On January 10, 2016, ALEPH ordains nine new Jewish clergy – five rabbis, two cantors, and two rabbinic pastors – after having welcomed 24 new students, the largest incoming class in ALEPH history. This poetic charge is dedicated to our newest clergy, and their students, and the students of their students, as they take their place in the ancient flow of transmission.
You made a choice and took a turn
Long before you saw the flame
Was God's own angel dressed in drag,
Concealed within a bush so low
The last place one would think to look
To find an upward homing beacon.
You turned to face that glow: you couldn't see
The path ahead. For all you knew
You too might be consumed. God
Becomes What God Becomes, and so do you
Who in the end discovered that
Refiner's fire would yield not ash but gold.
At first they might not see or hear.
Some never will: it's less a risk
To keep the One they surely know,
The certain One they don't believe,
Than peel the habit from the feet
That seems most safe though shackling,
As you have done despite yourself
Because you dared to turn aside
And be rewritten from within, a scroll
Emblazoned on your skin for all to read.
They might read it wrong: we see things
Not as they are but as we are.
As you will know, and may your knowing
Light your way, as for your teachers
Behind you now, sending you
To prime the pump of heaven's flow.
God's own angel dressed in drag: Exodus 3:2. Refiner's fire: Malachi 3:3. At first they might not see or hear: Exodus 6:9. The certain One they don't believe: From Reb Zalman z"l, after Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. Peel the habit from the feet: Reb Zalman & Netanel Miles-Yepez, A Heart Afire 47, following Besht on Exodus 3:5. You dared to turn aside: Exodus 3:3. A scroll emblazoned on your skin: Psalm 40:8. Not as they are but as we are: B.T. Berakhot 55b. Your teachers behind you now: M. Avot 1:1.
14 stanzas – יד, the hand of smicha.
Written by Rabbi David Evan Markus and Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, ALEPH co-chairs, for this year's class of ALEPH musmachim (ordinands). Cross-posted from Kol ALEPH.
Co-writing poems has turned out to be one of the unexpected joys of co-chairing ALEPH with David. We've written a few of these so far during our tenure, including The Angels of San Bernardino. I've written poems for ALEPH musmachim (ordinands) before -- including Becoming, 2009 -- but this is the first time I've co-written one.
This year marks five years since my own ordination. I offer my deepest congratulations to those who are becoming rabbis, hazzanim, and rabbinic pastors today.