Last Stop in Genesis

O holy Shabbes Inspiration Vayechi
Maqam Hijaz D Eb F# G

Father Jacob is really living now
even in Egypt he is alive
we want to believe
as he dies
we want to know
life, real life, full life
can happen

Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years
and the days of Jacob, the years of his life,
his two lives
were one hundred and forty seven years.
The time approached for Israel to die
so he called for his son, for Joseph
. . . [Gen.47:28-29]

His two lives were about over
the life of Jacob
the life of Israel
the man had two lives
new starts surprises transformations
sometimes Jacob
sometimes Israel
the giver the taker

as he is about to die
I am fishing around in the Torah
for the beginning of the section
because it is closed
closed — no separation between this week’s text
and last week’s text — in the physical Torah.

Go to the poet Rashi
the eyes of Israel (we the people)
were closed because of the passing of dear Jacob
and the crafty Egyptians were rolling the story
towards slavery.

Our decline a series of events
— can we enter the story and stop it at any place?
As if you may stop the movement towards catastrophe.

Something else from Rashi
the portion is closed —
Jacob has something he wants to reveal to his children

the end
but it was closed off to him [see midrash B.Rabbah 96:1]
the end is a revelation
it’s the end of all Exile
the end of time
he wanted to reveal to his children ultimates
but it is closed off to him.

There are some elusives, unfinishables
at the end of life
Jacob wants to give them over to his children
but he can’t.
What he does give over is blessings
poetry, visions spoken in metaphor
but the ultimate redemption
the end of time
reminds closed off to him.

Jacob needs the assurance
he will be buried with his ancestors
Israel – not the place where his wife is buried
who he describes this way:
she died on me in the land of Canaan on the road [48:7]
died on me? Something unfinished here too.

Closed off and elusive
visions dreams and songs
at the end of Jacob’s life
the end of Genesis
no ends at all, no beginnings
the illusion of all endings all beginnings
all arrivals all starts
there is only journey and movement and the inevitable ebb and flow
no starts and stops at all
it doesn’t begin and it doesn’t end
it’s the great river that flows out of itself
into itself.

the death of Jacob
the death of Joseph
the end of Genesis
the narratives of the Mothers and Fathers
the beginning of Exile
it’s closed —

a seam
no sides even
Jacob pulls up his legs and dies

what then –

jsg, usa

How We Learn on Saturday Morning

Here in the heart line
the omphalos
we have just finished learning
it’s snowing outside
and I am taking a breath
before braving the elements
with my trusty


At home the samovar is lit
and that Russian chai with just the touch of smoke
will warm me when I return from the cold.

What we learned this morning —
the hora
hava nagila and who is responsible
the niggunic recovery of hava nagila
start wearing purple
wearing purple all the time
the greatest of the Jewish musicologists and how he did not lie
how one of his students may have [lied]
how we welcomed Balfour into Jerusalem
how we make peace face to face
the cessation of hostilities that precedes peace
how peace may rise from the kitchen
Rashi’s plan for peace
Jewish and Palestinian stories for peace
how to keep your mouth shut when it’s called for
the difference between keeping your mouth shut and feeling frustrated
and saying something and feeling worse
Joseph’s transformative oration
Joseph as a kid
Joseph as the center of the universe
Joseph as a holy man
how to pick a Joseph and speak in his voice
the origin of catbird seat
the catbird itself which is a grey bird similar to the mockingbird
and known in West Virginia and other locations of the great southern United States

come on Gracie old steed
loyal beast

let us go now, you and I.

jsg, usa

Rashi’s Plan for Peace

Rashi’s plan for Peace
From Vayigash (see Rashi to Genesis 45:24)

Prayer #3

After Joseph discloses himself to his brothers, he sends them off with gifts to return to Jacob and the rest of the family in the land of Canaan.

Joseph’s last words to his brothers are “. . .do not become agitated on the way” (Genesis 45: 24). They got a load of goods, their brother has become a holy man, (“it was not you who sent me here, but God,” Genesis 45:8), and they are going home to reunite their family. What do they have to become agitated about?

Rashi the poet pauses long enough over Joseph’s words to offer three interpretations: 1) do not occupy yourselves with a matter of halakha (law), 2) do not take long steps, 3) do not quarrel along the way about the matter of his (Joseph’s) sale. Rashi calls this the pshat (the plain sense).

This is how I have come to understand Rashi the poet’s visionary plan for peace:

1) Don’t get theoretical. Stay away from general principles. Make peace out of relationships, person to person, not theory to theory.

2) Take small steps, one at a time, make peace manageable. Peace will take time. Start with a treaty. Start with a cessation of hostilities.

3) Peace starts now. Stay out of the past, out of guilt, recriminations, who did what to whom, begin the peace now. Stay away from blame and shame. Let the peace begin.

Why not peace? Why not a plan?

I parsed Rashi’s poetic plan for peace on parshat Vayigash, and many Shabbosim since, then I wrote it up, not as a poem, but as a plan, with a prayer.

Because I imagine it.

