Barukh She'Amar (2)

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Every sunrise and sunset, birth
and death, blossom and snowfall...
How does Your mouth not tire
of speaking the world into being?

Almighty, we can’t imagine
infinity without growing weary.
It's hard to remember
Your mouth is purely metaphor

though Your speech is real.
You speak every atom
in the universe,
a mighty chord resounding.

If You ever chose silence,
even for an instant,
we would blink out of existence
as though this experiment had never been.


R. Rachel Barenblat



This is a revision of a liturgical poem I wrote several years ago. It appears in my book Open My Lips, published by Ben Yehuda Press.

I still love the imagery in the original poem, and the way the cascade of items evokes the constancy of God's speaking the world into being. And... I've found that it's too long for me to regularly use as liturgy.

So here's a shortened version that works better for my current davenen-leadership style. Perhaps it will speak to you, too.

Words set to music: what joy

One of the most extraordinary things in the world, for me as a writer who is also a singer, is hearing my own words set to music. The music transforms and uplifts the words, and the end result is a work of art that is rooted in but also different from the one I put out into the world. It is humbling and amazing and awe-inspiring for me. 

I've been blessed to have that experience a few times. In 2010, composer Michael Veloso (who is a dear friend) set two of my motherhood poems from Waiting to Unfold (Phoenicia, 2013) to music -- Letters to Little Bean (listen here at SoundCloud.)

In 2014, Michael Scherperel set four poems from 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia, 2011) to music in a series called "שבעים / Shiv'eem" ("Seventy") (listen here at SoundCloud.)

And this week I heard my words set to music once more: conductor and composer Sarah Riskind (a longtime friend and fellow alumna of the Williams College Elizabethans) set my "Psalm of the Sky" (which appears in Open My Lips, Ben Yehuda 2016) to music (embedded below, or if the embed doesn't work, you can listen here at SoundCloud.)


It's particularly poignant to hear this setting of these words now. During this time of pandemic, I resonate with the words of this "psalm of uncertainty" in a new way. And because singing together in person is not currently possible (and may be contraindicated even when we are able to gather again, at least until there is a vaccine), and singing in harmony on Zoom is not possible (because sounds waves clash and collide), hearing voices in harmony is especially moving to me in this moment.

I'm grateful to Sarah for this beautiful setting of my poem, and I hope it speaks to you, too.

On the road again: the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour is going west!

25986325352_54ab1309e9_zWe're setting off today for the next stops on the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour! Rabbi David and I are heading in different directions for a few days: I'm going to do a Shabbaton in Las Vegas, he's off to the Spiritual Directors International conference in San Diego. I'll be offering a poetry reading and a facilitated conversation about the future of Jewish Renewal in Las Vegas; he'll be leading Shabbat services and having conversations about Jewish Renewal at SDI. 

We'll meet up in Los Angeles for a Sunday evening event hosted by Rabbi T'mimah Ickovits and Holistic Jew. Plans include a ma’ariv evening service on a deck overlooking the water, a dinner, and an open mike / curated conversation about ALEPH and the future of Jewish Renewal. (To inquire about participation, email [email protected].) While in LA we'll also be connecting with folks from B'nai Horin and from two rabbinical seminaries, the Academy for Jewish Religion CA and Ziegler.

Later in the week we'll spend some time in Santa Cruz with folks from Chadesh Yameinu. On April 13th they'll be hosting an event which will feature both a community conversation about the future of Jewish Renewal, and a poetry reading by yours truly -- I'm hoping to highlight both Open My Lips (new from Ben Yehuda Press) and Toward Sinai (my collection of Omer poems), which feels appropriate to the season given that Pesach is right around the corner and the Omer begins on the second night of Pesach.

Then we'll move on to the San Francisco Bay Area, where we'll connect with folks from the Aquarian Minyan,  Wilderness Torah, The Jewish Studio Project, the Kitchen, and other local institutions -- and we'll participate in Shabbat evening and morning services at Kehilla Community Synagogue, and hold a havdalah / Listening Tour open mike at 7:30pm at Chochmat ha-Lev. (If you want to join us for Shabbat davenen or for the havdalah / open mike, there's information on the Kehilla and Chochmat websites.)

