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Daily April poem: terza rima



You stand beside and sing the words with me.
I did the same in Texas years ago.
How is this night different? Come and see.

My childhood seders aren't for you to know.
You draw an orange on your seder plate.
What will you remember as you grow?

You're bleary-eyed: we kept you up too late.
I can't regret allowing you your glee
at finding hidden treasure. Now I wait

to see what sticks. What matters most to me
is that you come to love the telling too.
Once we were slaves to Pharaoh; now we're free.

The songs, the story -- they're my gift to you.


Today's prompt at NaPoWriMo asks us to try terza rima, a form featuring three-line stanzas with a specific rhyme scheme.

My poem arises out of last night's seder, which was wonderful in so many ways. Chag sameach / happy holiday to all who celebrate!


The Omer is about to begin!

13539661493_7d503a9c2a_nChag sameach - happy Pesach!

Tonight at our second-night seders we'll begin the tradition of Counting the Omer. "Omer" means measures. When the Temple still stood, it was customary to bring harvest offerings three times a year, at Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot. The tradition of counting the Omer dates to those days. We would count the days between the Pesach spring harvest of early wheat and the Shavuot summer harvest of new barley, and then offer a measure of that grain in thanks to our Source.

Today most of us see the counting of the Omer through a different lens. Instead of the agricultural reason, we focus instead on the idea that Shavuot is the anniversary of the revelation of Torah at Sinai. At Pesach we celebrate our liberation; at Shavuot we celebrate our entering-into-covenant with God. Freedom alone is not enough. The real meaning of our liberation is that we become free to enter into relationship with the Holy One of Blessing. We count the 49 days between Peach and Shavuot in growing excitement and anticipation, knowing that on the 50th day, the Torah is coming!

When I was in Jerusalem shortly before Pesach, I saw early spring grain growing wild on a patch of unbuilt land near Emek Refaim and marveled at that tangible evidence of how our festival calendar is rooted in the natural rhythms and cycles of the  Near East -- both ancient and modern. But even for those of us who live far away from the Mediterranean, and those of us who've never grown a stalk of wheat or barley in our lives, the Omer period can be a fertile and fruitful one. I am quite attached to the kabbalistic custom of associating each week (and each day of each week) with one of seven middot, divine qualities in which we as God's children partake. The first week is the week of chesed, lovingkindness; the second week, gevurah, boundaried-strength; the third week is tiferet, harmony and balance; the fourth, netzach, endurance; the fifth week is hod, splendor and humility (there's a koan for you, eh?); the sixth is yesod, foundation and generations; the seventh is malkhut, sovereignty and nobility. And within each week, there is one day for each quality, so that over the course of the seven weeks, we have the opportunity to closely examine ourselves through the 49 different lenses of these qualities as they combine in us.

If you're looking for a reminder to engage in the daily Omer count, along with a sweet contemplative or mystical teaching for each day, Rabbi Yael Levy at Mishkan Shalom sends one out every day. You can sign up here: Count the Omer with Mishkan Shalom. There's also a compilation of Omer resources at Kol ALEPH, the official blog of ALEPH: the Alliance for Jewish Renewal.

Wishing you a meaningful journey through the Omer!


Photo source: my photostream. (Taken in Jerusalem a few weeks ago.)

Daily April poem: for #blogExodus, "Be"


BlogexodusWhat do you want to be?
Have you always known?
Can you imagine the becoming?
What would it feel like?
Would you carry your body differently?
How would you walk in the world?

Will you be at a seder tonight?
Will you pay attention to your heart?
Do you know to what you've been enslaved?
Are you ready to leave Mitzrayim?
What do you need to jettison?
Can you promise not to tarry?

What will you do when you reach the sea?
Will you curse the day you took the risk?
Will you berate those beside you?
Wish for your comfortable straitjacket?
Or will you stride into the waters?
Can you trust that they will part?

Do you see what this holiday is about?
Do you see what this poem is about?
What do you yearn for?
And what do you yearn for?
And what do you yearn for?
It's right here, waiting for you.

Today's NaPoWriMo prompt invites us to write a "twenty questions" poem, in which every line but the last is a question. I combined that with today's #blogExodus prompt, "Be," and this is what resulted.

