Poetry and Pesach at JBooks
Shabbat morning at the Libertad

This week's portion: red


Moshe's bloodied finger
paints slow lines

along Aaron's ear
his thumb, his foot

the shock of red
vivid and seeping

like what wells
behind your eye's cradle

diagnoses press in
what would I sacrifice

to heal you
what wouldn't I

Torah commentary

This week's Torah portion, Tzav, begins with a variety of ritual instructions for sacrifice and concludes with a narrative about the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests, which features blood prominently.

Though the ins and outs of the sacrificial system may seem arcane or foreign to the modern sensibility, an obsession with blood is familiar to anyone who has spent time in a hospital. As a chaplain, a caretaker, and a patient myself, I understand the symbolic significance of blood.

There's something almost magical about the ordination ceremony Torah describes, and about the sacrificial system writ large. In today's world we like to see ourselves as rationalists, more or less, but when I allow this week's portion to speak to me on an emotional level, the focus on blood hits me hard.

Rationally, we know that bargaining with God for healing isn't necessarily helpful. But when blood wells where it shouldn't, the childhood impulses rise up again. (I'll do anything if You'll just make it okay...) Was this dynamic at work for our ancestors when they sacrificed animals on the altar, turning blood and fat and entrails to smoke?

Poem commentary

The Torah poem I wrote last year for this portion is one of my favorites: the pantoum Tzav, which has also been published in Frostwriting (scroll down the page.) This year, I riffed off of a different part of the portion, though the motif of blood still repeats, which is my way of hinting at the repeated motif in the Torah portion itself.

I'm not committing to readwritepoem's napowrimo, but their first prompt is "metaphor," and it occurs to me that this poem does fit that bill. (Okay, this poem hinges around a simile. Close enough for government work, right?) Anyway, if you're into the poem-a-day thing, you can read other "metaphor" responses in the comments of this post.


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