is Moses speaking
about the great frustration of his life
let me now cross and see the good land
that is on the other side of the Jordan. . .
[Deuteronomy 3:24-25]

What we need to know from this word —
what’s the intention
what’s his attitude
what’s the feeling in this word?

Is it a request?
Is it a please —
is it an entitlement —
I deserve it.
No. Not that – this is clear from the Rashi.

Rashi says the word denotes an undeserved free gift
this is Rashi’s first comment
his second comment is that this word
is one of ten words signifying prayer
here Rashi is quoting the midrash [Deut. R. 2:1]
but feel the sadness in this comment.

Moses is praying with humility
to enter the Land
please please please
it’s a prayer asking for an undeserved favor
because holy ones never ask with any other kind of attitude.
I want it but I’m not entitled. [Rashi on Deut. 3:23]

The teaching comes to us from Rabbi Yochanan
there are ten words for prayer:
shavah, zeakah, neakah
rinnah, pegiah, bitzur
keriah, nippul, pillul
and tahanunim.•

Of the ten expressions Moses might have used
Moses uses the last
the language of tachanunim
the language of humility
grace – an undeserved request
this is how the righteous make their asks
no one has any claim on God.

Moses was thinking
— all the wonderful things he had done in his youth.
In those days I was King of the World
now I’m a beggar for my life.

The angels came and snatched Moses’ words away
so that God wouldn’t know
God loved Moses like a mother
and always knew when something was wrong.

God came to Moses and said
It isn’t written that you should enter the Land.
It was decreed before I created the World
and yours is not to ask why. It just is.

God said,
it’s time for Joshua to take over. [Deut. 3:28]

jsg, usa

•See Exodus 2:23, Exodus 2:24, Jeremiah 7:16,
Psalm 18:7, Deuteronomy 9:18, Psalm 106:30,
and this verse, Deuteronomy 3:23.

The Prince And

Prince and the Healing

A long time after his illness
I ran into Prince the guitar player at Schnucks.

He was still recovering
but walking on his own now.

I made a deal, he said to me, like conspirators.
If I lived, I’d give my life over to God.

We walked outside, I looked at him, both of us squinting into the sun.
And if you would have died?

I’d have given my life over to God,
he said.


Alma vida y Corazon

Preparing for the Days of Awe

Yalla means Let’s Get On With It

I had a dream. God was sitting in front of the Big Book, figuring who was to be inscribed for a good year, etc., chewing on the end of a pencil. I heard a voice, a specially created voice, unlike other voices yet the words clear. God asked me one and only one question: “what * are * you * going * to * do?”
“About what?” I said.
“About everything,” God said.
“What can I do?” I said.
In my dream, I was laying on my couch in front of the television. I switched on the tube. I was expecting Charlie Rose, but it was Rabbi Tarphon, in robes and sandals. He was sitting at Charlie Rose’s big table and he explained to me: you do not have to do everything, but you do have to do something.
“What can I possibly do by myself?”
The great Hillel was now staring at me from channel nine; he was nineteen inches long and he answered, “in a place where there are no human beings, strive to be a human being.”
“Leave me alone,” I muttered and I headed for the all-night grocery store for a little late night shop. The lot was almost full, as usual, only this time the doors of the store did not open. This store is never closed.
In the cars I saw all the great teachers, looking at me, smiling and waving.
“All right already,” I said to them. “So what am I supposed to do?” Hillel got out of a tan Mitsubishi and said, “love peace, pursue peace. Love human beings, and draw them near. . .” He was holding a basketball and wearing pump Nikes. Rabbi Tarphon stuck his head out of a Ford 4 X 4 and said “the day is short, the work is great, the laborers are sluggish, the reward is much, and the Master is pressing. Yalla, let’s get on with it.”
“Sha!” Hillel said. He looked so funny holding a basketball. “Sha! Don’t separate yourself from your community.”
Sitting in the car with Tarphon was my daughter D as a little girl, she got out of a Jeep Cherokee and Rabbi Tarphon gently helped her to the ground. She came over to me. She was holding a turquoise blue bubble gum cigar that had written on it “it’s a boy.”
“Where did you get that cigar?” I asked D.
“One of the guys gave it to me,” D said. “He gave me a message for you, if you can’t do everything, do something. A good something.”
“Yalla,” she said, “do you know what that means Daddy?”
“Yes,” I said. They all started their engines and raced off, heading east.
We went home. I was thinking about something is worth everything when we believe in it. Hope.
“Daddy, are you afraid of the future?” D asked me. “Do you have hope?”
“No, and yes.”
“Then, yalla, let’s get on with it.”
Having picked up a little street Arabic from Rabbi Tarphon, we headed home.

