I met the Master of the Good Name

I met the Baal Shem Tov Today
Or: Clever and Kind

It was said that the Baal Shem Tov before he emerged and began to teach
was a crossing guard — he took students to and from the Study house.
A humble occupation but none more important: to protect kids on their way to and from School.

Today I was driving down Big Bend Boulevard. Big Bend Boulevard is four lanes
two each way the road so named because it once led to a big bend in the Meramec River.

It is a large road for a walking street. In front of me a bumped up car —
white what was left of the paint — the rear lights extinguished I believe
(they had tape all over them).

The man driving I saw his hand go up inside his car — lucky I was to see it at all
we were all traveling pretty fast down Big Bend Boulevard — he pulled up and stopped with his hand up in the air and I saw a duck and six, seven little ducklings following crossing that big road in the middle where there are no stops and this man pulled up short right in front of them so all the cars behind him had to stop, me first and then he did something clever in addition to kind:

He pulled over into the next lane as they entered it and barreling down that lane was a big truck it had to stop too and that man angled his car so the truck could not pass the duck momma and the little ducklings they made their way to the other side the ducklings so little they had to jump up to make the curb but they made the curb.

Not only did this man do a kind thing he did a clever thing and it’s that combination of clever and kind — If we were all clever and kind we would triumph over the other side and the unprotected would make their way and jump that curb to safety on the other side – I think so.

Now: was this a black man a white man was he going to a job did he need a job had he come onto hard times was he an immigrant man trying to figure out how to get by was he hustling to make a living was he looking for a break in a hard hard life could he not afford to fix that dent of a car he was driving?

It makes no difference to this story because I caught up with him and I know.

I told him I saw the whole drama and how lovely it was and I know the answers to the above questions but those pictures in your mind make no difference as they make no difference to me.

It makes no difference what kind of man he was other than he was a human being who on Monday, May 12, did something clever and kind and that is what it takes to make a difference in this way: be clever and kind.

I have been everything in this story: I have been that mamma duck I have been those babies vulnerable jumping the curb —

Today I was that man driving the car clever and kind I have also been that truck
traveling the road too too fast to slow down safely.

I am every part of this Story.


How The Eggplant Got Its Name

How the Eggplant Got its Name

I named it
In ‘06 I was on loan to the Court Of the Ottomans
From Prince Ali the last of the Levantine kings of Hejaz
From the Court came the request
The love meal bint Abdullah
The daughter of Abdullah and her beloved

I had sent for the marriage tea with gold flecks
From the tea master
To accompany the meal
I was asked to create something
Entirely new.

It was one of the holidays of the full moon
The full moon signifying the complete
Appearance of the newness drawn down during days of awe
And no challenge was too great.

There was a field of aubergines just beyond my rooms
We called them then nightshades
Or binjal in our dialect
al-badinjan in the tongue of my father
from the Persian badin-gan
my cousins in India where it originated the Sanskrit vatin-ganah.

I went and picked the finest of the field
Soaked them in salt to absorb the bitterness
From the nicotinoid alkaloids (related to tobacco plant of course),

I sliced the succulent aubergines
Stuffed them with a delicate tomato sauce spiced lightly
With fresh garlic and a perfect maltese basil
And drizzled it all with the finest olio vergine I have found
(the great olive oil must suffer)
Which at that time was the DiGregorio from the other side of the mountains
Near Spello
Where San Francesco once walked.

In the kitchen the aubergines were cooking
the Imam came for a taste (always a pest)
He stuck his finger into the tender aubergines
And fell out in a full faint right there.

The first words the Imam uttered as he returned to us were,
This is the most delicious dish I have ever tasted
Thus the name that has accompanied the dish
I created that night
Imam Biyaldi
The Imam fainted.

I thought it an indignity
I was flamboyant with olio that night
The delicate aubergines remembered by the transmissions of false histories
The oil was too expensive and the Imam fainted dead away!
That’s not the way it was.

