interlude: Summer 5777

Tammuz is interlude, reiteration, steady growth,” writes Debbie Perlman, describing the month in the Jewish calendar which began this past weekend. She goes on to reference sprinklers, weeds, and fields already planted, concluding:

Hear us as we move into this time of increase,
As we gather up sunlight and breezes and rains
To lay aside against the unknowns ahead.
Hear us as we call You in truth.
— from “Ninety-One: Rosh Chodesh Tammuz”
IN Flames to Heaven: New Psalms for Healing & Praise

A few words about “interlude” and gathering up “against the unknowns ahead.”

“Against the Unknowns Ahead”

Taking a wide view of the Jewish calendar, we’re in a sort of dip between two peaks: Shavuot, festival of “receiving Torah,” and Simchat Torah, festival of “rejoicing in the Torah.”

For seven weeks, beginning on the second night of Passover, we counted “up” to Shavuot. The next milestone on the calendar, 40 days later, commemorates the incident of the Golden Calf — in other words, our failure to “receive” Torah very well. The Fast of Tammuz (this year: 7/11/17) launches a downward swing with “The Three Weeks” and Tisha B’Av, mourning loss of both Temples and other calamities faced by the Jewish people.

From that lowest point (9 Av, this year: 8/1/17), we begin the climb toward the new year, through the high holidays, Sukkot and, finally, Simchat Torah (this year: 10/13/17).

But right now, we’re still in the 40 days between Shavuot and the Fast of Tammuz. Reading ourselves into the Exodus story: We are still in the early days of liberty from Egyptian slavery; Moses is still on the mountain, obtaining the first tablets, which have yet to be smashed. We know nothing about the Golden Calf or the Spies and the decades of tromping in the desert, realizing the best we can hope for is that the next generation will make it out. Today, still, is about anticipation and hope for immediate changes in the life of our community.

From the vantage point of the Exodus story, this is a great time to “lay aside against the unknowns.” With a view to the Jewish calendar — and to the civic calendar in the U.S. — this is an important interlude to shore up resources for the challenging days ahead.

“When you come…”

The Torah potion Ki Tavo (“When You Come…”; Deut 26:1-29:8) is bookmarked by two fascinating passages: Near the beginning is he passage we read at the Passover seder, recapping our ancestors’ journey and our own through the Exodus; toward the end, we are told that it took forty years for us to understand what happened.

Deuteronomy 26: 5-10

וְעָנִיתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה, וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט; וַיְהִי-שָׁם, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב.
And thou shalt speak and say before the LORD thy God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.

וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים, וַיְעַנּוּנוּ; וַיִּתְּנוּ עָלֵינוּ, עֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה
And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage.

וַנִּצְעַק, אֶל-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי אֲבֹתֵינוּ; וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוָה אֶת-קֹלֵנוּ,
וַיַּרְא אֶת-עָנְיֵנוּ וְאֶת-עֲמָלֵנוּ וְאֶת-לַחֲצֵנוּ
And we cried unto the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression.

וַיּוֹצִאֵנוּ יְהוָה, מִמִּצְרַיִם, בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה, וּבְמֹרָא גָּדֹל–וּבְאֹתוֹת, וּבְמֹפְתִים.
And the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders.

[these two verses are not part of the Haggadah:]
וַיְבִאֵנוּ, אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה; וַיִּתֶּן-לָנוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ.
And He hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

וְעַתָּה, הִנֵּה הֵבֵאתִי אֶת-רֵאשִׁית פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתָּה לִּי, יְהוָה;
וְהִנַּחְתּוֹ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ.
And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O LORD, hast given me.’ And thou shalt set it down before the LORD thy God, and worship before the LORD thy God.

Deuteronomy 29: 1-3

וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה אֶל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם:
אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה לְעֵינֵיכֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, לְפַרְעֹה וּלְכָל-עֲבָדָיו, וּלְכָל-אַרְצוֹ
And Moses called unto all Israel, and said unto them: Ye have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land;

הַמַּסּוֹת, הַגְּדֹלֹת, אֲשֶׁר רָאוּ, עֵינֶיךָ–הָאֹתֹת וְהַמֹּפְתִים הַגְּדֹלִים, הָהֵם.
the great trials which thine eyes saw, the signs and those great wonders;

וְלֹא-נָתַן יְהוָה לָכֶם לֵב לָדַעַת, וְעֵינַיִם לִרְאוֹת וְאָזְנַיִם לִשְׁמֹעַ, עַד, הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה.
but the LORD hath not given you a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.

Shabbat Ki Tavo falls this year between Labor Day, the traditional end of the U.S. “summer vacation” (9/4/17), and Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the new year (9/21/17). A sort of meta-interlude.

Now, in the interlude of early Tammuz, perhaps we can begin to “gather up sunlight and breezes and rains,” our communities’ stories and our own, in preparation for the travels ahead.

Chana Bloch: Her Memory For a Poetic Blessing

Chana Bloch, poet, translator, and teacher, died on May 19, 2017. Among her major translation projects are the Song of Songs with Ariel Bloch (then husband) and, with Chana Kronfeld, Yehuda Amichai’s Open Closed Open (NY: Harcourt, 2000). For several years, she edited Persimmon Tree, a publication of the arts by women over 60.

