You'll need a smoker.
Get one from Home Depot
and tighten each screw and bolt
exactly as the directions teach.
Split birch logs, and maple
kindle knobs of charcoal
fan them with cardboard
layer the hardwoods to burn.
Place the bird with reverence
then close the lid. What rises
will perfume the neighborhood,
your clothes, your hair.
Two hours later it's blackened,
crisp and burnished, but
inside: so tender even
a butter knife cuts through...
What constitutes a drawing-near
two thousand years or so
after the last sacrifice, bull
or pigeon, went up in smoke?
It's not the roasting that matters,
that's just barbecue -- though
maybe it's a reminder
on some level too deep to name --
but anticipation, and gratitude.
So that what burns bright
on the altars of our hearts
sends a pleasing odor to Adonai.
This poem is my response to this week's Torah portion, Vayikra, the first portion in the book by the same name (in English, Leviticus.) This book is at the heart of the Torah, and Torah's chiastic structure suggests that Vayikra is the most important book. It's quite literally central.
And it's always been challenging for me. All of these details of animal sacrifice keep me at arm's-length! But the words we use are lenses, and some of these Hebrew terms speak to me in a way the English terms don't. The English word "sacrifice" suggests giving something up; the Hebrew word korban connotes something like "drawing-near." Vayikra shows us how we once drew near to God. When I see it that way, something in me opens.
Some blog aggregators will display the embedded audio player at the top of this post. If yours doesn't, and you'd like to hear this poem aloud, you can download korban.mp3.
Edited to add: this poem is now available (in revised form) in 70 faces, my collection of Torah poems, published by Phoenicia Publishing, 2011.