It's going to be an action-packed ten days. I'm looking really forward to meeting people in all of these different places, and to hearing their hopes and dreams for the future of ALEPH and their visions of what a renewed Judaism might look like and how we can work together to make those visions real.


Photo by Dave Kauffman; taken on our Listening Tour visit to Vancouver.

Announcing Open My Lips

Pages-from-open-my-lips-cover-259x400I could not be more delighted to announce this news: Open My Lips, my new collection of Jewish liturgical prayer, has just been published by Ben Yehuda Press! Here's how the publisher describes the book:

This volume of contemporary liturgical poetry is both a poetry collection and an aid to devotional prayer. This collection dips into the deep well of Jewish tradition and brings forth renewed and renewing adaptations of, and riffs on, classical Jewish liturgy. Here are poems for weekday and Shabbat, festival seasons (including the Days of Awe and Passover), and psalms of grief and praise. Intended for those who seek a clear, readable, heartfelt point of access into Jewish tradition or into prayer in general.

For those who seek a prayer practice in English but don't know where to start, this volume offers several starting points (poems for weekday and Sabbath, psalms of grief and of praise.) These poems could be used to augment an existing prayer practice, Jewish or otherwise -- either on a solitary basis or for congregational use. For the reader of poetry unfamiliar with liturgical text, they can serve as an introduction to prayer in general, and Jewish prayer in particular. And for the pray-er unfamiliar with contemporary poetry, these poems can open the door in the other direction.

The publisher and I welcome remix and transformative works. The poems in this collection are available online; feel free to (with attribution) use them in services and share them widely, and also to create your own prayer/poems based on or inspired by them -- as long as you also release your own material under a creative commons license which permits remix and transformative works too. And please support independent publishing and buy a copy of the book: for yourself, your rabbi, your pastor, your roshi, your imam, or anyone else in your life who you think might enjoy it!

Open My Lips, Ben Yehuda Press, April 2016 - $14.95

Advance praise:

“You enfold me in this bathtowel/ You enliven me with coffee,” writes Barenblat in Open My Lips, a collection of accessible and compelling prayer-poems that manages to locate the sacred in the quotidian. After reading these poems, one realizes the ordinary moment is filled with hidden light, and inspiration isn’t as far away as we often assume.

— Yehoshua November, author of God’s Optimism (Main Street Rag Press, 2010)


Poet and rabbi Rachel Barenblat is determined neither to surrender her tradition, nor to surrender to it. She creates here a liturgy which is an ongoing struggle with her own tradition. Her project is to find the sacred in every moment, high or low, and to turn towards it without hesitation.

In her meditation on removing leaven for Pesach, she notes that “odds are good there are stale O’s / in the crevices of the car seat.” She does not shy away from them or their implications: they become, surprisingly and delightfully, part of the ritual. And her lesson for us is larger than the lesson of any particular ritual of any particular tradition: that if we have not yet found the sacred meaning of any thing, we have not yet looked hard enough.

Dale Favier, author of Opening the World (Pindrop Press, 2011)


Rabbi Rachel Barenblat’s work is incredibly moving. She takes a traditional prayer, understands its essence, and then recreates it in a way that makes it accessible to anyone.  She opens a path for the reader to feel and understand the traditional Jewish liturgy from a modern feminine perspective. I love it!

Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu, Director, Rabbis Without Borders


Readers from every point along the spiritual spectrum will find poems that appeal and satisfy in Open My Lips, the latest collection of poems from rabbi and poet Rachel Barenblat.  A portion of her poems are firmly rooted in the cycle of Jewish holidays, yet by anchoring them in the rhythms of the year and the seasons, she renders them accessible.  All but the most hardened atheists will understand the desire to pray and to grieve and to celebrate a Sabbath, and Barenblat offers poems for all of these spiritual occasions.  And even hardened atheists will appreciate the deft way she uses science and the natural world.  In short, Rachel Barenblat has achieved a remarkable feat with her latest collection.

