Wordless Verses

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“Music touches us in a place that’s beyond the rational mind,” writes Rabbi Naomi Levy, “and it reaches into the heart.” She continues:

It is the language of the soul. We’ve all had the experience of knowing how a piece of music is a prayer in itself, without the words attached. We can pray through the music itself.
— in Making Prayer Real by Rabbi Mike Comins, p.72 (details)

 
This quote comes in a chapter on “Engaging the Body.” Comins counts music and chant as methods for approaching mochin d’gadlut [expanded consciousness] — “the open, mature, listening, caring state of awareness that is considered in itself an experience of divine presence,” opposed to mochin d’katnut [small consciousness] of self-occupation and self-interest (ibid p.250).

In the same chapter, Rabbi Diane Elliot says:

When I take the time to work with a word or a phrase — chanting it in my own time, rolling it around in my mouth, and letting it move through my whole body — then when I say the phrase quickly, all of that backstory is there for me. It can move me into a stream of consciousness.
— ibid, p.74

In the spirit of both ideas — the power of music alone, and the power of backstory — I share this musical piece, which is wordless until 2:51. For those who recognize the tune, the instrumental section will likely have a “backstory” of some kind; for others, especially those who do not know Hebrew, perhaps the listening (prayer) experience will be quite different.

If anyone would like to share their impressions of the music, as music alone and/or as a meditation on Psalm 30, please either include in the comments or write separately to songeveryday at gmail.

More to come on this particular tune, as well as more on music and Psalm 30.

10 of 30 on Psalm 30
As a National Novel Writing Month Rebel, I write each day of November while not aiming to produce a novel. This year I focus on Psalm 30 (“Thirty on Psalm 30”) in the hope that its powerful language will help us through these days of turmoil and toward something new, stronger and more joyful, as individuals and as community. Whole series (so far)…apologies for multiple-post days as my blog catches up with my notes.


Making Prayer Real: Leading Jewish Spiritual Voices on Why Prayer is Difficult and What to Do About It by Rabbi Mike Comins (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2010). More about the book and Rabbi Comins’ teaching at Making Prayer Real website.

Dedication of THIS House

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mezuzah
Spending extra time with Psalm 30 over these last few weeks, inspires me to suggest that I want my house to reflect many of its sentiments.

Regardless of which house was originally meant by the psalmist or how the words were used and understood over the centuries, this, is my prayer, today:

Thank you, God, for lifting me out of depths of my own making,
for helping me over self-criticism and abdication of dreams,
for keeping me from adopting an enemy’s eye view of my life.

This house has seen some tranquility
and it’s seen days that seemed too much like the pit.
We’re grateful to have reached this point,
and ask Your help through the future ups and downs.

With Your help, let this house be
a place that hears crying,
welcoming expressions of truth from those who suffer,
a place of healing, working through the struggle,
and a place of joy.

This house, built and maintained by humans,
can seem pretty shaky,
but if it’s a place where the Name is recognized,
in all the varied ways God comes through the door,
maybe that mountain of strength won’t seem so far off.
— V. Spatz, 2018, based on Psalm 30
copy left (copy left: share with attribution)

I stress that this is my prayer, today, because, while this isn’t exactly a first draft, it doesn’t yet entirely capturing what I meant to say.

9 of 30 on Psalm 30
As a National Novel Writing Month Rebel, I write each day of November while not aiming to produce a novel. This year I focus on Psalm 30 (“Thirty on Psalm 30”) in the hope that its powerful language will help us through these days of turmoil and toward something new, stronger and more joyful, as individuals and as community. Whole series (so far)

…For anyone wondering: I am writing each day in November but not necessarily posting every day. Sorry if this is confusing anyone and hope days with multiple posts, as the blog catches up with my notes, are not too annoying.

Building with Love

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Psalm 30 begins with the idea of dedicating a house, or “the House.”

מִזְמוֹר: שִׁיר-חֲנֻכַּת הַבַּיִת לְדָוִד.
mizmor: shir-chanukat ha-bayit l’David
A Psalm; a Song at the Dedication of the House; of David.

Some translators move the words around for better logical sense to, e.g, “A psalm of David. A song for the dedication of the House.”

Later in the month, I hope to explore more about the meaning of these words and how the psalm has been used over the centuries. Today, let’s focus instead on the concepts of building and dedicating.