Today's the last day of #blogExodus. Pesach begins tonight. I will miss this daily spiritual discipline of paying attention to the journey leading to Pesach! But starting tomorrow night I'll get to enjoy a different discipline, the forty-nine days of Counting the Omer. (Stay tuned for more about that tomorrow.)

If you are celebrating Pesach tonight, I wish you a sweet and meaningful festival of freedom.


This post is part of #blogExodus, a daily carnival of posts / tweets / status updates relating to themes of Passover and Exodus, created by ImaBima. Find other posts via the #blogExodus hashtag.

Creative Hallel

Tonight at the seder we will read or sing the psalms of Hallel. (At my house we'll do some reading, some Hebrew, some English poetry of praise. Tomorrow night at the synagogue's community seder we'll probably sing excerpts from the psalms in Hebrew.)

It's customary to pray the psalms of Hallel at Pesach morning services, too. If you might not be going to shul tomorrow morning, or if you might be looking for a different take on Hallel, here's something I wrote a few years ago:

2. (114)

let all offer praise
to what brings us forth from constriction
when we remember to say thank you
the hills and horizon dance.

3. (115)

You spun the heavens on Your unthinkable loom
and fashioned the elements of creation with Your deft hands

the heavens are Yours
but the earth is in our keeping

the dead can't praise, but we can
help us remember


You can read the whole poem cycle here: Six poems of praise (Hallel).

(And if you like these, keep an eye out for my new collection Open My Lips, due out later this year from Ben Yehuda Press!)

Burning the old, preparing for the new

Dsc00643This morning my co-teacher and I hid scraps of chametz -- leaven -- around the synagogue. Not because we wanted to give our cleaning crew an extra challenge tomorrow, but because we wanted to teach some of our youngest members -- and their families -- about a strange and beautiful ritual done right before Passover begins.

Once our Hand in Hand families had arrived, we sang a song together. We told the Pesach story, which the kids acted out with gusto (if not always with total comprehension.) Then we handed out wooden spoons and feathers to our littlest kids. We made a blessing together. And they went on a scavenger hunt, searching the building, calling out in excitement when they found what we'd hidden.

The chametz all went into brown paper bags, which in turn went onto the synagogue's barbecue grill along with our lulavim from last fall -- the bundles of myrtle, willow, and palm fronds which we ritually shook in the sukkah every day. And then we lit them afire.

This is a ritual called bedikat chametz. It originates in the Mishna, in tractate Pesachim. I've been reading about it for years at my first-night seder, when it is our family custom to read Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb's poem "Spring Cleaning Ritual on the Eve of the Full Moon Nisan."

On the eve of the full moon
we search our houses
by the light of a candle
for the last trace of winter
for the last crumbs grown stale inside us
for the last darkness still in our hearts...

Literally, of course, chametz means leaven. It comes from the root l'chimutz, to sour or ferment, and we cleanse our homes of it at this season because during the week of Passover we eat matzah instead, the humble waybread of the journey. But metaphorically chametz can mean the puffery of ego and vanity; it can mean the old sourness we've been fermenting in our hearts and spirits over the last year; it can mean whatever we need to let go of, in order to move through the birthing waters of the Sea of Reeds and into freedom.

As we burned the lulav fronds and the crumbs, I was thinking:

All that rises up bitter
All that rises up prideful
All that rises up in old ways no longer fruitful
All Hametz still in my possession
but unknown to me
which I have not seen
nor disposed of
may it find common grave
with the dust of the earth
amen amen

"All chametz still in my possession but unknown to me..." -- that's the traditional close to the ritual of bedikat chametz. Whatever we haven't found and rooted-out -- in our households, in our hearts -- we declare it to be ownerless, no longer ours, one with the dust of the earth. At a certain point we have to accept that we've done the best we can. The festival is coming tomorrow night, and however clean we've managed to make our houses -- however we've managed to refine our souls in preparation for the holiday -- has to be enough.

As we were burning our palms from last autumn's sukkah, our Christian friends were celebrating Palm Sunday. As I understand it, some of their leftover palms will be saved and burned to ash next winter, to mark foreheads on Ash Wednesday. I don't have deep wisdom to offer about this calendrical connection, but I think it's neat the way we link our fall festival with our spring one this way -- and they in turn link their spring festival with the following winter.

