Bless you earth-ling

Gobble up the three-fold blessings
the priests our Kohanic ancestors
with their really great clothes
that hat mitznefet
the breastplate
summer breastplate with aeration
winter breastplate to keep the heart line

in a dry climate linen is fabulous
when it’s humid
it’s like wearing a wet towel.

The colors
deep crimson the color of a squashed worm
the mysterious blue
[the blue comes up once every seventy years]
nowadays the blue is not hidden
and the purple —

Is it on the reddish tint or the bluish tint
they’re so different
let’s mix up some imagined purple
and then invent another name for it.

O holy G*d of the tri-partite blessing
as brought down by the Sefas Emes
pores to spread out means to choose a partial
spread over us some peace
opening onto the whole
the individual as it opens onto the universal
the universal always sheleimut
l’sem lekha shalom
to bring the blessing from the individual instance
to the universal application
the conduit from the one to the many —
wild ride that.

The Sefas Emes connects blessing with wholeness with individuality
with blessing the power of the upper root descends
descends on the lower root on the individual on the instance
the upper root the anchoring above
roots above, so to speak.

The inner point of truth
this is shleimut shalom
the inner is experienced in the universal
wherever God dwells
there is blessing
wherever there is blessing
there is shalom
can you dig that?

I love the partial the broken individual incomplete
the fragment the wounded
I love the separate because it integrates
and even if not —
it is whole.

The many crystalled net
each facet reflecting the whole
the crazy skate from the one
to the Universal
to the universal grasp of HaKol
the wild ride from here to There –

Dr. Lehman — I hear you dripping syllables
HaKol Pleroma the All
about which you can say too much —


I encounter the thing most when I am leaving it.

O holy Shabbes BeMidbar

Midbar means Wilderness
from the root — word or thing

The place of the word
or of no words
the place of the single word
the place of speaking
well placed
the word that works.

The matter, the thing
economy of words
heat of the matter
this is where it happened
the combustible puff of self
inscrutable chemistry of the desert sun
that is why we return there.

BeMidbar, in the Wilderness.
the language of truth
this is the thing [see Numbers 30:2].
Davar — the pure articulation
Midbar – the place
speaking from essence source
to essence source.

We are unfolding the essentials
encountering the midbar most deeply
as we are leaving it.

Isn’t that good storytelling —
not telling the full story until the end?

Before leaving
I watch my feet
Attentive to the next step –

The next step only.

Maqam Rast
Every Shabbat is associated with a musical figure
a maqam
Hebrew cognate maqom
signifying Place

C [1] D [3/4] E half-flat [1 1/4] F

Bar Yochai, part 8

Bar Yochai, part 8

When Blue was gathering up his legs and intermittently speaking with his
ancestors, he brought down the lost piyyut of Ibn Lavi, sang it in the tune he had
taught me, the holiest one, calling the day Lʼag LaʼOmer. I thought he was a little
delirious but his singing was so clear and fine.

I was told later that Lag LaʼOmer was a call to resistance. In the Jewish revolt of
66, and during the rebellion of Bar Kokhba, Lʼag LaʼOmer was a secret signal of

Blue, the one who radicalized me in the first place, reminded me on his death
bed not to make sentiment out of him, to remember the world is cracked, cracked
to its core, and to never forget the rebellion of the spirit necessary to restore it to
wholeness. It was his way of saying: remember the cause as well as remember

Blue often reminded me about Bar Yochai, the student of Rabbi Akiva, who led
the rebellion in 135,

Bar Yochai died believing if he could do something, one thing, that right, twice —
the world would be redeemed.

— one of the students

Bar Yochai, part 5

Bar Yochai, part 5

My struggle with the Romans was over.

So I went home. There, with my son and a devoted assistant, I worked the old manuscripts. I wrote commentaries on the texts, took lunch in the sunshine, tended a garden and watched my son grow. When I died, it was said that I had spent my better days observing the Shabbat, believing that if I could only observe two Sabbaths properly, the world would be redeemed.