I awoke with a feeling of clarity — hopeful, confident. We assume hope is about the future. We are, all of us, the hope of the past.

Rabbi James Stone Goodman
United States of America

The Thirty Six Are Hidden

After a transportative gig tonight,
the trio extremely tasty
I post this poem-song
in honor of an ascendant

Remembering the Ari

The holy Ari’s yahrzeit is the fifth of Av
we visit his grave on that day
in Tzefat
the holy city where he lived
the last two and a half years of his life.

He was born in Jerusalem in 1534
he is known as the holy Ari
the acronym meaning Lion
made from Elohi the godly Rabbi Yitzchak
or Ashkenazi Rabbi Yitzchak
linking him with a long line of Ashkenazi Jews
in Jerusalem.

He said Where philosophy ends
kabbalah begins

His father died his mother moved with the family
to Egypt, she from the celebrated Francis family,
there he learned in the yeshivah of Rabbi David ibn Zimra
the Radbaz
in a small house along the Nile
where Eliyahu HaNavi Elijah the prophet
tutored him personally
taught him the deepest mysteries
known as the Sod.

When he slept, his soul rose to the highest realms
where it reached the metivta d’rekiya
the heavenly academy
at the door of the highest academy he was asked
with whom would you like to study today?

Sometimes he learned with R. Shimon Bar Yochai
sometimes he learned in the yeshivah of R. Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur
who had built the mishkan in the Wilderness
sometimes with Aharon Hakohen, Aaron himself.
He learned all the secrets of the mishkan
all their symbolical implications
all the implications concealed in the structure
the angel at the gate led him to the teacher of his choice.

Eliyahu HaNavi told him to return to Tzefat
where he would meet his student
R. Chaim Vital, to whom he would disclose the secrets.
In 1570, 36 years old, he went to Tzefat.
He would spend two and a half years there.
He raised up many disciples
he joined R. Moshe Cordovero, the Ramak, learned with him
who the Ari referred to as Moreinu – our teacher.

The Ari never wrote down anything
What he left: some piyyutim [poems]
and three important zemirot [songs]
one sung at each meal of the Shabbes
Azamer bish-va-chin
Asasder Lis’udata, and Benei Heichala
food elegies by which we deepen the holy Shabbes.
What we have of him was preserved by his student
Rabbi Chaim Vital.

Now if you don’t mind
I am going to become Chaim Vital for a moment
I will tell you about my teacher the holy Ari.

You might remember how effortless languages were for all of us
especially the holy Ari,
just observing him I learned many of the languages he knew
without a minute of formal teaching.

Moreinu, our teacher
Rabbi Yitzchak, the holy Ari,
was expert in the language of trees,
the language of birds, and the speech of angels.
He read faces in the manner described by the Zohar (2:74b)
he saw all that an individual had done,
and could see what they would do in the future.
He could read people’s thoughts.

He knew the deep mysteries of Gilgul, reincarnation,
who had been born previously and who was here for the first time.
He could look at a person and tell her how she was connected
to the first human being, the first Adam.
He could read out wondrous things about a person
in the light of a candle or in the flame of a fire.
He could read hands.
He saw the souls of the righteous, those who died recently
and those who had lived in ancient times.

He was very kind to animals, he refused to kill an insect even.
By a person’s scent he was able to know all that he had done,
an ability that the Zohar attributes to the holy Yenuka (child) (Zohar 3:188A)
All this we his students saw with our own eyes,
not things we heard from others. Believe me?

These are wondrous things
that had not been seen on the earth
since the time of R. Shimon bar Yochai
and were concealed away until recently.
None of this was magic.

None of this was magic, it was an earned gift
as a result of his saintliness and discipline,
after many years of study of both the ancient
and the later Kabbalistic texts.
He then increased his holiness and purity
until he reached the place where
Eliyahu HaNavi would reveal himself to him
speaking to him mouth to mouth, as it were,
teaching him the mysteries.

May the merit of the tzaddik, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria,
the Ari
protect us all, Amen.