 All that rises up bitter / All that rises up prideful / All that rises up in old ways no longer fruitful...

May I really be able to shed old bitterness, old pride, old habits which no longer serve. So that I can move into Pesach with a light soul and an open heart. So that I can lead my family, and my congregation, along that path with me. So that this can truly be the season of liberation -- including liberation from the husks of old attitudes and prejudices, old unkindnesses, old ways of being in the world.


If you want to do bedikat chametz, here's a short ritual: the aforementioned poem, plus the blessing before and after the leaven hunt: Bedikat Chametz [pdf] I made it a few years ago, so the date of the first seder is wrong, but otherwise everything about it still works.

Daily April poem: for #blogExodus, "Change"


Blogexodusslavery into freedom
midwives into dissidents
basket into ark
Hebrew into prince
babbler into stutterer
boy into man
overseer into corpse
bush into flame
was into will-be
fugitive into emissary
staffs into snakes
Nile into blood
darkness into light
Pharaoh's heart into stone
Pharaoh's daughter into God's
no into yes
dough into matzah
Sea of Reeds into birth canal
mourning into dancing
degradation into praise

This poem draws on the outlines of the story of the Exodus as told in Torah, as well as in midrash. For instance: "babbler into stutterer" is a reference to the midrash about Moshe and the coal, and "Pharaoh's daughter into God's" is a reference to the story which holds that Pharaoh's daughter changed her named to Batya -- bat Yah, "daughter of God" -- when she left Egypt with Moshe and the assembled multitudes.

The Mishna teaches that וצריך להתחיל בגנות ולסיים בשבח - when we tell the story of the Exodus at Pesach, we begin with degradation and end with praise. At its heart, the Pesach story is a story about change: once things were that way, now they are this way. Once we were slaves; now we are free.


This post is part of #blogExodus, a daily carnival of posts / tweets / status updates relating to themes of Passover and Exodus, created by ImaBima. Find other posts via the #blogExodus hashtag.

Daily April poem: for #blogExodus, "Redeem"


BlogexodusRedemption is the sensory impression
of leaving slavery, throngs shoving
toward the parted seas.

The redemption project was originally created  
by Malachi's promise to turn parents' hearts
to their children, children to their parents.

What do the beating of the heart and redemption
have in common? Both are signs of God's presence
close as my own pulse.

We are taught from an early age
that there are four basic redemptions,
one for each cup of wine at the seder.

Employing scientists to tweak ratios
to optimize redemption, we settled on
six parts compassion to four parts kindness.

Watch the official redemption online!
Redemption may be the most complicated.
Redemption is already here.

Today's NaPoWriMo prompt is a fascinating one:

Pick a common noun for a physical thing, for example, “desk” or “hat” or “bear,” and then pick one for something intangible, like “love” or “memories” or “aspiration.” Then Google your tangible noun, and find some sentences using it. Now, replace that tangible noun in those sentences with your intangible noun, and use those sentences to create (or inspire) a poem.

I chose "taste" and -- working from today's #blogExodus prompt -- "redemption." And then I took the resulting sentences and reshaped them into a poem.

The stanza about Malachi is a reference to the haftarah, or prophetic, reading for today. Today is Shabbat HaGadol, "The Great Shabbat." My friend Reb Jeff wrote a terrific post about that: The Great Sabbath, Elijah's Cup, and the Unkept Promise.


This post is part of #blogExodus, a daily carnival of posts / tweets / status updates relating to themes of Passover and Exodus, created by ImaBima. Find other posts via the #blogExodus hashtag.

Four eclipses; four worlds; four holidays; four holy perspective shifts

A Jewish Renewal perspective on the tetrad of lunar eclipses, by rabbinic student David Markus and Rabbi Rachel Barenblat.

We in North America are about to experience four total lunar eclipses in a row which, incredibly, will coincide with Pesach (15 April in 2014, 4 April in 2015) and Sukkot (8 October in 2014 and 28 September in 2015). In 2014 and 2015, the full moon marking these festival times will be eclipsed at the moments of perhaps the greatest joy in the Jewish calendar – at Pesach, when we experience freedom from the Narrow Place, and at Sukkot, when we enter with thanksgiving into our fragile and impermanent harvest houses.

