INSCRIPTION (KI TAVO)
Moshe said, as soon as you cross
into the land, erect pillars of stone.
Inscribe them with "this teaching" --
meaning what exactly? His final speech?
The whole Torah? I admit,
I like the idea of scribbling words
on every surface: notebooks, monitors,
even dolmens painted white as the page
but it's not showy, awe-inducing
like carnivals of acrobats, torches flying
or an eight-pointed star of fire
juggled before an excited crowd.
Though maybe as we tiptoe
toward the Days of Awe it's good
that our tradition unfolds small
toward what we can't know
as though God's glory filled creation
as though there were no place devoid
no matter where I've planted myself
or what I've plastered over.
This week's prompt at ReadWritePoem is a visual one: a photograph of a person balancing an eight-pointed star of flaming torches on a stick which is in turn balanced on his breastbone, while a crowd looks on. I looked at it and thought, "how on earth am I going to make that relevant to this week's Torah portion?"
This week we're reading parashat Ki Tavo, and sure enough, it doesn't really resonate with the image at all. So the poem arose out of the bizarre juxtaposition of the two, instead of out of their confluence. I'm still undecided as to whether this works, but I'm putting it out there anyway; I welcome your thoughts.
The portion speaks about what the Israelites are to do when they enter the land which God has promised them: erect stones, plaster them over, and inscribe "this teaching" on them. (Whatever that means. Opinions, naturally, vary.) It also talks about bringing first-fruits as a thank-you gift to God. There's a string of curses and blessings, and then toward the end of the portion there's a passage which addresses the question of what will happen if the people fail to live up to God's instructions. It's a rich portion, full of intriguing and complicated ideas, most of which didn't make it into the poem. (If you're interested in further commentary on the portion, I recommend Strange Fruit by Rabbi Oren J. Hayon, published at the URJ website.)
The last stanza of the poem makes reference to an idea found in Isaiah 6:3: מְלֹא כָל-הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ / M'lo chol ha-aretz kvodo, "All the earth is full of God's glory." In Tikkunei Zohar (Tikkun 57) the same idea is found: לית אתר פניו מיניה / leit atar panui minei, "No place is devoid of God's presence." This is a recurring theme in Hasidic texts, and it's something I find myself thinking about a lot as we move through Elul towards the Days of Awe. I like the idea that God can be found everywhere -- whether or not we've erected stones as our ancestors may have done, regardless of what in our own lives we may have tried to cover over and forget.
If you're interested, you can read the other responses to this week's RWP prompt here at the get your poem on #90 roundup list.