Three scenes from Tisha b'Av
IBARW: celebrating the diversity of Jewish community

This week's portion: promise


if you act wickedly
in the land which I give you
you will be cast out

you will wander homeless
with your possessions
on your backs

you will be scattered
and serve the gods
of consumption and overwork

but if you search there
for relationship
with what lasts

you will find Me
no matter how distant
you think I might be

heaven and earth
immovable and eternal
be My witnesses

even your exile from Me
is illusion
I will not forget

In this week's portion, Va-Etchanan, Moshe exhorts the children of Israel to behave appropriately in the land which God is giving them. Starting in Deuteronomy 4:23, Moshe reminds them that if they begin to worship graven images they will be cast out of their land; they will be refugees. For me the most powerful verse in the portion is 4:29, which reminds the Israelites that even in the depths of exile, "if you search there for the Lord your God, you will find Him, if only you seek Him with all your heart and soul." Even in galut, our connection with God can remain.

I have complicated feelings about the idea that God promised my ancestors (whether literal or spiritual) a slice of land in the Middle East, but I know that many of us struggle with feeling that we are in galut from connection with God. I find in these verses a reminder that even when we have exiled ourselves from the divine presence through our unethical behavior, God is still there for us. All we need to do is remember that, and reach out.

Working on this poem this week which contained Tisha b'Av has been a powerful experience for me. Encoded in our Torah portion this week I see a reminder that even when we feel at our most distant from God -- as, perhaps, on Tisha b'Av, when we mourn so many of our losses -- the connection can still flare to life.


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