Jewish mystics link the moon with Shekhinah, immanent and indwelling Presence of God manifest in creation. Many Hasidic teachings depict hester panim, the hiding or withdrawal of God's presence from us. In every life, we experience alternating phases of God's presence and God's (apparent) absence -- but just as the moon remains present even during its eclipse, so God's presence remains even when S/He may seem veiled in shadow.

Beyond mere veiling, a lunar eclipse invites a shift in spiritual perspective.  If we were on the moon looking at Earth during these eclipses, we would see the Earth silhouetted in the sun's fire.  Standing on the moon's surface, we would look up at the Earth and witness sunrise and sunset happening simultaneously, everywhere, along the Earth's shadowed rim.  It is the red of the Earthly sunset that we Earthlings see projected onto the moon at the time of a total lunar eclipse.

Lunar eclipses thus invite us to lift grandly above habitual ways of seeing.  Reb Zalman taught that once humanity could see the Earth as a swirled green-blue marble suspended in space, a paradigm shift occurred.  A door opened for us to see ourselves as cells in the cosmic organism of our planet, without artificial borders and boundaries that appear to divide us.  Lunar eclipses call us toward that global vantage.  Lunar eclipses project onto the moon the timeless reality that sunrise and sunset – shifts of awareness between light and dark – are unfolding at every moment.  Usually this truth of nature (and spiritual life) escapes our day-to-day awareness.  A lunar eclipse, however, visibly projects this truth onto our cosmic symbol for Shekhinah, the indwelling divine presence. A lunar eclipse thus reminds us that with God is our power, and our calling, to lift our consciousness beyond the narrowness of place and boundary. 

That lunar eclipses coincide with our biannual festivals for two consecutive years invites especially profound opportunities.  At Passover, season of our liberation, we leave behind the constrictions of slavery and limited insight.  At the Passover eclipses, we can look up and see the ultimate natural image of liminality and change projected onto the springtime full moon.  So too at Sukkot, season of our joy and gratitude, we leave behind old calcified patterns and emerge into deep truths of impermanence. At the Sukkot eclipses, we can gaze at the fall harvest moon and see the ultimate natural image of global interconnectedness reflected on the face of Shekhinah.

At these festival times, traditional liturgy includes Hallel, songs of praise drawn from the Psalms. At the time of these festival lunar eclipses, how amazing to proclaim the Psalmist's joyous words of unity and higher perspective:

רָם עַל-כָּל-גּוֹיִם ה׳ עַל הַשָּׁמַיִם כְּבוֹדוֹ
מִי כַּה׳ אֱלֹהֵינוּ הַמַּגְבִּיהִי לָשָׁבֶת
הַמַּשְׁפִּילִי לִרְאוֹת בַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ

God is high above all nations: God's glory is above the heavens.
Who is like YHVH our God, enthroned on high,
Looking down low on heaven and earth?

-- Ps. 113:4-6

These eclipses are ultimate expressions of natural liminality reflected onto our Jewish calendar.  At Pesach we stop saying the prayer for rain and begin saying the prayer for dew; at the end of Sukkot, we switch back the other way.  These festivals are liminal moments, as are sunrise and sunset. During these eclipses we'll see liminality projected onto Shekhinah at the very moments that we ourselves are liminal, sanctifying transitions from one state of being into another. 

And with four total lunar eclipses back to back, every six months, timed perfectly to our holiday calendar and seasonal shifts, we have four chances to experience this grandeur -- one lunar eclipse for each of the four worlds of action, emotion, thought, and spirit.  One lunar eclipse for each of the four letters in the Shem HaMeforash, the unpronounceable Name we denote as YHVH.  Four festival opportunities to deepen our amazement and wonder gazing into the night sky. Four festival moments of liberation and gratitude unlike any that we have known before.

Chag sameach / Happy Holidays.

Daily April poem: for #blogExodus, "Count"


Soon we'll start to count each day
the weeks until first harvest.
Not grain; instead, discernment.
Refine away the heart's dross
on this labyrinth's curved path.
When we get to forty-nine
will we be poised to receive?

Since today's #blogExodus prompt was "count," I thought immediately of the counting of the Omer, which begins next week on the second night of Pesach. What better example of counting than that measured journey of forty-nine days between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation?

