The first day of the Omer

This week's portion: Gevurah (Kedoshim)



You shall not let your cattle mate with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; you shall not put on cloth from a mixture of two kinds of material. --Leviticus 19:19

The mystics saw the patriarchs     as a dialectic:
Abraham overflowing     his tent always open
boundaried Isaac     (motionless on the altar)
Jacob the harmony     that makes the chord.

Once upon a time    our flocks must have mingled
our fields a patchwork     of millet and barley
linen and wool together     combed, woven, and spun.
But mixing two kinds     is God's job, not ours

our God distinguishes day      from night, rolling away
light before darkness     and darkness before light
our God separates holy    from profane, the six days
from the taste of heaven    one seed from another

or maybe we're the ones     fixated on difference
wild with the pleasure     of ordering chaos
organizing the ruminants     the sheep from the goats
Angus from Holsteins     crisp linen from silk.

But strictness too     can be destructive.
Overfocused beams    burn what's in their path.
When will we receive     the Torah of interpenetration
new Morse code boundaries     that let holiness through?

This week we're in parashat Kedoshim. (ETA: actually, this Shabbat we're reading a special parsha for Pesach. Next week we'll be in Kedoshim. I jumped the gun with this poem. Whoops.)

There's a ton of interesting and thought-provoking material in Kedoshim, including some powerful ethical precepts: leave the margins of one's field unharvested (for gleaners), don't taunt the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind, don't hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Love the strangers who dwell among you, for you were strangers in the land of Mitzrayim.

But this week's poem was sparked by chapter 19, verse 19, an injunction against mixing breeds of cattle or plants in a field or fibers in a fabric. Counting the Omer means I have the sefirot on my mind, and I began this poem on the second day of the Omer, a day of gevurah (discipline/boundary) within chesed (lovingkindness.) This verse of this portion strikes me as pure gevurah -- it's all about boundary and distinction. Keeping this apart from that.

I think a case can be made that this kind of unassailable boundary is no longer helpful to us. For many of us, the semipermeable membrane has become a central metaphor. How does that change our Torah, our worldview, our lives?

If you can't see the audio player embedded in this post, or if you'd like a recording of this poem, you can download it here: gevurah.mp3.

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