Green on Hasidism; the Degel on descent
Step into my parlor...

This week's portion: the deal



Three months out
we enter the wilderness,
a new landscape of the heart.

The deal is this, Moshe says
coming down from the hilltop
luminescent like the stars:

we owe compassion
to the widow and orphan
kindness to the stranger

in return we become
a nation of priests
treasured like gemstones.

Assent rumbles through us
like an earthquake, though
no one quite understands.

Moshe instructs us
to wash our clothes, stay away
from the mountain, get ready.

Every heart beats
please let me live up
to whatever is coming.

This week's portion, Yitro, includes the story of the revelation at Sinai. It's a foundational story, and over the centuries Jewish commentators have hung meaning on practically every crown of every letter in the text.

Rereading it again this year, I'm struck by the text's insistence that we entered the wilderness of Sinai on the third new moon after going forth from the land of Egypt. What does that mean, exactly -- to enter "wilderness"? Where had we been for those first three months, if not in wilderness? How did the quality of the experience shift at that moment? Out of that question, this week's poem began to arise.

The poem takes place before the theophany itself -- before the sounding of the great ram's horn, before the thunder and lightning, before God comes down onto the mountain and Moshe goes up to meet God there. Before God speaks to the people en masse, and the people hear. Before all of these things, when Moshe offers his prefatory remarks, the people respond "All that God has spoken, we will do!" But God hasn't yet spoken to them. What a remarkable leap of faith, to respond in that way.

There's an anticipatory quality to this part of the story. If I were in that story right now, how would I be feeling? If you imagine yourself into the story, how does it feel for you?



Edited to add: this poem is now available in 70 faces, my collection of Torah poems, published by Phoenicia Publishing, 2011.


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