From Chaos to Light: Bereshit 5784 / 2023
Why poetry matters (now)

A little bit of a week

Activity-Sheet-Individual-Tile__2A tangled ball of grief.


On Friday nights, before L'kha Dodi -- the prayer welcoming the Shabbat Bride into our midst -- we sing a prayer that asks God to untie our tangled places. (I've written about it here before.)

Years ago I started using a little patter before the prayer that I borrowed from Rabbi David Markus. It was originally ad libbed to be singable to the Rizhyner's melody for the prayer, but it's basically become liturgy in my community. My son sings it to me sometimes. Other members of the community quote it. The opening has become part of the prayer now. And this past Friday night, as soon as I played the opening chord, everyone knew what was coming.

"Maybe you've had a little bit of a week," I sang.

"I don't know about you, but I've had --"

That's when I noticed the tears pouring down my face.


...For the people torn from their homes and shot. For the concert-goers at the all-night dance party whose dancing ended in a massacre. For children, killed and kidnapped. For lifelong peace activists, killed and kidnapped. For over a thousand Jews slaughtered last Shabbat. For my friend whose partner grew up on one of the now-massacred kibbutzim. For the first responders whose job it was to locate and cover every dead body. For the people who were traumatized seeing Torah scrolls draped in tallitot at Simchat Torah because they evoked Jewish dead bodies draped in tallitot. For everyone struggling now with generational trauma. For the hostages in Gaza. For the families of the hostages, frantic and afraid. For the mother I know whose child couldn't fall asleep in the bomb shelter. For the children and adults who have no bomb shelters and nowhere safe to go. For Awad Darawshe z"l, killed by Hamas while doing his EMT work. For the recognition that someone out there is wailing and mourning every single death this week, including those who weren't EMTs or peace activists, just "regular" Palestinians and Israelis. For every life snuffed out. For every child now without parents, and every parent now grieving their child. For the inhabitants of Gaza, with electricity and water cut off, whose buildings are now rubble. For the hopelessness and the anguish. For the fact that grief becomes politicized, and strangers on the internet critique for whom and how we grieve. For the fact that I had to firmly instruct my teenager not to watch videos of hostage executions that Hamas has threatened to broadcast. For the fact that not everyone has the luxury of looking away from the death and loss and horror. For every heart now shattered. For the near-certainty that it's going to get worse before it gets better...


"-- a little bit of a week," I managed, somehow.

By now people were singing along with me, quietly.

"And if you've had a little bit of a week -- ai yai yai yai yai yai yai yai!"

The words of the prayer don't really matter, I've said more times than I can count. I'll sing some Hebrew. Maybe you'll sing some English. Then I'll sing some Hebrew, and you'll sing some English. But what really makes this prayer work, what gives us the spiritual capacity to let go of our baggage and be fully present to welcome Shabbat, is the krechtz. The cry from the heart, from the gut, from the core. The ai yai yai. We have to let it all out before we can let Shabbat in.

I've never prayed that prayer with more fervor than Friday night, even though I could scarcely get words out around the lump in my throat.

"Receive our call, and hear our cry!" I was not the only one in the room weeping. So many of those whom I serve have come to me in the last week seeking comfort, seeking hope, seeking meaning, and the grief is so vast. How do we welcome Shabbat when there is so much bloodshed, and so much trauma, and so much more loss than our small human hearts can begin to understand?

And yet this is what Jews have always done. We make Shabbat even in the worst of times. We kindle our Shabbat candles, a reminder of creation's primordial light, and we affirm that the brokenness that characterizes the world as we know it is not the only way things can be.

Shabbat is our foretaste of the world to come, and when it is over, we begin again to fumblingly try to find our way toward a world better than this.


Some of the pieces I've read this week: