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Day 37 of the Omer


DAY 37: PRAIRIE WEDDING


Driving west from Massachusetts
to Seattle, I noticed
a shift midway through Minnesota.
The beginning of prairie. The skies opened up
like my memories of Texas, sunset
a great splash of watercolors
across the most immense canvas.

There's a tipping point.
The gravitational pull of destination
becomes stronger than the origin story.
Where we're from is old news.
But where we're going -- !
The Goldene Medina, the Wild West
the promised land.

Wheels hum on asphalt like a sruti box.
Roll down your window: can you hear
faraway music at the encampment?
It's your wedding band, and mine. Not
a Moonie mass marriage, the real deal:
God in tuxedo and tails (or white Irish lace)
and you with your heart on your sleeve...

Afterwards we'll each remember
standing face to face with the Holy One
beneath the chuppah of the inverted mountain --
or were those just streaks of painted cloud?
Ketubah handwritten on parchment.
The skies opened up and Torah unfurled
like gentle longed-for rain.

 


 

Today is the 37th day of the Omer, making five weeks and two days of the Omer. This is the 37th day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

Midrash depicts the revelation of Torah at Sinai as a wedding with God as the groom and Israel as the bride. One midrash says that Mount Sinai was held above us -- perhaps as a threat, or perhaps as our wedding canopy.

This poem borrows its title from one of my favorite Mark Knopfler songs of recent years.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow has suggested that one way to understand the name Torah is to relate it to yoreh, the first longed-for rains of the fall season after the long, hot, dry Middle Eastern summer.


Day 36 of the Omer


DAY 36: SIX


Six days of         creation before pausing.
Work-day, week        -day, ordinary time.
Incomplete without the         capstone, the adornment:

silver candlesticks and         braided egg bread,
six sweet psalms        representing the week
then the hymn            welcoming what's holy.

Penultimate. Bridesmaid, never         the Shabbat bride.
Six isn't special        doesn't have meaning
of its own        without what follows.

Here we are        beginning week six
clock not yet        striking midnight's chime
there's still time        to open up

let go and        let God in.
The sixth week        begins right now        
what new gifts            might it bring?

 


 

Today is the 36th day of the Omer, making five weeks and one day of the Omer. Today is the 36th day of our 49-day journey from Pesach to Shavuot, liberation to revelation.

 


Day 35 of the Omer


DAY 35: SACHIA MATA


Sand in the air.
A battered white Ambassador
drove through scrub
past gabbling cranes.

The driver pulled over.
With a steady stream of pilgrims.
we took flight
after flight of exterior stairs

passing ornate archways
festooned with marigolds.
Beneath each carved gate
families posed for snapshots.

At the top: smoke curling
toward a ceiling fragmented
with mirrors, a smudge of saffron
on every forehead...

What will we find
at the top of this ascent
after we pass through
the Omer's 49 gates?

 


 

Today is the 35th day of the Omer, making five weeks of the Omer.

When I thought about going through the "gates" of these 49 days, I remembered an impromptu visit to the temple of Sachia Mata in the town of Osian many years ago. I wrote about that visit for Zeek -- There and Back Again: A JuBu's Passage to India.


Day 34 of the Omer


DAY 34: UNSPOKEN



At the edge of the sound
wind flaps our coats like sails.

Sand shifts beneath
our inappropriate shoes.

Your shoulder touches mine
there and then gone.

We don't have to try
to match our strides.

Our hearts beat in tune
leaping like lambs.

God is in the words
we don't need to say.

 


 

Today is the 34th day of the Omer, making four weeks and six days of the Omer. This is the 34th day of our 49-day journey from Pesach to Shavuot, liberation to revelation.

In the kabbalistic paradigm today is the day of yesod she'b'hod, the day of foundations or rootedness or connections within the week of humble splendor. This poem arose out of a sense of yesod as the connections between people who are dear to one another.

 


Day 33 of the Omer


33: GOOD


The thirty-third word in the Torah
is "good." After each act
of speaking the universe into being

God paused and saw the good.
Light is good. Darkness: good.
Also the balance between the two.

