Visiting the jail-house just before Purim
The Abrahamic Family Gets Together
That year I visited the jail-house just before Purim. We couldn’t make enough for the minyan.
The Muslim brothers will join your group, Alim said, we’ll be here every Saturday and we’ll show you how to go about getting what you want. Alim knew a lot, it seemed, about working the prison system.
The Muslim brothers and the Jewish brothers will make the prayers together, Alim proclaimed, you’ll have a group this Saturday and every Saturday.
It was getting close to the time that I was supposed to leave. I asked the Jewish brothers and the Muslim brothers which way was east. Alim showed me the corner where the Muslim brothers faced east.
Come with me, I said, quick, because there were some other people starting to come into the room looking as if they were the next group.
We went into the corner facing east and I opened up my hands and sung out pretty and slow the holy blessing from the Priests in the book of Numbers (6:23-27):
Ye-va-re-che-cha Adonai ve-yish-me-re-cha.
May God bless you and protect you.
Ya-eir Adonai pa-nav ei-le-cha vi-chu-ne-ka.
May God’s face shine to you and be gracious to you.
Yi-sa Adonai pa-nav ei-le-cha ve-ya-seim le-cha sha-lom.
May God’s face always be lifted to you and give you peace.
As I was singing, I explained there is no partial, no individual, no incomplete – every single instance opens up onto the universal, and every partial resolves in the whole — everywhere God dwells is whole, quoting the Zohar.
I said something about salaam, shalom, or shleimut— the cognate root in Arabic and Hebrew — wholeness, integration. To bless is to dip below and reach above, the root below and the root above, the b’reikhah the pool of blessings — the wild chute that whisks you into the root above — to the All, shleimut, to be blessed with a sense of everything.
Like Abraham our father in Genesis 24:1, to be blessed with everything and to live in a larger space than the separate self; the isolated, the un-integrated, the broken, the incomplete.
By this time the Christian brothers were coming in, they were the next group, the room was filling up behind us and some of them were watching us.
Their leader came over to me and asked, what is that you are singing?
I told him basically the same things I told the Jewish and the Muslim brothers. He was holding my picture on my ID card that I had copied to get the keys.
You’re the rabbi, he said, they told me up front that you’re supposed to give me the keys.
So I gave the Christian brother the ring of keys, he seemed to know what he was doing, and I asked him for my picture just in case they inquired on my way out.
The Jewish brothers and the Muslim brothers escorted me through the yard. The white supremacists had heard I was around and had threatened, and on the way out Alim scribbled something on a piece of paper. We were talking with animation until I realized I was alone. There is a certain line the inmates cannot pass and they were standing quietly on the other side until I turned around mid-thought.
I walked back to them and thanked them and told them I would be back in two weeks, we’ll be here, said the Muslim brothers, all of us. Alim gave me the paper he was writing on.
This is what was written on the paper Alim gave me:
Brother, your presence here is engulfed with the love of forgiveness. Please do what you can for all in this community.
Is there something in this story that is not-God? I am searching for it, this iteration of the Purim story, though I could have missed it, I could have missed the whole thing. I could have made the trip to the jail-house and any one of a dozen obstacles could have deterred me and sent me home. Or something trivial and stupid could have interfered, I could have missed it all.
Well, I showed up, watched something profound and stupid unfold into something profound.