Review of God is a Verb
Unwrapping the body of Torah

This week's portion: like a feast


Understand, when I say
we saw a sapphire floor
beneath the Holy One's feet

I don't actually mean
we sat at a banquet table
and clinked glasses with God.

What we stood on was like
a floor but not a floor
like the sky but not the sky

the likeness of a feast
as we are made in
the image and the likeness.

And during our ascent
no two people witnessed
the same vision: one saw

a bearded man on a throne
one a woman robed in splendor
one a shimmer of sound.

And then Moshe was called
to ascend to a place
none of us could even see.

He went into the fire
and we came back, certain only
that nothing will be the same.

This week's portion, Mishpatim, begins with a long series of mitzvot, from how to treat slaves to how to appropriately punish accidental murderers. Toward the end of the portion, in chapter 24, God invites Moshe to ascend God's holy mountain along with Aharon, Aharon's sons Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel. It's a fascinating scene, and one which has sparked all kinds of commentary...including, now, this week's Torah poem.

The Torah text says that Moshe et al saw the God of Israel, and that beneath God's feet was the likeness of sapphire, like the sky for purity. That turn of phrase caught my eye. The word for likeness which appears in this passage is the same as the word used at the beginning of Genesis when Torah tells us that the earthling was created "in the image and the likeness" of God. We are made in God's likeness -- which is not to say that we have any idea what God "looks like," only that we are somehow reflections of divinity. Just so, I imagine, this experience was the "likeness" of a banquet -- whatever that may mean.

At the very end of the portion, Moshe ascends even higher. ("Come up to Me on the mountain and be there," God urges, and Moshe does.) That's where the portion ends: with Moshe atop the mountain for forty days and forty nights, that span of time denoting the fullness of something which grows to fruition. What internal mountaintop are you ascending now? What new insights do you want to bring back down?

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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