I am buried in Meron. I am called a tzaddik yesod olam, one of those persons, it is told, by whose merit the world continues to exist. I am the sole bearer of certain secrets, and along with my ten friends, the chevrayya, with whom I have shared these secrets, we sustain the world in times of darkness, brokenness, and trouble.

On this day, the 18th day of Iyyar, Lag B’omer, you remember my yahrzeit. You have felt my presence beneath the holy mountain Meron where you visit my resting place, you sing songs to my memory, you tell my stories to your children.

You remember me. I remember you.

— Bar Yochai

The Persistence of Work

The Persistence of Work

They sent me away for 13 years, come back after the Fall, they said,
try writing more like us. Deadly universalists, I scribbled on in spite of them.

My arm lost its joints. I strapped an eagle feather to my hand and
instructed my keepers to secure me in a chamber. Do not let me out,
I said, even if I beg.

I am not finished but I am cooked. My keepers disappeared long ago, they left the door open
and fled like wraiths into the night. I never forgot my yearning and this has kept me alive.

All the years of captivity, free not-free, I bled from the shards of my broken heart.
It has cleansed me.

I wrote prayers: black fire on white fire. Wherever I have been I have left shoes.

A razor shall not pass over my head until the completion of my days of abstinence,
and I will thank my keepers (if I see them) for their universal inclinations
that made revenge a good word.

jsg, usa

What Only Your Mom Knows

What Only Your Mom Knows

Rabbi Akiva told Bar Yochai, the paradigm, his student —

it is enough that myself, your mother, and
know your excellence.

First, it’s enough, his teacher says,
I know, your mother knows, G*d of course.

In a different version:
it is enough that myself, another person
and G*d know your excellence.

It’s uncertain who the other person is —
it could be your sweetheart, your friend,
maybe your father even
— since he is not working the Exile in those times
and spends most of his days tending a garden
studying the holy texts in the sunshine
learning to play an oud-like instrument popular in the land
— yearning to return home,

but in the first version
it is your mother
she is totally devoted to your physical and spiritual nature
she knows what you need
you need two — she tells you — but only two
two who know you
[other than G*d]

and the two are Akiva
great teacher, brave antagonist, nice to his children

and me
— your Mom.

jsg, usa

On the death of Bin Laden, I remember this story

From the 9/11 Stories
— thirty, one, ten thousand, maybe One
. . .Abbaye said, “there is not less than thirty six righteous persons in each generation who receive the Shekhinah [the inner presence of Godliness] — Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97b

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

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

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

Mrs. Drennan: We went down to the firehouse which is below Fourteenth Street. I went to the wake of one of the firefighters. They have a sense of optimism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ATC: He was a Franciscan priest.

Mrs. Drennan: Mychal was administering last rites to a firefighter that had just been hit by a body of a woman. People were falling out of those towers so they wouldn’t burn.

In the midst of this here he is kneeling and giving last rites. The firefighters when they realized he had perished they carried him up to St. Peters church and they laid out his body on the altar and they put his rosaries in his hand and they pinned on his fire department badge and they prayed over him. Later that night they wouldn’t let his body go to the morgue.

They brought him to their firehouse and they laid him in the back room and the friars across the street of St. Francis of Assisi came and they lit candles and said a vigil.

He was beloved by every firefighter in the city and the fire department will grieve many many years for the loss of his beautiful life.