I wanted to work with some kind of syllabics, since that's an interesting form of poetic counting. I did some reading, and learned about the Filipino form called the tanaga, which has four lines of seven syllables each. I decided to try my hand at a poem with seven lines of seven syllables, like the Omer's seven weeks of seven days.


This post is part of #blogExodus, a daily carnival of posts / tweets / status updates relating to themes of Passover and Exodus, created by ImaBima. Find other posts via the #blogExodus hashtag.

Shabbat shalom!

Daily April poem: for #blogExodus, "Leave"


BlogexodusAs though it were easy.
Just sling my jacket
over my shoulder
and head out the door.

As though it didn't mean
walking away
from every awful certainty
I've ever known.

I didn't want to belong
to power, instrument
of an unknown agenda.
Forgot how to be anything else.

And what if
my fears are right, if
there are no benevolent arms
to greet me on the other side?

The time to strike
is when the opportunity presents.
Full moon to light the way.
Ahead, unknown terrain.

You want me to trust
I can be more than this.
Strong enough
to choose to believe.

This poem comes out of today's #blogExodus prompt, "Leave."

It's informed by a variety of things, from Hasidic teachings about the Exodus to fiction I've recently read.

Only four more days until Pesach. Are we ready to leave the complacency of our old lives and plunge into something new?


Daily April poem: for #blogExodus


BlogexodusWhy is this night different from all other nights?
    Don't we know the answer to that already?
Why are they called "the four questions"
    when it's really one question with four answers?

Do you believe we were slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt?
    That we cried out to God and God heard us?

That the Holy Blessed One lifted us out of there
    with that mighty hand and outstretched arm?
Does the archaeological record support any of this?
    Wouldn't we know if Hebrews had built the pyramids?
If the Angel of Death passed over the bloody lintels
    why didn't the Egyptians just imitate the Hebrews?

Does it matter if the Exodus actually happened?
    Does it matter to whom? Who's asking?
Is the story untrue if it isn't history?
    If I say I love you, is that true or false?
Why do we keep repeating this narrative?
    What does that say about who we think we are?

Today's #blogExodus prompt is "Ask." So today's daily poem takes the form of a series of questions. Some of them are questions I've actually been asked -- including a few by Hebrew school students this very week.

This post is part of #blogExodus, a daily carnival of posts / tweets / status updates relating to themes of Passover and Exodus, created by ImaBima. Find other posts via the #blogExodus hashtag.


Daily April poem: a Pesach sestina for #blogExodus


BlogexodusIt's time to unearth the haggadot again.
Scour the countertops before the night
we'll gather around the table, all
ears to hear the story our people tell:
once were slaves, now we're free -- that's why
the songs and foods and prayers: come and learn.

The sages say there's always more to learn
even if you're wise, discerning, have studied again
the details of the Exodus, even why
Akiva and his fellows stayed up all night.
Explain matzah, maror, paschal lamb. Tell
your children on that day, our ancestors all

were lifted up, and not them alone, but all
the generations to come, including ours. Learn
the lessons this tale comes to teach. Tell
yourself: if you're in that narrow place again
there's always hope for better. Tonight
we sing the story that makes us who we are, why

this night is different: why matzah, why
we recline, eat bitter, dip parsley in tears, all
the customs of the seder night.
The orange on the plate, to help us learn
all have a seat at the table. Now again
we make the tale our own, tell

old truths in new metaphors. It's a tell:
do you feel for the Wicked Son? (Why
does he get the bad rap for asking, again?)
Or the Good Son, memorizing all
the halakhot of Pesach: will you learn
with love as he did? Or maybe tonight

you feel like the Simple Son: "this night,
why is it special?" And you shall tell
your child on that night -- listen and learn,
the "you" is feminine, mama's job to explain why --
it's because of what God did for me, for all
of us, bringing us out of slavery again.

Seder night with One Who doesn't yet ask why:
tell that child what you cherish, all
the stories we learn, transform, repeat again.

Today's #blogExodus prompt is "learn." I thought it would be fun to write a sestina about the themes of learning, repetition, asking and telling which are so integral to Pesach.