Every geological feature.
Every seed and spore and fern.
The dinosaurs were good, until

they weren't. The Great Auk,
the Atlas Bear...God must spend
eternity reciting I love

what comes and I love what goes.
That every story has an ending
must also be good, at least

from God's vantage where each drop
rejoining the river at the base
of the waterfall is coming home.

 


 

Today is the 33rd day of the Omer, making four weeks and five days of the Omer. Today is the 33rd day of our 49-day journey from Pesach to Shavuot, liberation to revelation.

Today is Lag B'Omer, a minor festival within the Omer count. The syllable lag, in Hebrew, is spelled לג –– the number 33. (So Lag B'Omer just means "The 33rd Day of the Omer.") You can read more about this festival in my Lag B'Omer category.

I learned the teaching about the 33rd word of the Torah from a Hasidic text by the Bnei Yissaschar, and it inspired today's poem.


Day 32 of the Omer


DAY 32: SING PRAISE


Let the gurgle of the coffee pot
as it approaches completion sing praise.
Let the percussive pop of the toaster
revealing the rough and craggy surfaces
of English muffins sing praise.
The jangle of silverware in the sink.
The glide and click of the dishwasher drawer
pulled out to be laden with glasses.
Let the key in the ignition sing praise.
Let the hum of the motor sing praise.
The gavel on the sounding block.
The orchestra of hospital machinery
monitoring blood pressure and O2 sats.
Let the rattle of pills in the jar sing praise.
Let your fingers on the keyboard sing praise.
The paper in the printer, the ring
of the cellphone, the two-part beat,
beloved, of your heart.

 


 

Today is the 32nd day of the Omer, making four weeks and four days of the Omer. This is the 32nd day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

This poem was sparked by one of last year's NaPoWriMo prompts, the one which invited us to write a poem using the poetic device of anaphora.


Day 31 of the Omer


DAY 31: SEVEN STOPS


The Zohar says
after death
each soul is judged
seven times.

Pallbearers make
seven stops
on the way
to the grave

which means
our progress
shambles, pauses
begins again

as though
we were reluctant
to reach
that destination.

Seven: the days
of the week,
the colors
of the rainbow

seven weeks
of the Omer
between Pesach planting
and Shavuot harvest.

For what
will you be judged
when your journey
has ended?

 


 

Today is the 31st day of the Omer, which makes four weeks and three days of the Omer. This is the 31st day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

I learned the teaching that the Zohar says the soul is judged or tested seven times after death from Simcha Raphael's Jewish Views of the Afterlife.


Day 30 of the Omer


DAY 30: WHAT THE CREATOR CREATES


A gazelle, sprinting. The graceful neck
of the giraffe. Seahorses bobbing gently,
fluorescent in their tank. These
are easier to love than the spiny echidna,
the scorpion, the swarm of carpenter ants.

Can I cultivate care for the cactus
which pricks the tender flesh of my hand?
For the kid who shoved my child
on the playground and called him names?
The politician whose positions make me squirm?

Hillel says: even these deserve Torah.
Akiva says: love the other as yourself.
Everything else is commentary, so go
and learn. I want to learn
even from the rattlesnake in the dry grass.

Everything else is commentary, so go
and love. I want to love even the echidna,
even the angry internet troll lobbing missiles
from under his bridge. Cup her spark
of goodness in my hands and gently blow.

 


 

Today is the 30th day of the Omer, which makes four weeks and two days of the Omer. This is the 30th day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

In one Mussar paradigm, today is the day to focus on אוהב את הבריות, Loving God's Creations. I found myself thinking about how some creations are easier to love than others. That's what sparked today's poem.


Day 29 of the Omer


DAY 29: LOVE GOD


To love God -- that's a tall order.
Does the Milky Way notice me?
The Horsehead Nebula? If I'm a speck
of dust compared with their grandeur
how much smaller I must seem
to the One Who made them. And yet --

the mystics say the world was born
because God was lonely. She wanted
to sit in her rocking chair and chat
while She knitted the sunset clouds.
How could I not love the One Who whispers
exist! and the daffodils bloom?