Later that night I served the delicious aubergine
To the bint Abdullah and her beloved Ovadia
Followed by the wedding tea from the tea master
With the gold flecks
They drank the tea under a canopy of linen created for just this occasion.

In the morning she sent me the following message:
The eggs have been planted.

I took that to mean that the wedding meal was successful
In every way

And from that moment on the beloved aubergines
Were known in our court

As eggplants.


Today, 6.8.14, St. Louis

Today, a Prayer for Peace or Henry’s Plan for Peace

Sunday, June 8, 2014, Pope Francis, President Shimon Peres and President Mahmoud Abbas gather in the Vatican to pray for the gift of peace in the Middle East, #weprayforpeace. For the first time Jewish, Christian and Islamic prayers will be held together in the Vatican. Italian, English, Hebrew, Arabic. We are watching 1 Henry IV 2 Henry IV in St. Louis, Missouri. English.

Pay attention to this day
Why not peace through prayer
Why not in the Vatican
With its conflicted history
Why not President Peres and President Abbas
And all the histories of violence and recrimination:
History-less-ness declare at the beginning of peace-making
Forgiveness and the absence of history.

Why not here in Shakespeare’s sequence
Its terrible history
Insult and shame and lust and vengeance and
On this day can we let it pass without
Acknowledging the intersection of events of small and great
Intersecting right here right now
This resting place in an oasis of one century 21
Here the United States of America
In this noble heart-line city
Named for the Louis who himself brought two Crusades:

Louis IX 13th c.
Captured by Egyptians in his first Crusade
Settling Aco Caesarea and Yafo
Building defenses for future Crusades.

He would go on two of them dying at the eighth crusade
Known as the only Canonized King of France
Responsible for mass burnings of the Talmud
Expanding the Inquisition in France, the nobility of his titular:
“the lieutenant of God on earth.”

Louis — I live in your city of the future and am speaking
Peace and forgiveness
On a day that happens this way
Only Once
Like/Unlike all other days.

In this set of histories we are watching
Crusades are in the future
On this meadow in a park
They are the past.

How this intersects Here Now
Without a pause and a breath and a
Feeling for the past and a prayer for the future
And an Intention for Something
Out of something Old —
This is the Story.

Oh St. Louis person of the past
Lieutenant of God on earth
Turn over your dominion to the peace-makers
The peace-making that will arise out of uncertainty.

Oh past: One day you will Give up your certainty
And Inevitable peace will be made face to face
Without history.

The peace-makers will have to put our histories in our pockets
Isn’t it worth a temporary
For peace?

Let us all take our histories when we are making peace
And put them in a notebook
For peace-making we have to begin and we have to begin

We listen.

For now we will put our histories away
Peace starts now
With a prayer
With an intentioned history-less-ness
We may trot our stories out later but for now —
We are listening.

Let the peace start now
We will earn each other’s stories
When we sit and eat together
When our children come to know each other
When we listen to each other’s music
When we recite our poetry to each other —

When we come to know we are more similar
Than we are separate
Then we will unpack our histories
And tell them like a story redeemed for sacred rite from
Their storehouses.

Let the peace start now.

O St. Louis
O crusader
O lieutenant of God on earth
Give up your title
Turn your acquisitions over to the peace-makers
Be listeners.

This prayer for peace —

O St. Louis
The heart-line of a new country
In this place named for you
We are listening to each other
We have our stories in our pockets
Let the peace begin in the most unlikely places
The most unlikely ways.

Let it emanate outward from every known and unknown place
Why not St. Louis.

Why not the great river cities
Plant an olive tree
Why not Rome in prayer

Italian, English, Hebrew, Arabic
Italian, English, Hebrew, Arabic
Italian, English, Hebrew, Arabic

Why not every place human being turning to human being and speaking
This truth:

I am you and
You are me

And we are all



Return to Thunder

It was Naso, the longest parashah in the Torah, always read on the Shabbat before Shavuot, before the great wedding celebrating the enduring wisdom given to us because we had prepared in one version and because we did not in another.