Bloch’s poem about beginnings, “Chez Pierre, 1961,” appeared in Poetry Magazine (1990) and in the more recent collection Far Out: Poems of the 60s. Her final literary work, The Moon Is Almost Full, is due out in September of this year.

“Questions of Faith” a substantial interview about Bloch’s experience of Judaism.

May her memory be for a blessing

Obituaries:
Jewish Weekly
Tablet

Amichai’s Love and the Entwives

A highway detours in order to give two lovers some privacy in their “bit of eternity,” in the opening stanza of Yehuda Amichai’s “Pinecones in the Tree Above.” Several stanzas later, “she is the walled public garden of the city, and he, the road which moves away from her” (Abramson, p.101 — see notes below).

YA 46

from “Pinecones on the Tree Above” in Collected Poems

Like Pine Cones, Ents and Entwives

The “Pine Cones” series is the second set of love poems [after “Six Poems for Tamar”] published in a collection called “Now and in Other Days” (1955). The garden/road stanza is, as Abramson notes, one of eight short portraits of the same lovers: “like two associations in one mind: as he is referred to, so is she; they are like two lightbulbs in a lamp each one alone too dark but together lighted they are a festival of light….They are like two stones at the bottom of a hill, secluded and alone…”

Each stanza consists of rhymed couplets, which, Abramson continues: “affirm the isolated perfection of love; yet even at their most serene the lovers are separate entities, two lightbulbs, two stones, two numbers. The poems offer an apparent affirmation of love, yet separateness and isolation are implicit in them.” (Abramson, see below)

Considering this stanza, readers find many contrasts, some of them Freudian, between the movement-oriented man and the enclosure-focused woman. For me, the contrast Amichai draws is reminiscent of Tolkein’s wandering Ents and their inability to connect with the more settled Entwives (The Lord of the Rings — full citation below)

Ents are Middle Earth’s very old, male, tree-like creatures who have somehow “lost” their female counterparts, the Entwives. They’re not dead, just missing and missed, Treebeard (AKA Fangorn) tells the hobbits:

…the Ents gave their love to things that they met in the world, and the Entwives gave their thought to other things, for the Ents loved the great trees, and the wild woods, and the slopes of the high hills…But the Entwives gave their minds to the lesser trees, and to the meads in the sunshine beyond the feet of the forests…Entwives desired order, and plenty, and peace (by which they meant that things should remain where they had set them). So the Entwives made gardens to live in. But we Ents went on wandering, and we only came to the gardens now and again.
The Two Towers

“They walked together…”

Treebeard’s description of the old days for Ents and Entwives sounds a little like Jeremiah’s prophetic vision of God and Israel, together in the desert just after leaving Egypt:

When the world was young, and the woods were wide and wild, the Ents and the Entwives – and there were Entmaidens then: ah! the loveliness of Fimbrethil, of Wandlimb the lightfooted, in the days of our youth! – they walked together and they housed together.
The Two Towers

The devotion of your youth, Your love as a bride— How you followed Me in the wilderness, In a land not sown.
— Jer. 2:2

The “Pine Cones” lovers reflect the togetherness of the above metaphors — when the lovers appear like two stones, e.g., together resting at the bottom of a hill, watching seasons pass. But they do not find Amichai’s concept of “true love,” according to Abramson: “Ahavah be-emet [true love], the coupling of both spirit and flesh, is still undiscovered and it is only for a brief moment that the bulbs achieve a “festival of light,” unbounded unity in each other…”

And that undiscovered territory, she argues, has additional implications:

The notion of separateness offered by the couplets in “Pine Cones,” implying that the lovers have failed to achieve perfect unity, indicates their separation also from God.
— Glenda Abramson. The Writing of Yehuda Amichai: A Thematic Approach.
Albany: SUNY Press, 1989, p.101

“Our hearts did not go on growing in the same way,” Treebeard says of Ents and Entwives. The prophets of Israel, Jeremiah included, tell us that reconciliation between God and the People is still possible, although disappointment and anger have reigned for centuries. And what of Amichai’s lovers? Our study group still has four stanzas of “Pine Cones” to translate and discuss, but I do see that the last word of the poem is הפרידה [separation]. Stay tuned.

Notes:

Abramson, Glenda. The Writing of Yehuda Amichai: A Thematic Approach. Albany: SUNY Press, 1989.

Amichai, Yehuda. Collected Poems [5 vols.]. Jerusalem: Schocken, 2002-2004 [Shirei Yehuda Amichai]. “Pinecones on the Tree Above” i

Harshav, Benjamin & Barbara. Yehuda Amichai: A Life of Poetry 1948-1994. NY: Harper Collins, 1995. NOTE: the “highway” stanza is included in the Harshavs’ selected translations; the garden/road stanza is omitted.
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Tolkein, J.R.R. The Two Towers (Book 2 of 3, The Lord of the Rings). London: George Allen and Unwin, 1954.

For more on Ents —

  • Tolkein, Christopher. Treason of Isengard: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part Two (The History of Middle-Earth, Vol. 7). Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989.
  • Not All Who Wander Are Lost (Middle Earth blog), particularly “What Happened to the Entwives

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