—  Kristin Berkey-Abbott, author of Whistling Past the Graveyard (Pudding House, 2004) and I Stand Here Shredding Documents (Finishing Line Press, 2011)


Rachel Barenblat’s latest offering is truly beautiful – moving, ethereal, grounded, accessible and profound. Her words will nourish the journeys of anyone who opens the book’s pages, connecting the deeply personal to the larger currents of time and life to the Source Within and Beyond Us All.

Rabbi Wendi Geffen, Rabbi Without Borders Fellow, North Shore Congregation Israel, Chicago IL


Barenblat’s God is a personal God – one who lets her cry on His shoulder, and who rocks her like a colicky baby. These poems bridge the gap between the ineffable and the human. Her writing is clear and pure and the poems are excquisitely executed. This collection will bring comfort to those with a religion of their own, as well as those seeking a relationship with some kind of higher power.

Satya Robyn, author of The Most Beautiful Thing and Thaw


Rabbi Barenblat’s poems are like those rare cover songs that bring new insights to familiar rhythms and melodies. Her interpretations of ancient liturgy turn up the volume and realign the balance on our tradition’s greatest hits.

— Rabbi Elana Zelony, Rabbi Without Borders Fellow, Congregation Beth Torah, Dallas TX


With gorgeous language, a profound sensitivity to the yearnings of the soul, and deep knowledge of the power of traditional Jewish prayer, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat has composed this extraordinary collection of liturgical poems. Useful for the expert and novice, seeker and skeptic, believer and doubter alike, Barenblat’s exquisite and powerful verse will enrich your connection to Jewish prayer, enhance your spiritual journey, and encourage your ability to connect to the Divine within and around you.

Rabbi Michael Knopf, Rabbi Without Borders Fellow, Temple Beth El, Richmond VA

Happy news: Ben Yehuda and Open My Lips

By_since5766_onWhiteI am thoroughly delighted to be able to announce that my next book-length poetry collection, Open My Lips, will be published by Ben Yehuda Press, publishers of books of interest to the American Jewish community since 2005!

Open My Lips is a collection of contemporary Jewish liturgical poetry which I hope will move and delight both Jewish and non-Jewish readers. This collection sits at the intersection of poetry and prayer. Here's my nutshell description:

This volume of contemporary liturgical poetry is both a poetry collection and an aid to devotional prayer. This collection dips into the deep well of Jewish tradition and brings forth renewed and renewing adaptations of, and riffs on, classical Jewish liturgy. Here are poems for weekday and Shabbat, festival seasons (including the Days of Awe and Passover), and psalms of grief and praise. Intended for those who seek a clear, readable, heartfelt point of access into Jewish tradition or into prayer in general.

Ben Yehuda Press has published some wonderful books which are staples of my rabbinic bookshelf, among them Rabbi Shefa Gold's Torah Journeys  and In the Fever of Love: an Illumination of the Song of Songs and Rabbi DovBer Pinson's Thirty-Two Gates of Wisdom. (I'm also excited about some of their new books which I haven't yet read, among them Haviva Ner-David's Chanah's Voice, Sharon Marson's More Than Four Questions: Inviting Childrens' Voices to the Seder, and Ora Horn Prouser's Esau's Blessing: How the Bible Embraces Those With Special Needs.) I am thrilled that they are bringing out my new collection.

And -- this is particularly exciting to me as a participant in remix culture and someone who shares a lot of work online -- the publishers are enthusiastic about the poems being available online for people to share during services and poetry readings and so forth. They believe (and I agree!) that sharing poetry online doesn't diminish its sale market, but rather increases it. Our hope is that those who read the poems online, or encounter them during a service, will want to support the poetry and its publisher by buying a copy of the book.

Stay tuned for further information. For now, I hope you'll celebrate with me!