 


 

Today is the 29th day of the Omer, which makes four weeks and one day of the Omer. Today is the 29th day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

In one Mussar paradigm, today is the day for cultivating the quality of אוהב את המקום, loving God. Our daily liturgy instructs us to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our might. But what does it mean to love God? That's the question which prompted today's poem.


Kedoshim: Holiness and Baltimore

This is the d'var Torah I offered yesterday at my shul. (Cross-posted to my From the Rabbi blog.) An abbreviated version of these reflections were published on Friday in The Wisdom Daily.



"Y'all shall be holy, for I -- Adonai your God -- am holy."

At first blush, this seems like a pretty tall order. I get that we're supposed to be holy because God is holy, but to compare ourselves to God seems like a recipe for falling short.

But the Jewish mystical tradition offers a different view. Rabbi Moshe Efraim of Sudlikov teaches that when we're holy, our holiness percolates upward and enlivens God. There's chutzpah for you: to think that our actions and choices give strength and holiness to divinity on high!

In a funny way, it means that God needs us. God needs us to be striving toward holiness, so that the energy of our striving will enliven the highest heavens. And we need God as our beacon, our reminder that holiness is possible. We need God, who needs us, who need God. Holiness unfolds and grows in the space between, that space of relationship.

Whether or not you believe that God's holiness derives from ours, it seems to me that God manifests in the world through our actions and our choices. What should those actions and choices be?

This week's Torah portion gives us some suggestions. Feed the hungry. Treat your parents with reverence. Keep Shabbat. Don't render an unfair decision; treat both rich and poor as equal human beings. Don't hate your fellow in your heart. Love your fellow as yourself.

This week as I've been studying the Torah portion, I've also been reading stories about the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Freddie locked eyes with a police officer. Freddie ran, but the officer pursued him and caught him, then radioed for a police van for transport.

By the time the police van reached the police station, Freddie had three broken vertebrae and a fractured voice box. He died of spinal injuries shortly thereafter. It seems clear that the injuries took place while he was in police custody, in the van; his death has been ruled a homicide.

In the wake of Freddie's funeral Baltimore burned, though already a coalition of local leaders, clergy, and even gang members are working together to end the violence. I've seen some people decry the rioting. For my part, I empathize with the viewpoint that riots can be an expression of hopelessness and grief, and that we should be angrier at those responsible for Freddie's death than at those who have smashed windows in despair.

I find myself thinking about Eric Garner, who died in police custody in New York after being placed in a chokehold and gasping "I can't breathe." I find myself thinking of Michael Brown, shot by police while walking down the street in Ferguson, Missouri. I find myself thinking about what it must be like to live in this country without the privileges with which my skin rewards me.

It's facile, and often problematic, to claim that Torah justifies any given political position. People can and do use scripture to justify every political stance. But I do think that this week's Torah portion can speak to us today.

"You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger." Fifty percent of those in Freddie Grey's neighborhood are unemployed. There are whole communities living at or below the poverty line, and a disproportionate number of those living below the poverty line are non-white. Do our social systems provide for them the way the Torah's system of gleaning aimed to do?

"You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich." Do residents of Freddie Grey's neighborhood trust the police and the justice system to live out that instruction?

"Do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow." What can this instruction mean to those who fear that no matter what they do, they and their fellows will still be systemically mistreated and undervalued because of the circumstance of their birth or the color of their skin?

"You shall love your neighbor, your Other, as yourself." This verse is at the heart of the Torah, both metaphorically and literally. This week's Torah portion instructs us to be holy as God is holy. If this passage is a set of instructions for that process, then holiness means loving others as we love ourselves; wanting for them all the things we want for ourselves; ensuring that they live within a social system and a justice system which are as dedicated and lofty as we would want for ourselves.

In the original context of Leviticus, the word רעך -- "neighbor" or "other" -- meant Israelite neighbor, your fellow who is like you and is part of your tribe. But I think this moment calls us to live in a spirit of post-triumphalism. Ours is not the only path to God, and in this interconnected world, we are all neighbors.

