New poem: Shabbat in the toddler house
Short review of Beloved on the Earth: 150 poems of grief & gratitude

Two texts before Pesach: a Rumi poem, and a Reb Nosson teaching

Remember the amazing Rumi morning service I attended back in January? I've been beginning to work recently on adapting the liturgy from that service for use at my shul, and am planning a Rumi Shabbat on May 5, about which more anon. Anyway, one of the poems we'll probably use in our Rumi Shabbat service is this one, which draws on the Qur'anic (and Torah) story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. I wanted to share it here in advance of Pesach, which is coming soon!

This poem reminds me of a Hasidic teaching about the Exodus from Egypt, which I will also share below. First, here's the Rumi poem:

Remember Egypt

You that worry with travel plans,
read again the place in the Qur'an

where Moses is taking the Jewish
nation out of slavery. You so

frantic to have more money, recall
what they abandoned to wander in

the wilderness. You who feel hurt,
remember the pavilions and houses

left behind. You that lead the
community through difficulties, read

about the abundant fountains they
walked away from to have freedom.

You who dress in clothes that appear
to have elegant meaning, you with so

much charm, remember how your face
will decay to dirt. You with lots of

property, "They left their gardens
and the quietly running streams."

You who smile at funerals going by,
you that love language, measure wind

in stanzas and recall the exodus,
the wandering forty-year sacrifice.

(Edited to add: this is a translation by Coleman Barks, and can be found in The Soul of Rumi -- online here via googlebooks.)

And here's the Hasidic teaching. This is commonly attributed to Reb Nachman of Bratzlav, though my teacher Reb Elliot taught that this actually comes to us via Reb Nosson, Reb Nachman's disciple/amanuensis. Reb Nosson wrote:

One needs to leave Mitzrayim ("The Narrow Place," e.g. Egypt) with great haste. This is the essence of "for they left Mitzrayim and couldn't tarry, and also they didn't make provisions [for the journey]." (Exodus 12:39) This is found in each person and in each era. Each person in each time, in experiencing the cravings and the woes of this world, experiences the essence of the exile in Mitzrayim...

And here is the essence of Pesach. At the time of the Exodus from Mitzrayim, a great light from on high was revealed; and at that time, promptly and in a jiffy Israel went out in great haste. They couldn't tarry, for even if they had remained there even one more instant, they would have remained a remnant there. It's forbidden, in the moment of exodus, to worry about parnassah [income], to worry "But if I do this, how will I make a living?" Rather one must trust in God and hope in the Blessed One, and God will provide.

This is the essence of "And also they didn't make provisions." [That's the end of that same Exodus quote from before.] If one needs to flee from, e.g., being trapped in a snare, one wouldn't think of parnassah and preparations, for certainly thieves and robbers would fall upon one, or wild beasts, and one would need to speedily free oneself from them; certainly there would be no thought then of how one would make a living. The same is true if a person needs to flee from She'ol around and beneath him, or from the tribulations of the world toward the life of this world [e.g. God]. One would need to flee speedily and not look behind oneself at all; for one must not tarry, nor worry about preparations, but trust in God and rely on God, who will never leave one.

What I hear Reb Nosson saying is that when it's time to leave the Narrow Place, one has to do it speedily, without getting caught up in anxiety about how the logistics are going to work. There's a certain kind of leap of faith involved. Just as one would flee quickly from a literal trap, so we should aim to flee from the spiritual traps which would otherwise keep us constricted. This isn't merely a teaching about what happened to them then; it's also about what happens to us now.

What I hear Rumi saying is that all of us who become consumed with thoughts of logistics and possessions need to remember the Exodus from Egypt, remember how the Israelites left that place with their hastily-improvised flatbread. When we can bear the Exodus in mind -- when we can, as the haggadah teaches, see ourselves as though we ourselves had been brought forth from Mitzrayim, out of the house of bondage -- then we will hear the poetry in the very wind, and maybe find the freedom in the wind, too.

May your journey toward Pesach be meaningful and sweet!