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Mourning Mahmoud Darwish

This week's portion: image


We're made in the image
and the likeness
which means we're
chips off the God block.

Damut, likeness, sounds
related to dam, blood
as though God's DNA
inhered in our bodies

though the etymology
doesn't hold up. Still
maybe it's the God in us
that lets us form

clay into vessels, wood
into houses, words
into language--
but we need to take care

not to worship
the structures we build
not to confuse
our various capabilities

with the real source
of creative power, lest
the land spit us out
and our God consign us

to never remembering
there's something out there
greater than the work
of our limited hands.

This week's parsha, Va-etchanan, includes verses which exhort the Israelites to be careful and to remember that they saw no shape when God spoke to them out of the fire; therefore they should avoid making sculptured images and must avoid the temptation to worship the sun and moon and stars. (Deuteronomy 4:15-20.) Having just taken a course at the CY which examined different Jewish understandings of image, likeness, us, God, and idolatry, I gravitated immediately toward these verses, and this week's parsha poem sprung out of them.

To my mind, the critical part of the injunction is against worshipping the wrong things. Allowing our reverence for the natural world, or our reverence for the work of our own hands, to blind us to the ultimate reality that is beyond and behind all things. It's a paradox that we're made in the image and likeness of God (the tselem and damut) -- and yet God tells Moses that no one can see God's form and live, and the most Moses is granted to see is a kind of reflected or refracted afterimage once God has passed by. We're made in the form of something which has no visible form. So then what does it mean for us to be in God's likeness?

The answer that most satisfies me is that we're in God's likeness because we too are able to create. In Biblical Hebrew there are two verbs which denote creation: one which means forming or making (this is an act in which we can easily engage) and one which means creating ex nihilo (this one is God's purview alone.) The verses in this week's portion which caution against making sculptured images are there, I think, to remind us that even our most sublime creations are formed out of building-blocks we didn't create ourselves. That our power is necessarily limited. That we should be mindful of the Source from whence our creativity flows.

For the first time since I left for Israel in June, I was able to record this week's Torah poem again! Over time I'll try to record & post audio files of the Torah poems I wrote while I was away, in case anyone out there is collecting them, or just wants to hear them all. In any event, if you can't see the embedded audio player at the top of this post, or if you want to download the mp3, here's the file: image.mp3.

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