Every citizen of this country is my neighbor, deserving of equal rights and equal opportunities. Every citizen of this world is my neighbor, because each of us is enlivened by the same spark of divinity, and because the myth of our separateness has long been dispelled: what happens on this part of the planet impacts that part of the planet, and vice versa.

May the Torah's voice call us to an honest accounting of our obligations to one another, and may we work toward the day when all human beings are truly afforded respect, dignity, and justice. Kein yehi ratzon.

 


Day 28 of the Omer


DAY 28: MAGNETIC NORTH


The beacon at the mountaintop
sending in perpetuity:

the original number station, though
these numbers made up words once,

from "when God was beginning"
to "in the sight of all Israel."

But the letters are still streaming,
the fountain unstoppable.

What's the broadcast now?
Be kinder to each other.

A perennial Let there be:
from quarks to the whorl of galaxies.

I keep tuning my dial, listening
through the static

for the tug toward Sinai, step
after uncertain step.

 


 

Today is the 28th day of the Omer, making four weeks of the Omer. This is the 28th day of our 49-day journey from Pesach to Shavuot, liberation to revelation.

Today's poem took its form from one of Luisa A. Igloria's prompts from last year. She asked, "What is your magnetic north? Write a poem in which you describe it; also describe how it feels to write/work your way toward (or away from) it." This is what arose.

The two phrases in quotation marks are the beginning and end of the Torah, respectively.

If you're unfamiliar with numbers stations, here's a good introduction. (Bear in mind that Hebrew letters double as numbers.)


Bringing Torah to bear on Freddie Gray and Baltimore - in The Wisdom Daily

Logo-twd-headerMy reflections on the death of Freddie Gray and the situation in Baltimore, read through the lens of this week's Torah portion, have been published in The Wisdom Daily. (This piece is excerpted from a longer sermon which I'll be giving tomorrow morning at my synagogue.) Here's a taste:

There was a powerful confluence for me while studying this week's assigned Torah portion alongside news coverage about the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray...

I empathize with the viewpoint that riots can be an expression of hopelessness and grief, and that we should be angrier at those responsible for Freddie's death than at those who have smashed windows in despair. I also find myself thinking of Eric Garner, who died in police custody in Staten Island, N.Y., after being placed in a chokehold and gasping, "I can't breathe." Of course I think of Michael Brown, fatally shot by police while walking down the street in Ferguson, Mo. And I find myself thinking about what it must be like to live in this country without the privileges which my skin rewards me.
It's facile, and often problematic, to claim that Torah justifies any given political position. People use scripture to justify every political stance. But I do think that this week's Torah portion can speak to us today.
"You shall not pick your vineyard bare, nor gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger..."

Read the whole thing: The Bare Vineyards of Baltimore.


Day 27 of the Omer


DAY 27: LABYRINTH



Do you know your way through?
Did you remember your spindle of string?
    Are you watching your own footsteps carefully?
    Is it difficult to keep your pace slow?

        Why are you walking this path?
        Do you realize there's no way out?
                    Will it bother you to turn around at the center?
                    Does the landscape change with your vantage?

                     Does the landscape change with your vantage?
            Did you expect that particular twist?
        Did you know you can still be surprised?
        Can you draw an accurate map?

    Do you know what you'll keep from the journey?
    What kind of souvenirs can you carry?
Did you intend to travel without pockets?
Do you know your way through?



 


 

Today is the 27th day of the Omer, which makes three weeks and six days of the Omer. This is the 27th day of our 49-day journey from Pesach to Shavuot, liberation to revelation.

Today's poem was originally drafted as a list of 20 questions, and the visual prosody nods to my experiences walking meditation labyrinths. The purpose of a meditation labyrinth isn't to find the way out; it's not a maze. There's only one way in and one way out. In a meditation labyrinth, it's all about the journey.

Of course, the same can be said of the Omer. And of most things, really.

Shabbat shalom to those who celebrate.