The poem references a number of things which are in the traditional haggadah, among them the story of Akiva and his fellows staying up all night until the bedtime shema, the Four Sons, "we were slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt," "You shall tell your child on that day..." and "even if we were all wise, discerning, learned, scholars of Torah..." -- the passage which reminds us that no matter how much we think we know about Pesach and the story of the Exodus there's always more to learn.


Daily April poem - a love poem


Over the years your staples have slipped
and pages loosened. Here a faded purple crescent
of ancient wine, there a smudge
from bricks of date paste.
But when you speak I swoon. Tell me again
how we were slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt
but the Holy One brought us out from there
with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
Sing to me of unleavened bread, of parsley
dipped in bitter tears. Remind me
if I wait until I feel fully ready
I might never leap at all. Waltz me giddy
through psalms of praise. Promise me
next year a world redeemed.


Today's prompt at NaPoWriMo invites the writing of a love poem to an inanimate object. I chose the object which is the primary focus of my attention this week as Pesach approaches: my haggadah.

The first draft naturally came to sixteen lines; when I printed it out and read it aloud, I realized that if I tightened it a little bit I could get it down to a sonnet's fourteen lines, so that's what I did. Though it doesn't rhyme and has no meter, it's loosely based around the Petrarchan sonnet form -- it breaks naturally into eight lines followed by six lines.

I do love the haggadah. All of them. Every version, every iteration, from the most traditional to the most avant-garde. Variations on a theme which never fails to stir my heart. My favorite holiday is almost here!



#blogExodus 7: Blessing

12242603645_269a76785f_nThis past Shabbat was my first Shabbat home from my trip to Israel and the West Bank, and I settled back into our usual Friday evening traditions.

Step one is a trip to the A-Frame bakery for a challah and a cookie. We go there on our way home from preschool. I have known Sharon, the baker, for many years. (She catered the party after our son's brit milah.) Every week she marvels at how big he's getting, how tall, how chatty, how sweet.

Step two is Shabbat dinner with special guests who join us via videoconference. At the hour when our son habitually eats dinner, we sit around our small kitchen table with Shabbat candles, silver kiddush cups, and an open laptop.

Skyping with my parents for Shabbat has turned out to be a gift for me as much as it is for him and for them. I'm not sure I've ever lit candles with my parents on a weekly basis. Certainly not in the twenty-odd years since I left home. And now it's something I look forward to every week. Our son does, too.

The previous week when I was in Jerusalem, I experienced some really amazing Friday night kabbalat Shabbat prayer. It was a wonderful service, with great music, great kavanah (intention/heart), and terrific company. I adored it. And I also missed my son, and this Skyping-with-my-parents tradition, keenly. I was aware, in that moment, of what a blessing it is that I was able to miss him so. What a blessing to have him in my life. What a blessing to be in Jerusalem seeking a bit of sustenance for my spirit -- and  to have this reason to feel as though a part of my heart were somewhere else. My heart was in the west while I was in the east, as it were.

All of that was in my mind on Friday night as we sat at the table to Skype with my parents. Things started more or less as usual: he excitedly showed them a seascape he had made in preschool this week, they chatted a bit, and then we got down to making Shabbat. We blessed candles. We blessed juice. We blessed challah. And then, I reminded him, my last blessing would be for him. He knows this already; he sings along with the blessings now, and he knows that after candles and juice and challah I bless him.

But this time he surprised me. "And my last blessing is for you!" he told me in return. He used to respond to my blessing of peace with a blessing of "a piece" of challah, but it's been almost a year since the last time that happened.

"Do you want to go first?" I asked, and he said yes. So I sat back and waited, curious to see what would come out of his mouth.

He said, "Baruch atah Adonai -- " and then paused for a second, and finished, "love -- Mommy." He's got the beginning of the standard blessing formula down! After that the syntax admittedly got a little bit confused. Was he thanking God for love and for me? Was he equating Mommy with love? Was he asking God to give love to me? Honestly, I have no idea, and I couldn't care less. I was so tickled that he wanted to give me a blessing, that he's learned how our standard blessings begin, and that the blessing brought me together with God and with love. What could be sweeter?

It was the best blessing ever, and I told him so. He gave me a hug, and we cuddled for a while, and then I offered the priestly blessing, as I do every week, this time with him half-in my lap. And then we returned to chatting with my parents, who were delighted to have witnessed this spontaneous outpouring of Shabbat joy. A blessing for everyone.


