This week's portion: portable holiness.
This week's portion: on jealousy and the ritual of the Sotah.

Yad by yad

Brad opened the door of the Excursion and showed me a cardboard box filled with beautiful carved pieces of wood. As I moved my hands through the pile, they made music, like wooden xylophone keys. "This one is purpleheart," my brother told me. "This one's rosewood." The wood colors ranged from pale yellow to a dark stripey brown that was almost black. Red and golden, ash and oak and mahogany. None are stained -- only varnished with a clear coat to protect and showcase the natural colors of each kind of wood.

My middle brother has been a woodworker for all the years I can remember. The enormous mahogany dreidel he made for me when I was in high school is one of the most oft-commented-upon objects in my home. (When I first brought it to the Berkshires I was living with half a dozen college friends. I left it on a coffee table and later found my housemate Aaron turning it over in his hands, marveling at its grain and heft. When he looked up at me he said, wonderingly, "very big Jews have been here!")

On the final night of this trip to San Antonio, my whole family went out for Mexican food at El Jarro del Arturo. The guacamole was great; the ceviche, even more so; the chance to clink glasses and talk with my family, better still. But best of all was standing in the muggy late evening under the parking lot klieg lights, choosing a yad made by my brother's own hands.

It felt a little bit like choosing a magic wand; I couldn't resist asking whether any of them had phoenix-feather cores. (The answer was, alas, no.)  Once I had made my choice, I showed it off to my nieces who I know are Harry Potter fans. "Swish and flick," I said, giving it an experimental slice through the air, and the girls giggled and suggested I try "wingardium leviosa."

It was hard to pick just one. They're glorious. In the end I went with one of his two-handed yadayim -- instead of having one pointer end and one end with a finial and a silver chain, this one has a pointer at each end, one right-handed and one left-handed. I've never seen another like it.

"Good choice," my brother said. "That's one of my favorites, too." The two hands, he noted, can symbolize a kind of yin and yang, which makes me like it even more; I love the idea of reading Torah with a pointer that symbolizes the bridging of opposites. Earth and heaven, sacred and profane, the written text and the truth that flows through and beyond it: my little two-handed yad hints at all of these.

And, I think, at the way no one does anything of import single-handedly or alone. Next time I read from Torah, I will bring my beautiful rosewood two-handed yad -- a Brad Barenblat original -- and I like to think it will bring even greater-than-usual sanctity to my engagement with the words, and greater joy.

Technorati tags: , , .