Build the World with Love

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (1903-1993) taught:

King Solomon built the physical structure of the Temple, it was King David who imbued it with its sanctity. Because Solomon built the physical structure in a state of prosperity and tranquility, he could not be the one to sanctify it. It was Solomon’s father who hallowed it through his worry, his concern, and his uncertainty. (see notes below)
— commentary in the Koren Mesorat HaRav Siddur

So: worry, concern, and uncertainty can be part of building something important and precious, hallow the building, in fact. Which brings to mind the powerful song, from Rabbi Menachem Creditor, that has inspired so many Jewish gatherings — especially in “the resistance,” however defined — in recent years and days….

…A whole lot of worry, concern, and uncertainty follows governmental attempts to erase transgender individuals, vilify asylum seekers, fuel homophobia and xenophobia and racism and anti-Jewish feeling, plus White Nationalist killings in Louisville and Pittsburgh and attempts elsewhere. Can we harness those feelings to sanctify a building project we cannot even see yet?

Here’s the song’s author, Rabbi Creditor —

Here’s Adas Israel, a synagogue in Washington DC that was the site of an interfaith vigil on 10/29/18 —

Finally, here’s a still from the vigil for Louisville and Tree of Life at Dupont Circle in DC, 10/28, at which the song was also used. dupont_oct28

2 of 30 on Psalm 30

As a National Novel Writing Month Rebel, I write each day of November while not aiming to produce a novel. This year I focus on Psalm 30 (“Thirty on Psalm 30”) in the hope that its powerful language will help us through these days of turmoil and toward something new, stronger and more joyful, as individuals and as community. Whole series (so far)

Look for more tunes and more on building. Shabbat shalom

NOTES

“So Solomon built the house, and finished it”
וַיִּבֶן שְׁלֹמֹה אֶת-הַבַּיִת, וַיְכַלֵּהוּ
— 1 Kings 6:14]

Psalm 30, which is attributed to David, is full of trepidation as well as rejoicing. Many teachers discuss the meaning and timeline inherent in its varied sentiments.

Rabbi Soloveitchik says that it’s about King David having asked “God’s consent to construct the Temple,” and then suffering for “what seemed to be an interminable period” before God answered. See Koren Mesorat HaRav Siddur, Jerusalem: Koren/OU, 2011.

Here’s the full text of Psalm, with commentary on Sefaria and on Mechon-Mamre (older JPS translation)

Note R. Creditor’s introduction to the song (from YouTube):
“I wrote this song for my daughter, born right after 9/11. This world will be built by love: ours and God’s. In the best and worst of moments, non-fundamentalist “believers” and “atheists” are reaching for the same hope using different language. Amen to both.”

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For Beverly: may mourning turn to dance FOR YOU

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Alonzo (“Zo”) Fiero Smith, 1/2/1988-11/1/2015, was a poet, father, and teacher. Zo was killed, at age 27, in custody of special police in DC, a stone’s throw from the apartment of his mother, Beverly Smith. I’ve written in the past about Zo’s case, about special policing in DC and beyond, and related topics. This post is for Zo’s mother, Beverly.

Beverly_rain

Beverly Smith, portrait by Pamela Brooks, both active in Coalition of Concerned Mothers

…weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes in the morning…
To You, GOD, I called…
Can dust praise you? Can it speak of your truth?
Hear and answer…
…You turned my mourning into dance for me,
You undid my sackcloth and girded me with joy —
that I might sing of Your glory and not be silent:
HASHEM my God, I thank You, always
— from Psalm 30

As her son’s death anniversary approached, and throughout this day [this post was written in large part on 11/1/18], I have often thought of Beverly’s efforts to speak truth and her determination to not be silent — about Zo’s case as well as broader needs — even in her grief and as she faces serious health challenges. I see her rejoice over her grandchildren and celebrate with friends, as well.

From Our Varied Places

With its range of emotions, from despair to ecstasy, Psalm 30 resonates differently for different people and times. Individuals reading or reciting this psalm on their own might relate to different phrases on different days, or use its variety to work through complex layers of feelings at one time. Psalm 30 should also remind us that our community encompasses, at any given moment, people in very different places, prompting us to acknowledge the varied ways our neighbors may be calling out for someone to “hear and answer.”

In this difficult period of national turmoil, Psalm 30 can help us notice how we can all cry out together from our various situations and states of mind — griefs, or joys, that may be brand new, or three or 20 or 400 years old. We don’t need everyone in the same place or of the same mind to care for one another, work together, and, for those so inclined, pray with and for one another.