The photo accompanying this post is a few months old (you can tell because he's wearing a wool sweater, and also it's dark outside at his dinner hour, which is thankfully no longer true), but it gives you the basic idea.

This post is part of #blogExodus, a daily carnival of posts / tweets / status updates relating to themes of Passover and Exodus, created by ImaBima. Find other posts via the #blogExodus hashtag.


Daily April poem - inspired by what's outside the window


Bare branches splay across egshell sky
inviting the tiny caress of squirrel feet,
the sharp peck of a bird, seeking.

Parked cars rest, awaiting orders.
Electricity races invisibly
through unmoving power lines.

Rooftops have shed their winter coats.
Skylights blink owlishly at the sun,
unaccustomed to exposure.

And at the horizon, hills
the muted purple of sugared gumdrops
waiting to be popped into my mouth.

Today's NaPoWriMo prompt invites us to look outside the window, record nouns and verbs and colors, and then weave them into a poem. This is my result -- both a description of what I see outside the window, and an encapsulation of the kind of quiet stillness which can come over a residential neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon.


#blogExodus and Metzora: plagues, cleansing, and Pesach house-cleaning

Here's the d'var Torah I offered at my shul yesterday morning for parashat Metzora. (Cross-posted to my From the Rabbi blog.) I'm also posting this as a contribution to #blogExodus, for today's prompt "Clean."

In this week's Torah portion we read instructions for what to do if an eruptive plague arises on someone's house. What does it mean to say that a house is afflicted by a plague, or something like a plague?

The description in the Torah text suggests that the plague is akin to mold, described like a disease in the walls. It is as though the house itself were alive and susceptible to infection. We could imagine that this Torah portion speaks merely of this kind of problem: when your house has termites, call the exterminator -- when your house has leaks, call the roofer -- when your house sprouts mold, call the priest.

But I think there's something deeper here. What did William Shakespeare mean when his character Mercutio cursed, "a plague on both your houses"? For Shakespeare, a house meant a household, a family. If we read the Torah portion through this lens, the stakes are higher.

Sometimes, Torah says, a house needs to be scraped clean and then plastered again. And sometimes, even that isn't enough -- it's a kind of mere whitewashing, and given opportunity, the problem will erupt again.

As we prepare to gather with our families and friends around the seder table, what are the places where our "house" needs to be scraped clean and then replastered? What's the old emotional stuff we want to scrub away? Are we willing to do the work of removing what's encrusted on the surface of our family relationships, and to expose what lies beneath?

In our broader community, what are the places where a plague has grown too deep -- where merely cutting out a few problematic pieces won't stem its spread, and we need to destroy the structure and build anew? Maybe it's the plague of racism, or the plague of militarism, or the plague of ignoring someone else's narrative or point of view. Are we willing to tear down what no longer serves us in order to build something different, something as-yet unknown?

At this season many of us are engaging in literal housecleaning. Maybe it's that impulse toward spring cleaning which arises when the temperatures start to hover well above freezing. Maybe it's the old pre-Pesach tradition of scouring every surface and getting ready to relinquish our hametz, our leaven, which the Hasidic tradition says can represent the puffery of ego.

As you clean for Pesach, consider this other kind of housecleaning, too. What behaviors or habits or patterns do you want to place in quarantine? What emotional dynamics in your household do you want to scrub away in order to meet the season of our liberation fresh and new?



Daily April poem: a "golden shovel"


The same molded plastic chairs, there 13539805114_082146888b_n
as everywhere: in this way it is
like the nearby market stalls, though nothing
is bought or sold. We come to pray, to
pour out our hearts. Look,
on the men's side they leap for joy, at
ease with their voices. Here any
vocalization is quiet, more
a whisper than a cry. Everything
I want to say to God blocks my words. Has
She noticed how her children have been
at each other's throats? When I've seen
enough I back away and return to
where once a carpenter faced his death.

Today's prompt at NaPoWriMo is to write a "golden shovel," a form invented by Terrance Hayes. The way it works is this: take a short poem; break it up so that each word is its own line; and then write a new poem in which those are the end-words.