Was it a complete gift this wisdom or did we turn ourselves inside out and twisted ourselves into a posture of acceptance some crazy yoga that we submitted to methodically and daily in order to gain the gift: here is your wisdom, nicely packaged it’s now in book form first it came as thunder and lightning but some time into the future after you are done with the telling you will begin the writing then it will be a book then it will return to lightning in digital form and you will return to telling because the words are on the wind in the rain maybe once in a while you’ll project them on a wall or write them in a journal to remind you that the word has shape and also to remind you that the word does not have shape it has sound. The return to thunder.

What a week. Great ascent tempered by a plummet back to reality, ta-da ta-da little sleep and much wrestle with the dreaded mind-slip and the question mark associated with the mysterium: what to do, and the great vulnerability of being a human being alive but fearful of the drift downward. Fear full. Reminder: drift Up.

Then the blessing in its three parts from the book of Numbers, Naso, and great stories from several years ago from this same Shabbos. The way Rashi reads the blessing: material. Blessed will you be with possessions, this from the Medrash.

The way the Mesillat Yesharim reads it: everything is a test. You get good: a test. You get bad: a test. Everything is a test. Mesillat Yesharim, also known as R. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, eighteenth century, his story and his writings speak to me and I think I ran into him at the house of study that bears his family name in Venice. He is another who had a maggid that spoke to him – through him invoking the teachings that came from Elijah the prophet, the poor guy was hounded out of Venice to Amsterdam and eventually to Aco where he died in a plague.

From the Sefas Emes the sense of shleimut, wholeness, to be blessed with shalom is to be blessed with wholeness, some sort of inner point of blessing that opens from the one the individual the instance to the many the All the Universal. The Sefas Emes calls this the inner point of truth. The inner point of truth: When you have that you have everything. Peace is a vessel. It contains blessing.

In the Sefas Emes version, the three fold blessing is given in the singular opening onto the plural, one and many, the individual as it opens onto the universal the universal always sheleimut/shalom/l’seim lekha shalom — to bring the blessing from the individual instance to the universal application, the conduit from the one to the many – to break through your skin and live in G*d.

The inner point of truth this is shleimut/shalom the inner is experienced as the universal. Wherever G*d dwells there is blessing, wherever there is blessing there is shalom. I am you and you are me and we are all together.

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. I am stunned by this teaching each time I revisit it.

This year Shabbat Naso always the thought of the blessing as we enter the last leg of transformative-gift getting that is the durable wisdom soon soon and sitting in the minyan that night a guy from Thursday night meeting fresh off of heroin and tonight he is fresh on I can generally tell from looking at him. Later that night quietly he lets me know: I used today. I gotta stay close to this, he says. I want this so bad.

You are here with nothing I am thinking Rashi – but your dearest possession right now is your sobriety. Get clean and that one possession will open onto all other blessings, without that blessing – nothing. He knows this. Yeah yeah he says. We are talking in code a language so abbreviated only Rashi and his band of deconstructivists would understand. They spoke in grunts and hand signs, shakes of the head and so do we, they left only a one or two phrase resting place in language for the future.

It’s a test man, all of it, you will be tested daily. Today a test, tomorrow a test, each day a deadly quiz and if you fail it today you can make it tomorrow. One day at a time. Luzzatto. Go home to your Mom’s house tonight and take tomorrow fresh. Do-over, every day new. That’s not a blessing?

With the Sefas Emes we are entirely at home stoned or sober: the trip is internal, find your peace the inner point of truth within don’t forget the generosity of this: each part is a whole, each instance opens onto the All. Only Everything is everything. Find your peace, from the Sefas Emes, the inner point of truth: shalom, shleimut. Humble and opening Up.

Every day new. Every year another chapter on the story as it winds Up.