Mourning Mahmoud Darwish
Brich rachamana

This week's portion: callus


"Cut away, therefore, the thickening about your hearts and stiffen your necks no more." -- Deuteronomy 10:16

But these calluses
are hard-won.

They protect me
from the places

where the world
rubs me raw.

Without my shrug,
my humor, my

insistence that this
too shall pass

I'll feel exposed
my heart pumping

where any stranger
could see me.

Couldn't you ask
for something easy?

Once I open
my locked chest

what if I
just fly apart?

This week's Torah portion, Ekev, includes powerful words. Like these: "And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God demand of you? Only this: to revere the Lord your God, to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and soul[.]" (Good stuff, eh?)

It also includes the injunction that serves as this poem's epigraph, a line which has always resonated for me. Pharaoh is described in Torah as a man with a hardened heart. Sometimes we ask God not to harden God's heart against us. And here God is asking us to do the same: to make sure our hearts don't calcify, and to peel away whatever keeps us "hard-hearted" so that we can relate to the world in an open way.

It sounds so simple, but it isn't easy. In any given day, each of us has reasons to harden her heart. Personal reasons, like misunderstandings and harsh words -- and more global reasons, like the suffering and trauma we would see if we really looked at the wide world. Imagine walking through a supermarket with your heart truly open to everyone you meet there. (Imagine walking through a market like Makola or Machane Yehuda.)

Going on retreat at Elat Chayyim tends to open my heart wide. It's an amazing experience...though sometimes re-entering the "real world" leaves me feeling like I have the bends. These days I think about this in terms of ratzo v'shov, the ebb and flow of spiritual energies. (The term comes from Ezekiel, who applied it to angels.) I oscillate between protecting my heart enough to be able to function, and opening it enough to be able to love and feel and pray.

As usual, if you can't see the audio player at the top of this post or if you'd like to download the recording of the poem, feel free to nab callus.mp3.

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