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

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

jsg, usa

Master of the Universe

Master of the Universe

If all our enemies were so
We could search them out
With seals

And erasers
For blotting out
Or with blotters
For preserving

Of what
They did

Or we could take their
Power away
As the thought arose

In the pictures
As they appear before you
I see enemies
And dis-integrators

And instigators
Too and haves
Who want more

And reversionists
Who want the past
The way the past [never]

Or fearfulists
Who are afraid
Of the Future
Neutral on the present

They may have
Made a complete
Of the past

They are durable
Like insects
Like the Cimex lectularius*
In New York City

Or the mice in Jerusalem
Or the cats in Jerusalem
Who came to
Eat the mice

The cats now own the night
They are un-Conquerable
We have to be

jsg, usa


On the death of Bin Laden, Holocaust Memorial Day: Musings

Let the Story Purify

You shall make an altar on which to bring incense up in smoke
— Exodus 30:1


How do survivors remember trauma? How to mourn? What to do with our grief? How not to be victims? How to remove the power of victimizer? How to move toward freedom out of the weight of hurt we carry around? I notice that Bin Laden was killed on Holocaust Memorial Day. This is a subject we might know something about, but we don’t know enough. We never did because it’s just hard, just deep.

In the discussion in the Talmud, Pesachim 117a, the angels may have refrained from singing at the death of our pursuers, but only the angels. Moses and we the people — we sang out: Az yashir Moshe, thus sang Moses. And when the angels refrained from singing, goes the midrash, they did that — once only.

Ground Zero
December 11, 2001

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, my government invited me to a think session in New York City. There were delegations from every state. At the end of day two, I felt I had to witness the site. Ground Zero. I called my friend, a long-time New York City photographer who lived downtown. We took the subway to Fulton Street. Almost midnight. They were still cleaning out the subway and fortifying its walls. It was dusty in the subway corridors and overhead I could discern the reinforcements in the ceiling and on the walls.

We walked up out onto Fulton Street and a short distance to the site. Past midnight now, still people lingering in the area. On the site itself, we could see the iron workers finishing up their welding for the night, but the lumbering trucks did not cease moving the mountain of debris that remained of the World Trade Center.

From a distance, I could see the crude natural memorial: the piece left of the above-ground skeleton of the towers that I had heard New Yorkers call “the potato chip.” Perhaps it was a way of domesticating, taming the tragedy somewhat, but it didn’t look anything like a potato chip to me; it was two hundred feet tall and it looked like the ruin of a holy place, stately and dignified, ruined and demeaned, both.

It reached out of the ruins and up towards the sky like a sign of both destruction and in its aftermath inspiration and courage. It embodied both ruin and reach.

I was drawn to get a clearer look at this beautiful-terrible remnant. We walked 360 degrees around the site, and on the west side, facing New Jersey, we stopped in front of one of the spontaneous shrines that appeared all around what once was the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Hundreds of such shrines had appeared spontaneously, decorating the temporary walls that had been built all around the site.

An old man kneeled in front of a particular shrine where we stopped, reading the notes and pictures and stories that made up an altar on a wooden fence. We stood there next to him, all of us reading the stories given in pictures and words, prayers from children to their parents, letters from parents to their children, lovers to lovers, friend to friend, each story an entire world.

It was then, that moment, in front of one of many such altars, that the tragedy of the World Trade Center ceased to be theoretical for me. I felt the weight of three thousand broken worlds times the number of intimates who do not forget, a sad set of multiple thousands sitting in a circle around God.

All of a sudden, next to the altar where we stood, opened a section of the wooden fence, and out rolled one of the trucks laden with debris from the site. The gates remained open and we were granted one of the few clear visions available then into the Ground Zero site. We all stood silent, looking past the altar, the stories, the pictures, the prayers, into the site of the ruins of the World Trade Center, Ground Zero, watching the dump trucks rolling out loaded with debris. We sat in silence watching for ten minutes, then an old man now standing next to me said, “so began the age of fear.”

My friend and I continued to circle the site, walking around it, from every angle entranced by the monument both terrible and wonderful that loomed over us, reflecting the stadium lights that shined after dark, the truest symbol I had seen of the now altered sense of the world, the Age of Fear, a remnant in metal of disaster.

