The All Nations Café
Jerusalem panopticon

This week's portion: downside


But if you do not dispossess the inhabitants of the land, those whom you allow to remain shall be stings in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land in which you live[.] -- Numbers 33:55

Here's the part
God apparently didn't say
at least not aloud
where anyone could hear:

dispossessing anyone
not as easy as it sounds
and tends to have
occasional side effects

feelings of guilt
among the tender-hearted
and a certain hardening
of those who do battle

refugee camps
persisting for generations
breeding bitter fury
which tends to explode

and don't forget
the damage done
to your chelek Elohim,
the eternal spark in you

which dims a little bit
with each interrogation
each humiliation
of another face of God.

The Torah poems I'm writing here bear the imprint of my Israel experiences. I don't think they're the same poems I would be writing if I were back home in Massachusetts. They're subtly flavored by the sounds and scents and sensations of my Jerusalem summer.

Okay, sometimes not-so-subtly. Reading Mas'ei in the wake of my trip to the West Bank a week ago, I can't help comparing the Torah's injunctions about dispossessing the land's inhabitants with the contemporary realities of the Occupation. The Torah's message here is clear, but it's one with which I can't agree -- especially not if it's read as an instruction for how we should behave in this land now.

May this Shabbat enfold this whole land in peace, on both sides -- all sides -- of the Israeli/Palestinian relationship.


Edited to add: this poem is now available in 70 faces, my collection of Torah poems, published by Phoenicia Publishing, 2011.

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