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Three Torah poems offered at my smicha

At the heart of today's smicha (ordination) ceremony are the divrei Torah offered by the musmachim. Our divrei Torah this afternoon will be a collaborative effort. We've chosen ten verses from Torah, spanning last week's Torah portion and this week's Torah portion, parashat Bo and parashat Beshalach. Over the course of these ten moments in the story, we move from Mitzrayim, "the Narrow Place," into the expansiveness of crossing the Sea of Reeds.

For us, this story can be read as a metaphor for our own journeys from constriction into freedom... including our journey to ordination today. As we come up, singly and in pairs, to offer words, music, and reflections, we'll invite the community to listen for the narrative throughline which takes us from slavery into freedom, from Egypt into the great wide open.

Here are the three poems I will be offering as my d'var Torah.


"The Israelites, however, had light in the places where they dwelled." —Exodus 10:23


Everyone who lived in that narrow place
   was in darkness, but those
        who wrestled with God found light

the light which spilled forth at Moshe's birth
    when Amram and Yocheved's house shone
        like a signal-fire on a mountaintop

the light which would cling to Moshe
    as he descended from the Presence at Sinai,
        the first light which shone before the sun

the white fire on which the words of Torah
    are scribed, bright spaces even holier
        than the letters, pregnant with possibility

the eternal light which burns even now
    in every sanctuary, lightbulb and lantern
        standing in for God, for hope, for redemption

the narrow place was confined in fog
    but God's presence was a beacon for Israel
        we carry that light in our cupped palms


"So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls wrapped in their cloaks upon their shoulders." —Exodus 12:34

You’ll need to travel light.
Take what you can carry: a book, a poem,
a battered tin cup, your child strapped
to your chest, clutching your necklace
in one hot possessive fist.

So the dough isn’t ready. So your heart
isn't ready. You haven’t said goodbye
to the places where you hid as a child,
to the friends who aren’t interested in the journey,
to the graves you’ve tended.

But if you wait until you feel fully ready
you may never take the leap at all
and Infinity is calling you forth
out of this birth canal
and into the future’s wide expanse.

Learn to improvise flat cakes without yeast.
Learn to read new alphabets.
Wear God like a cloak
and stride forth with confidence.
You won’t know where you’re going

but you have the words of our sages,
the songs of our mothers, the inspiration
wrapped in your kneading bowl. Trust
that what you carry will sustain you
and take the first step out the door.


"And Moses said to them, 'That is the bread which God has given you to eat. This is what God has commanded: Gather as much of it as each of you requires to eat.'" —Exodus 16:13

It’s hard to trust that there will be enough.
What if we run out of food
and when it’s gone we go hungry
unloved and unsatisfied?

What if we haven’t learned everything
and someone in the hospital asks for a prayer
we don’t know by heart? What if
we forget something that matters?

But this is the promise: the manna
never runs out, the wellspring of Torah
never runs dry. Tomorrow
our hills will again be graced with dew.

Taste the sweetness of our teachers’ words
like coriander seed, like wafers in honey.
And the more we share this Torah
the more there is to eat.

Take what you need.
Eat, and bless, and be satisfied.
Trust that we can handle whatever’s coming.
Manna lies all around. Open your eyes and see.