Barukh Atah Adonai
Eloheinu Melekh Haolam

Holy Muse
Imagining Peace.


rabbi jsg

Ninth Night

Eight Angels Came to Me On Eight Nights
Each one told a story******** *

On the ninth night
an angel came to me in the form of the dope man.
He told a story about a score who came to buy —
the dope man wouldn’t let him in.

He makes me nervous, said the discerning dope man.

Why are you telling me this story
and why on the ninth night?
I asked.

You thought there were eight nights, said the dope man angel.
This year you will light for nine.
You assumed ten energies
there are eleven.
You learned four ways of reading —
there are five
— four levels of the soul
there’s a fifth.

What kind of dope are you selling
dope man?

The kind you live for, he said —
everything that issues from the mouth of God

— the kind you can’t do without.

Eighth Night

Eight Angels Came to Me On Eight Nights
Each one told a story********

On the eighth night
I ran into an angel dressed as the Prince at the grocery store.

He was still recovering from his illness
But walking on his own now.

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

We walked outside, both of us squinting into the sunlight —
And if you would have died?

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

Seventh Night

Eight Angels Came to Me On Eight Nights
Each one told a story*******

On the seventh night the angel came to me as Rebbe Nachman.
He told me that not too long ago, he had lost his mind
thought he was a rooster.
Where was this? I interrupted.
He then told me the following story:

I took off all my clothes,
lived under a table,
wouldn’t eat anything but grain and chicken food.
Then a Prince came,
took off all his clothes,
got under the table and began to act like a rooster too.
He said, I’m Prince, the rooster, I promise I will never leave you.

We swore friendship to each other,
and slowly slowly, Prince began the healing.
He put on a shirt, I put on a shirt.
Prince said just because you dress like a human being
doesn’t mean you have to cease being a rooster.
The next day we ate at the lunch counter in the bowling alley.
Prince ordered a tuna sandwich.
You gonna eat like a person too? I asked Prince.
You can eat like a human being and still be a rooster, Prince said.
You can do anything and still be the rooster you are.

That’s how it worked for me,
the angel said,
Prince saved me slowly slowly.
He taught me I can do anything
and remain
the rooster
I am.

Sixth Night

Eight Angels Came to Me On Eight Nights
Each one told a story******

On the sixth night
a tarnished angel appeared
I used to see him selling pencils outside the ball park.

We fired up the lights stood staring into the fire.
What’s the miracle?
he asked us.

Light victory power revenge clarity purity
dedication —
we hadn’t answered him.

Afterwards, he asked for a ride to the Metro Link
and maybe a couple of bucks to get downtown.

I threw a load of money at him
he threw it back.
Don’t mess with my serenity, he said.

What’s the miracle? I asked him back.
Grateful, said the angel
the miracle is gratitude
find that and you won’t need anything.

You’ll breathe into the souls of your feet
and live as long as you want to.

jsg, usa

Fifth Night

Eight angels came to me on eight nights
Each one told a story*****

On the fifth night
Rebbe Nachman appeared as an angel
he spoke out of a thatch of black beard
reminded me to walk daily without my shoes
through the grass.

He told this story:
a young man left home
traveled to a faraway land
where he learned the art of making menorahs.
When he returned home he went to work.
He worked alone covering the menorah with a large cloth
— even the father had not seen it.

When he was done
he asked his father to gather together
the townspeople in the square.
He unveiled his work
— everyone was silent.
His father approached each person individually
asking what they thought about the menorah.
Each one saw a defect
— each a different defect.

The father told his son,
what one person praised another person cursed.
That’s what I learned, said the son,
each defect is in the eyes of the person who sees it.
I fashioned a menorah entirely out of defects,
I made the menorah out of flaws.
Now I will begin its repair.

Rebbe Nachman always giggled when he came to the end of a story.
When you find a flaw, he said,
you find your own flaw.

jsg, usa

Fourth Night

Eight Angels Came to Me On Eight Nights
Each one told a story****

On the fourth night
the Kotzker rebbe himself showed up
dressed as God (everything Italian) with a dog.
Good hound, intelligent dog, the Kotzker cooed.

You know what I love about this dog?
asked the Kotzker.
I let it out, it sits in front of the door looking to get back in.
What kind of meshuggene dog doesn’t want to run away?

By this time in the tale the Kotzker was crying
like he was a drunk in a tavern
– crying

jsg, usa

Third Night

Eight Angels Came to Me On Eight Nights
Each one told a story***

On the third night
an angel came to me in the form of a Chasid with onions on his breath
he opened sing-song with
Darkness IS Light —

God separated the light from darkness
called light day
and the darkness night
And it was evening and it was morning
day one.

In the beginning, darkness and light one
a single seamless sourced good
then the challenge
subdue the dark
illumine the good
— the fearful dialectic.

Temple menorah lit by day to illumine the night
Hanukkah menorah
lit by night to reclaim dark
light from darkness itself
the source of light.

Light from the luminous essence of darkness –
this the Hanukkah light.

The Temple lights seven
Hanukkah eight
seven the spiritual cycle
the seven sefirot emanated from God
all natural cycles given in seven.

Eight —
surrounding the seven
the extra measure laid around nature
the eighth lamp
light from darkness itself
darkness as an aspect of light.

Now stare into a candle
see the flame
see the darkness around the wick
see the dark candle

it’s all light
all over.