Remembering 9/11

Intro: After 9/11

My response is always to write. But I couldn’t write.

I watched television, I listened to the radio, I read the newspapers. I wrote a few prayers and a few poems, but that’s it. I couldn’t write anything else.

I ascended into silence and one song. I sang the plaintive shif-khi kha-mayim li-beikh no-chakh p’nei Hashem from Lamentations pour out your heart like water before the face of G*d (Lamentations 2:19). Whenever I sang it, I cried.

I waited for what came next. I had been writing stories that I later collected into a manuscript called “The Legend of the Thirty Six.”

There is a tradition that in every generation, the world is sustained and maintained by 36 hidden tzaddikim (righteous individuals) — not by the manifestly righteous or the famous or the rich or the beautiful, not by the leaders or the agency heads or the professional class — they too are sustained by the 36 hidden ones, and of the 36 hidden ones who sustain each generation, one may be the Messiah.

Many of the stories in “The Legend of the Thirty Six” had to do with a kind of salvation. It didn’t seem like a theoretical subject to me.

The stories started up again. Many of the stories were about 9/11, some were peace stories, some stories of longing, a yearning for peace and security and the dream of life intact for my children. Something of that dream had been profoundly destabilized with 9/11.

In addition to writing, we began creating music, stories, songs, and prayers around what we called a peace vigil that we were holding in the synagogue, every time we got together, whether for prayer, for study, or for talk.

We included in our peace vigil techniques, prayers, and teachings to bring inner peace. What eluded us in the world was something we could claim in our prayer place, our oasis of peace.

We avoided politics and opinion in our peace vigil; we gave ourselves to the spiritual expression of a peace we could create, the peace of the spirit, the peace that we expressed through prayer, meditation, study, and music. More than ever, I was drawn to Rebbe Nachman’s unfinished story that I sing every Friday night:

At the edge of the world there is a mountain, on this mountain there is a rock and from this rock springs the purest water in the world. And at the opposite edge of the world beats the Great Heart of the World which gazes all day long at the mountain. The Great Heart, filled with love, yearns for the water, but it cannot have it. One move and the Great Heart would lose sight of the mountain and in that instant the world would die. But every evening when the sun goes down, the heart sings to the spring. And all hearts at the same moment sing to each other.

Now there is a righteous person who walks the earth and gathers up all of these threads of songs and weaves them together into time. And it is just enough time to make up another day. The day is given to the Great Heart which then sings again the next evening to the spring. In this way, out of love, out of song, in this way out of beauty, out of poetry, in this way out of an impossible dream, in this way out of yearning, out of waiting, the world continues to exist.

In this way, time is created every day so that every day all hearts can beat, including the Great Heart of the World.

— as quoted in “The Legend of the Thirty Six”

It is presently ten years into the peace vigil.

We also found three songs from one verse that we began to sing the week of 9/11, 2001.

All three are songs from Lamentations 2:19, but one starts with the beginning of the verse, the other picks up the sentiment at the zakeif (trope, pause), the third continues after the et-nach-ta (the resting place).

The first part is dark:

Kumi Roni ba-lai-lah
L’rosh ash-mu-rot

Arise, sing in the night
At the beginning of the watches,

The second part of the verse:

Shif-khi kha-mayim li-beikh
No-khach p’nei Hashem

Pour out your heart like water
Before the face of G*d

We sang a song
In its entirety
Adding the second part of the verse:

Kumi Roni ba-lai-lah
L’rosh ash-mu-rot

Shif-khi kha-mayim li-beikh
No-khach p’nei Hashem

Arise, sing in the night
At the beginning of the watches,

Pour out your heart like water
Before the face of G*d

I made another version that picks it up at the zakeif and begins with:

Shif-khi kha-mayim li-beikh
No-khach p’nei Hashem

— Lamentations 2:19

Pour out your heart like water
Before the face of God

We sang that version.

What’s the difference when we begin with the second part?

The first part takes on the darkness first:
Arise, sing, split the darkness with your song.

The second part moves directly into the heart of suffering:

Pour out your heart, like water, before the face of G*d.

It’s like the difference between Rav and Shmuel, in the famous argurment in the Talmud:

Rav said, all the ends have passed, and the matter [to save the world] depends only on repentance and good deeds. Shmuel said, it is enough for the mourner to stand in mourning.
— b.t. Sanhedrin 97b

How will the world be saved? Isn’t that what they were talking about? Maybe there was a dark question that preceded their argument. If all else fails, how will the world be saved?

Through transformation, getting up, dusting ourselves off, splitting the darkness with our song [Rav], or right through the center, the heart of the matter, through the heart of sadness itself [Shmuel]?

Maybe it’s the same thing, these two versions, a continuum of the reality of deep suffering. Like the verse in Lamentations, the difference is where we begin the song, at the beginning of the verse, or at the zakeif [pause]. Remember: one verse, but where to begin?

First we sing, push the darkness, then we pour out our hearts like water, tears. With the second part of the verse, we go to the center with our tears, pour out the heart, singular by the way, like water before God.

What if we pick up the song at the et-nach-ta [resting place] third part?

S’i ei-lav ka-pa-yikh
al-nefesh ‘o-la-la-yikh
ha-a-tu-fim v’ra-av
b’rosh kol-chu-tzot.

Lift up your hands toward G*d
For the soul [singular] of your young children
That faint for hunger
On the top of every street.

That version we haven’t written yet.

jsg, usa