Beyond binaries: Jacob and Israel (Radical Torah repost)
Psalm of assent at BAP

This week's portion: in the dark


The mysterious unnamed man
is always a messenger
sent to keep our story moving
in the right direction.

The appropriate answer
is always hineni, here I am
ready for whatever pitch
is up God's sleeve.

Into the pit, out of the pit
from slavery into service:
descent always contains
the seeds of ascent.

He had to be enslaved
in order to be accused
had to be accused
in order to be imprisoned

had to be imprisoned
in order to hear the dreams
of the cupbearer and the baker
which "surely God can interpret"

had to interpret dreams
in order to sire Freud
a few hundred generations
down the ancestral line.

But the cupbearer forgets
leaving Joseph in the dark
as the longest night of the year
threatens to swallow us whole.

This week's portion, Vayeshev, begins the "Joseph novella" -- one of the richest and most layered stories in Torah. We'll spend the next four weeks reading and studying this narrative and wrestling with its themes and implications.

In my Qur'an class this fall, we talked a fair bit about where this story and surat Yusuf do and don't intersect. I'm intrigued by the relative narrative flatness of the Qur'an, especially where this tale is concerned, since in Torah this is one of the places where we go deepest into the disjunctions between hidden and visible, latent and manifest. (Bill made the excellent point that the Qur'an privileges a kind of continuity of interior and exterior, while the Tanakh is full of disjunctions between surface and what's beneath -- a fixation which manifests, ultimately, in Freud and the psychologists/philosophers who follow him.)

Anyway, all of that was on my mind as I began to reread the Joseph story in Torah this year, and as I sat down to work on this week's Torah poem. I love that we're reading about Joseph's literal and metaphorical descents even as (in the northern hemisphere) our days are ticking down to the darkest point. Next week things will start to look brighter, but for now our challenge is to sit with what our text (and our sun) gives us.


Poem cross-posted to the Best American Poetry blog, with different commentary.

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