I chose a short poem called "Tourists" by DH Lawrence. (You can read it by reading the last word on each line of my poem, from top to bottom. Or you can find it on this list of poems for people with short attention spans.)

There's a custom of departing from the Kotel (also known as the Western Wall) by walking backwards, rather than turning one's back on the holy place. It is only a short walk from there to the Via Dolorosa.

Photo source is my own photostream again.


#blogExodus 5: Prepare

At this time of year a lot of energy goes toward preparations. BlogexodusAt my synagogue, emails are flying fast and furious about our second-night community seder: do we have enough flatware? How about coffee urns? Who's going to take care of the synagogue's movable walls, and of setting up tables for the seder?

Meanwhile, I'm thinking: do we have enough haggadot? Do I want to bring any new melodies this year? How can I best weave in the kids who are going to act out the Exodus story as part of our Maggid / Storytelling part of the service? Do I have a sitter who can take care of our son at the seder so I don't have to worry about what he's getting into while I'm leading?

One of my favorite teachings about the Exodus story comes from the Hasidic rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav. (I wrote about it a few years ago: On leaping, without delay.) He's talking about the need, when one is leaving Mitzrayim / the Constricted Place, to leap quickly without delay. In my haggadah, one of the ways I frame that is "if we wait until we feel fully ready, we might never take the leap at all."

Preparations are important. I wouldn't want to lead a seder without spending some time with the haggadah; I wouldn't want to host a seder without doing the cooking first; I wouldn't want to approach Pesach without doing at least some of the cleaning work, both physical and spiritual, which is required! But at a certain point, no matter how prepared we do or don't feel, we have to take the leap into what's next. It's like preparing to be a parent: no matter how long you spend getting ready for that adventure, when the adventure begins, it's going to take you places you never imagined. One of the things I try to learn from parenthood is that it's good for me to prepare -- and it's even better for me to know when and how to relinquish my preparations for what I expected and savor what is, instead.

This post is part of #blogExodus, a daily carnival of posts / tweets / status updates relating to themes of Passover and Exodus, created by ImaBima. Find other posts via the #blogExodus hashtag.

#blogExodus 4: Free

BlogexodusWe're one day closer to Pesach. One day closer to celebrating our freedom from slavery in Mitzrayim.

Usually that name is rendered as "Egypt," but it means "The Narrow Place."

What are the narrow places from which you need to be freed?

The narrow places of prejudice and preconception?

The narrow places of old habits which no longer serve?

The narrow places of not letting yourself change?

Tradition says we cried out to God from our constriction and God heard our cry.

This is what our tradition calls hit'oreruta dil'tata, "arousal from below."

Our outpouring of desperate yearning caused God to respond.

In that sense, we instigated our own Exodus. We cried out, and God heard us.

What do you need to cry out in order to begin the journey toward freedom?

What would it feel like to cry out, and to know that God has heard you?

What would it feel like to give yourself permission to break free from all of your narrow places: the ones you've imposed on yourself, the ones imposed by others' expectations -- to really and truly know that it is possible to be redeemed from those constrictions?

What would it feel like, this Pesach, to really become free?


This post is part of #blogExodus, a daily carnival of posts / tweets / status updates relating to themes of Passover and Exodus, created by ImaBima. Find other posts via the #blogExodus hashtag.

Daily April poem: a series of lunes

13408287575_f81cbd47bb_nWAKE-UP CALL

Four-thirteen AM:
the call to prayer glides
into my ear.

God is greatest!
Another voice joins the song
point and counterpoint.

I bear witness
that there is no other
God but God!

Handful of stones
thrown into a still pond
make intersecting ripples.

In my bed
I think: hear, O Israel --
God is One.

When I sing
morning prayers I will remember
this sharp yearning.

One by one
the loudspeakers cease crying out.
Listen: church bells.

The day four prompt at NaPoWriMo is to write a lune, a three-line poem intended to do in English what a haiku does in Japanese. They suggested that we work with the form developed by Jack Collum, which features stanzas of three words, five words, three words.

Just last week I was in Jerusalem marveling at the early-morning sounds of the Old City (see Staying somewhere new). That's what sparked this poem. (The photo accompanying the poem is my own.)

You can read about the adhān here at Wikipedia.

"Hear, O Israel -- God is One" is a slight abbreviation of the shema.