On this particular November 1, I find that weeping — for Louisville, for Pittsburgh, for Zo and other victims of police brutality, for the unequal weight of our dreadful system of white supremacy — is more present for me than joy.

In the time that I’ve known Beverly Smith, I’ve seen her turn mourning into dance, as she has generously shared Zo’s story and allowed her own pain to help others focus on needed change. If we look carefully at the Hebrew in Psalm 30:12, though, we see that it reads, “turn my mourning into לְמָחוֹל לִי dancing for me].”

So, my prayer for Beverly on this anniversary of her son’s death, at the hands of a system some of us like to think is meant to protect us, is that this year will not only turn her mourning into dance (for others), but turn it into dance for her.

1 of 30 on Psalm 30
As a National Novel Writing Month Rebel, I write each day of November while not aiming to produce a novel. This year I focus on Psalm 30 in the hope that its powerful language will help us through these days of turmoil and toward something new, stronger and more joyful, as individuals and as community. Whole series (so far)

You are ALL standing, with Ariel Samson: Freelance Rabbi &Co

“You* are standing this day all of you before the LORD your God: your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, even all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and your stranger that is in the midst of your camp, from the hewer of your wood unto the drawer of your water…
— Deuteronomy 29:9-10 (see note on masculine plurals below)

As we head into the new year, this week’s portion (Nitzavim, Deut 29:9-30:20) offers some dire warnings to ponder: how easily blessings turn to curses when we forget the Source of Blessing, how severe the consequences should we fail to actively choose life, how heaven and earth are called to witness against us this very day. And it all starts with that statement that we standing, all of us, together before God.

In recent decades, and over the centuries, Jews have worked hard to read that masculine language more inclusively, so that women and men can see themselves as standing together before God. We’ve got a ways to go, especially in regard to including people whose gender is not so binary or who otherwise have felt excluded. And we have a much longer way to go than some of us would like to think when it comes to ensuring that we really see people with various skin colors, ethnic backgrounds, and other variousness as truly among all those who “are standing this day” together.

With this in mind, hasten to get your hands on Ariel Samson: Freelance Rabbi by MaNishtana.

It’s Not So Far Away

The author is “100% Black, 100% Jewish, and 0% safe,” an African-American Orthodox Jewish writer and rabbi who takes direct aim at issues of racial and religious identity. Ariel Samson: Freelance Rabbi is semi-autobiographical. The work is a compelling, very funny, and extremely sharp — in many senses of this word — fictional look at the ways in which our workplaces, neighborhoods, and Jewish communities fail by making assumptions and then sticking to them, all evidence to the contrary. See Publisher’s blurb below for a brief look at the story.

Although I have not yet finished the tale, I’m told that it, perhaps unsurprisingly, comes around eventually to touch on this week’s portion. I won’t spoil the ending for myself or other readers. Instead, I’ll take us back to the portion in my own way: MaNishtana is offering a tremendously generous gift by helping to open our eyes, as individuals and — as the book is discussed amongst us, I hope — as communities in an entertaining, clear way.

An important blessing is in front of you, and failing to take advantage of this fun and thought-provoking gift is a grave mistake…. yes, I know, it’s a novel, but it’s an opportunity to choose life for ourselves and our communities. So do that.

May we all be inscribed, together, for a better year.

ArielSamson_Rabbi

Publisher’s Blurb and Ordering Info

Ariel Samson is just your run of the mill anomaly: a 20-something black Orthodox Jewish rabbi looking for love, figuring out life, and floating between at least two worlds.

Luckily, it gets worse.

Finding himself the spiritual leader of a dying synagogue, and accidentally falling into viral internet fame, Ariel is suddenly catapulted into a series of increasingly ridiculous conflicts with belligerent college students, estranged families, corrupt politicians, hippophilic coworkers, vindictive clergymen, and even attempted murder. (And also Christian hegemony, racism, anti-Semitism, toxic Hotepism, and white Jewish privilege. Because today ends in “y.”)
— publisher’s blurb

Availability update: Book is now (as of 9/15/18) available at Barnes & Noble and appeared on Amazon in ebook or paperback the Friday before Rosh Hashana.