Alma vida y Corazon

soul life and heart
this is what he left us.

jsg, usa

Commit: Shabbes Inspiration Devarim

O holy Shabbes Inspiration Devarim

We’ve entered the words now
these are the words
ehleh ha-devarim
the words that Moses spoke to all Israel
beyond the Jordan
in the wilderness.

the book of Deuteronomy
begins with the evocative root word davar
appearing three times in the first verse
ha-de-var-im words, dibber spoke
wilderness midbar
it’s wilderness midbar that interests me most
sits me down on the desert floor
and insists I spend a quiet time figuring its place in our lives.

What happened to us in the midbar
and where is it
the wilderness of the word
the absence of words
the sense of the word
the sensitivity to the word
the word itself
the matter itself the thing itself the essence of the thing
which words?

All words —
when you have language
you have everything.

Someone asked me
is that what we are doing
just giving language to what we know?

Take the just out of that sentence I said
we are giving language to what we know.

We are coming to know the world
with language
the power of blessing
to integrate what we know
to create seams where there may be no discernable seams
to make unity where there is separation
we are proceeding first
through language.

The Holy One engraved the world
through thirty two hidden paths of wisdom
– ten principles and twenty two holy letters
this from the Sefer Yetzirah the Book of Formation
what God wrote into the world for us to understand.

Shabbat Chazon the necessity to read the vision of Isaiah
on the Shabbes before Tisha B’Av
God gives us the remedy before the malady
it’s built in — this curative wisdom is built in before it’s prescribed
the vision before the fall
the hope before the destruction,

I can’t find the blessing in it
this always the problem in suffering
or in waiting even or in frustration
I can’t find the blessing in it.

On this the Shabbes before the 9th of Av
we recall the destruction of the Temples
even on Tisha B’Av there is a buried holiness and seed for hope.

This Shabbes is called Shabbat Chazon
because the chazon the vision of Isaiah is read as the haftarah
a vision of the future Jerusalem — rebuilt, strong,
built on the resolution of the mistakes of the past.

From R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev
on Shabbes Chazon the vision of rebuilding the Temple
this is the Shabbes of vision of the third Temple
you can see it.

Feel this: always on the Shabbes just before Tisha B’Av
the black fast, the saddest day of the Jewish year
always preceded by Shabbat Chazon
vision of the holy Temple rebuilt with the coming of the Messiah
the redemption we pray for daily.

Feel this: the proximity of what saves and what corrupts

Feel this: the vision of the future and the losses of the past

Feel this: the proximity of ascent and descent

Feel this: what purifies what defiles.

Something purifying out of exile
something pure emerging out of suffering
Shabbat Chazon: a vision of ascent out of descent.

I found the blessing in it
do you feel it?

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.

Akiva said, old men and old women shall dwell again
in the streets of Jerusalem
and the streets of the city shall be full of children
— I know the prophecy [Makkot 24b]

Akiva saw something his friends did not
Akiva saw the future
how dark the night, he said, how bright the day to come [Maharal]

The harder the fall, the higher the return
That’s why Akiva laughed.

The tradition tells us that in the future
when it is time for the Messiah to come
on what day do you suppose the Messiah will be born?
On the ninth of Av.

jsg, usa

Alma vida y Corazon

Boom Boom Boom

Rake the muck this way, that way it will always be muck. In the time I am brooding, I could be stringing pearls for the delight of heaven
— The Rebbe of Ger

A friend of mine came to me with a story. It was a difficult story, with many years of hurt in it. It was summertime some years ago. I listened and when he was done I told him it was my story, too. He even spoke a sentence that I remember saying myself, but several months before our meeting. He said, “I couldn’t find the blessing in it.” He was talking about his suffering, his hurt, he couldn’t find the blessing in it.

I’ve been there, I said untheoretically. As a matter of fact, I entered that place that summer, the summer of our meeting, and I was still crawling out I told him. I spent that summer boom boom boom bouncing the basketball on the black top near my house, shooting baskets. All my common activities, the ones I loved, I couldn’t apply myself to. I could hardly practice the guitar, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t read. I couldn’t sleep much, I couldn’t eat.

What I could do was exercise. Early in the morning and late at night, I was present on the black top near my house, boom boom boom bouncing the ball, shooting baskets and trying to find the blessing in it.