There were still people walking with us. No one was sightseeing. I felt like we were all on a holy pilgrimage, praying with our feet, circling the ruin that rose in the distance, the last remnant of the skeleton, a totem in the massive graveyard that the World Trade Center had become. It stuck in the site like a tombstone, this potato chip, this cathedral of ruins.

It was close to three AM by the time we headed back to the subway. We had spent three hours in walking meditation, the smell that everyone talked about in the air then; what is that smell? Is it acrid, is it sweet, is it something burning, but burning sweetly, a mix of Levitical incense? Is it the kabbalah of ruin and redemption, is that the feeling — descent and ascent, the grotesque and the beautiful bound up, interpenetrated, the unholy and the holy — symbolized by the broken cathedral that had risen out of the ruins where there once was a building? That’s what it looked like: a broken cathedral.

These uncommon feelings, a mix of holy and unholy, pity and fear, awe, I recognized them: a form of mourning, a quality of brokenness, when what is released from the ruins of the heart is something quiet and beautiful, strong and sure, the sense of both impermanence and permanence, to be drawn to the core and know that something good there endures.

On the End of Monuments
Ground Zero, part 2
May 30, 2002

During December, 2001, they began to take down what still stood of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, this remnant that looked like a cathedral ruin that New Yorkers had called “the potato chip.” There was often discussion in the newspapers of the dedication of a defiled place, its reclamation and outfitting for holiness, as the country debated the nature of the memorial that would be built there.

Now that I had been to the World Trade Center site the sense of dedication preoccupied me: how to reclaim something that has been defiled to its core? That would be the task of the monument builders, and years later as I am writing this, it is still debated.

But there was something that had risen around the World Trade Center site, a kind of popular sanctification. The site had been sanctified by stories, poems, pictures, prayers, the personal art that was displayed in the makeshift altars and shrines that decorated the perimeter, on the temporary walls and fences that were built to separate, contain, and conceal. It was all temporary, beautiful but too spontaneous too personal too raw to be permanent.

When I went to the World Trade Center site, I knelt at the altars that had been created all around and read the letters and the poems and the prayers and looked at the pictures and the people came alive for me. I realized that these offerings were given to purify and to dedicate. The site was holy not because people died there but because people lived there. The story told is a purifier, and the tale dedicates. Without the story, the spontaneous story that surrounded the site with pictures, poems, letters, gifts, the event would slip into defilement. This I knew.

On Thursday, May 30, 2002, they took out the 30 foot beam that had withstood the destruction from Ground Zero, the last one, draped in an American flag, and officially ended the recovery search. The ritual began with the ringing of a bell, at 10:29 AM Eastern, the time when the last tower finished collapsing. The rubble was gone, the memories remained, as did the remains of more than half of the over 2,800 people who died there, and the next question became how to honor memory, the horror of it, the dignity of the recovery, the courage of the clean-up, physical and metaphysical, the residual trauma, grief that is the story of 9/11 and its aftermath.

I saw in the New York Times (Tuesday, February 2, 2010, “Like St. Vincent’s Itself, Missing Wall Means Much” by Clyde Haberman) that the Wall of Hope and Remembrance at St. Vincent’s Hospital is now an empty wall and the fliers and such that were once there are now in plastic, in binders, waiting for a museum to house them.

What I saw at the site of the World Trade Center was something just like that, it would soon be another memory: the spontaneous commitment of Ground Zero to holiness with hand written notes and pictures and letters and messages to the dead, from those who loved them. Stories. The shrines and altars on the wooden fences, the handwritten signs asking sight-seers not to take pictures, the creche dedicated to the police and fire fighters who died there, the cathedral that rose from the ruins, they will be replaced by some sort of permanent memorial and it will be beautiful and it will be touching, but it will not equal the spontaneity of the dedicated fence space that once arose around the site, it will not capture our yearning to consecrate something so ruined, the yearning to make something beautiful out of something terrible, something holy out of something defiled.

james stone goodman, united states of america