If you are in the DC area and interested in participating in bulk purchase, please contact me off-blog at ethreporter at gmail (dot) com. If you are somewhere else and interested in bulk orders, you can contact MaNishtana through his Facebook page.
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NOTES:
*Atem is masculine plural, and most of the possessives are masculine plural, with two masculine singular. The plurals could be understood to include all, as any men in the group turns a plural masculine; the singulars might be understood in the now thoroughly old-fashioned way in which we were once taught to use masculine for any undetermined person. However, it still seems unlikely that a group including women would be addressed about “your wives.”
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Say Uncle for the High Holidays

I found the poetry collection, Say Uncle by Kay Ryan, at my local library and thought two of the pieces useful for the season of returning and repentance:

“Failure 2”
There could be nutrients
in failure–
deep amendments
to the shallow soil
of wishes.
Think of the
dark and bitter
flavors of
black ales
and peasant loaves.
Think of licorices.
Think about
the tales of how
Indians put fishes
under corn plants.
Next time hope
relinquishes a form,
think about that.
— p.69

“Don’t look back”
This is not
a problem
for the neckless.
Fish cannot
recklessly
swivel their heads
to check
on their fry;
no one expects
this. They are
torpedoes of
disinterest,
compact capsules
that rely
on the odds
for survival,
unfollowed by
the exact and modest
number of goslings
the S-necked goose is –
who if she
looks back
acknowledges losses
and if she does not
also loses.
— pp. 32-33
Say Uncle. NY: Grove Press, 1991

Also of possible interest, as we prepare to begin anew in head the book of Genesis, “A Certain Kind of Eden.”

Here is general information about the poet and the Library of Congress resource page. The latter includes a video farewell reading program, from the conclusion of Kay Ryan’s term as poet laureate.

Finally, just because it tickled me — A previous reader of the library volume I borrowed had circled three phrases in red. Together they form a sort of meta-poem or mangled haiku:

elfin tailor

weakness and doubt
are symbionts

that’s water under
the bridge, we say

Maybe there’s a message for the new year in this odd mash-up of Kay Ryan lines.

May we all be inscribed for a good and sweet year to come.

The Well of Sight, Seeing, Seen

Ishmael, Isaac, and a Reunion of Cousins” raised questions about what it means for Isaac to settle at Beer Lahai Roi, the wellspring that is already home to Ishmael, after the brothers have buried their father, Abraham. The Shalom Center proposes bringing this story (Gen 25:7-11) into the Days of Awe to suggest “turning and healing” of the painful Torah passages read at Rosh Hashanah. And in the context of the high holidays, the wellspring’s history seems particularly powerful.

On the run from ill-treatment by Sarah, Hagar has a divine encounter in the wilderness. An angel finds her at a wellspring on the road and demands: Where have you come from and where are you going? (Gen 16:8). An essential question for individuals at the season of repentance and return. Also key for “renewing the cousinship” of Blacks and Jews, another relationship in need of “turning and healing.”

At the conclusion of Hagar’s wilderness encounter, we read:

וַתִּקְרָא שֵׁם-יְהוָה הַדֹּבֵר אֵלֶיהָ, אַתָּה אֵל רֳאִי: כִּי אָמְרָה, הֲגַם הֲלֹם רָאִיתִי–אַחֲרֵי רֹאִי
עַל-כֵּן קָרָא לַבְּאֵר, בְּאֵר לַחַי רֹאִי–הִנֵּה בֵין-קָדֵשׁ, וּבֵין בָּרֶד
And she called the LORD who spoke to her, “You Are El-roi,” by which she meant, “Have I not gone on seeing after God saw me!”
Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it is between Kadesh and Bered.—
— Gen 16:13-14

In her 1984 Texts of Terror, Phyllis Trible pointed out extraordinary aspects of this story, including the fact that Hagar names God — the only biblical character to do so (more here). And the name she uses has a lot to tell us.

El-roi” is translated in a variety of ways and sometimes, as in the 1985 JPS (above), not translated. But all the renderings revolve around sight: God of vision, God of my seeing, God who sees me. This, I think, points to one meaning of Isaac moving to this place: Reconciliation in unlikely if estranged parties cannot see and feel seen, so the brothers both settling in a place of seeing bodes well.

“Renewing the cousinship” of Blacks and Jews requires a lot of seeing. Coming to a place with a powerful history of seeing by/of oppressed and traumatized people could be a great beginning.

SeesMe_graphic