I had gotten trapped, my thoughts spiraling into negativity. I had always been attached to the notion that a change is gonna come, a change could happen in a moment, as it says in the Zohar b’shaita chada, in a single moment. I thought I had the facility to steel myself against circumstance and rise above whatever challenges faced me. That summer I couldn’t find that place, I couldn’t get there. My mojo wasn’t working for me anymore; I got stuck for a while and I couldn’t find the blessing in it.

All I had was boom boom boom the basketball on the blacktop and then another song, “a change is gonna come, oh yes it will,” over and over, all summer long, eight in the morning and eight later at night, boom boom boom and that song. All summer long. Where’s the blessing in it? I asked myself.

One day I found the blessing, I found a little piece of it anyway, I found enough to attach myself to. It may have been a phone call or a call for help in the hospital or somebody sick on the phone — it was someone else’s suffering that I remember — and I listened quietly sharing the heart of suffering with that person. I became the heart of suffering. This is what I remember: I had nowhere to go, I didn’t care when I had to get home, how long the person wanted to talk, how hot it was outside, how hungry I was, what I had to do, what I wanted to do, I didn’t want to do anything but be there in the heart of suffering. I found the blessing in it.

That is what I shared with my friend at lunch that day. He is a guy who likes answers, wanted my wisdom, what did I have? Nothing: boom boom boom and a bit of the blessing that had eluded him. I was finding it, a little at a time and I gave him that, and listened, and joined him there in the heart of suffering, not judging him, not wondering why he can’t get up and out, just the boom boom boom of the ball beginning to quiet in my ears and the willingness to be nowhere else at that moment but there, his black top. Can’t find the blessing? I threw him the ball. His ball now. Boom boom boom.

jsg, usa

The Thirty Six Are Hidden

Almost A Great Funeral

On the sacred balance sheet something had to be corrected
a repair in the cosmic loam
an indignity done in the realm of memory, spirit
where God and soul
the mystery quantities
calculate in a Zoroastrian tug for the heart of the world.
As if the world turns on these corrections [which it does]
spins right around on the axis of Peter.

We buried Peter last week.

At one point I felt loaded into the catapult
and hurled into the sky where I exploded into a thousand sparks
light into light
drifting back to ground like Chinese fireworks.

There are so few of these moments nowadays.

When Peter died, I dreamed he could have saved the world
[his ruthlessness saving souls]
he went to the edge with people because he had been there himself
snatched them back as he had been
as if he made the necessary repairs
as if he were the true person of compassion
we have been waiting for every night to renew the next day
then the question: what if there are not enough of them
what then?
How many true persons of compassion does it take?

For a few minutes remembering Peter,
I felt him generous and vulnerable.
That’s when I took off, shot up into the overhead air and dissipated into the wind
around his grave.
If the priest had spent five minutes listening to his story
he could have taken the whole crowd there
gone with us anyway.

If the holy man had understood
how Peter restored himself and dozens of others
we could have explained to him that Peter might have cleaned up
all the mess
through the first person he snatched back
for to save one person is to save an entire world.

What a shame to have missed the whole story
when even a part of it
one person
one of many Peter saved
could have redeemed all of us.

jsg, usa

Mashpia is a spiritual influence

How the Baal Shem Tov Taught Teshuvah*

This way,
said Rabbi Rivkin,**
he shuffled into our meeting
introduced us to the teaching
he brought down from the Baal Shem Tov.
Exodus 3:3, Rabbi R said, God speaks to Moses
the bush burning but unconsumed.
Moses turns away,
I will turn away now
and see about this bush
how it remains unconsumed.
Turn away?
Check the Rashi.

Rabbi Rivkin became Rashi
I will turn away from here
and approach There.
Now Rav Rivkin became the Baal Shem Tov
that’s teshuvah, he said.
Now I know teshuvah, I said,
process not performance
journey not destination
not goal-taking



*Teshuvah – a transformative, days of awe preoccupation of inner life.
**On September 7, 1993, I was sitting sleepily at the Rabbinical Association meeting at the Brith Sholom Knesset Israel synagogue. The room was underground, though the walls were white, it was dark within. Rabbi Rivkin came in, gave us a short teaching that he brought down from the Baal Shem Tov, on teshuvah.

I didn’t know if it was day or night, whether I was awake or dreaming. The person sitting next to me said, if I had come into the world only to see hear these words, it would have been enough.