By the time we approach minchah on Yom Kippur afternoon, we have been through the month of Elul, Selichot prayers, Rosh Hashanah, and a substantial portion of the Day of Atonement. The role that the Book of Jonah plays at that point is one thing. But I’ve been wondering if it might not be of some use to reflect on Jonah’s travels earlier in the season as well.
Having recently read Yehuda Amichai’s brilliant and funny “Conferences, Conferences: Malignant Words, Benign Speech”* – in which one conference session explores, e.g., “ceramacists on the type of potsherd Job used to scratch himself” – I found myself imagining a similar conference on Jonah.
What began as silly free-association turned to slightly more serious exploration of some themes raised by the Book of Jonah. I thought sharing this BEFORE Yom Kippur afternoon, might be of some help.
Here, in the form of a “Conference Program” PDF, is the result of my musings. (Please note: the Creative Common license for this work has been updated.)
Offered with wishes for a good and sweet year!
Continue reading Traveling With Jonah: Pre-Yom Kippur Thoughts
Thoughts from Amy Brookman in response to “Pinchas and the scary friend”
Writing the word “shalom” with a broken vav beats the sword of Pinchas into a plowshare. Your commentary doesn’t stop there, but goes on beating it until it emerges as a musical instrument. In other words you made me think of this poem that refers to the book of Micah.
An Appendix to the Vision of Peace
Tosefet Lachazon Hashalom
Don’t stop after beating the swords
into plowshares, don’t stop! Go on beating
and make musical instruments out of them.
Whoever wants to make war again
will have to turn them into plowshares first.
– Yehuda Amichai
p. 777, Kol Haneshemah (Wyncote, PA: The Reconstructionist Press, 1996)
And the many nations shall go and shall say:
Come, Let us go up to the Mount of the LORD,
To the House of the God of Jacob;
That He may instruct us in His ways,
And that we may walk in His paths.
For instruction shall come forth from Zion,
The word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
Thus He will judge among the many peoples,
And arbitrate for the multitude of nations, however distant;
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares*
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall never again know war;
But every man shall sit
Under his grapevine or fig tree
With no one to disturb him.
For it was the LORD of Hosts who spoke. — Micah 4:2-4
*More exactly, the iron points with which wooden plows were tipped.
— footnote from JPS 1999 Hebrew-English Tanakh
The broken vav looks to me like iron points or plow tips.
Continue reading Pinchas’ Sword, Plowshares, and Musical Instruments
UPDATE April 15: See also Fabrangen’s Omer Blog for more on “full of water.”
Imagery of a pit [bor] appears over the years in the poetry of Yehuda Amichai. Frequently, as in the Joseph story (“the pit was empty, there was no water in it” [Gen. 37:24]), Amichai’s pits are without water. Toward the end of his life, however, he published a poem in which a mikveh — which can be understood as a sort of pit filled with water — plays a prominent role:
Then we came to a ritual bath in ruins….
…Speak O my soul, sing
O my soul to the God who is Himself part of the cycle
of praise and lament, curse and blessing.
Speak O my soul, sing O my soul, Change is God
and death is his prophet.
–Yehuda Amichai, stanza #10, “Jewish Travel: God is Change and Death is His Prophet” in Open Closed Open
Here, for Temple Micah’s study group and anyone else interested, are a few references for exploring this idea.
Continue reading Amichai: Change, God, Pit, and Mikveh
What went wrong at Babel, and how might the situation be redeemed? One answer, I think, is to be found in a whisper still reverberating from our shaky sukkot and the rustling of the lulav.
Continue reading “A Whisper Will Be Heard”: Babel, the Wake and Echoes of Sukkkot
…The past is not a piece of
jewelry sealed in a crystal box
nor is it a snake preserved
in a bottle of formaldehyde—
The past trembles within the present
when the present falls
into a pit the past goes
with it —
when the past looks
toward heaven all of life
is upraised, even the distant past.
–Zelda, from “That Strange Night” (full text, notes)
In a famous midrash, Joseph and his brothers return to Canaan to bury their father, and Joseph notices, by the side of the road, the pit where his brothers threw him decades before. Watching Joseph look into the pit, the brothers worry. They do not believe Joseph has forgiven their past deeds and continue to fear recriminations.
While the brothers in the midrash are fretting, however, Joseph recognizes the pit, despite its painful associations, as the source of all that happened to him later: his incarceration in Egypt, eventual rise to power, marriage and children; and, most importantly to the Genesis story, his ability to help his family when famine strikes their homeland.
Avivah Zornberg writes:
[Joseph] has gone to the trouble of returning to that place of his terror in order to bring closure to the old narrative. He makes the blessing for a personal miracle, claiming the site of his trauma as the site of redemption. By this act, he rereads the pit as a space of rebirth, transforming pain into hope. The grave has become a womb.
—The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious, p.319; Continue reading Past, Present and Future in Teshuvah: Amichai, Zelda and the Pit
When is “taking out the ash” as simple as clearing up the remains of a fire? As often, perhaps, as a cigar is just a cigar. And when — in musing on “musings,” or sins of the heart — does “Mah nishtanah?” simply mean “What’s changed?”
Musings: or Sins of the Heart
This is the ritual of the burnt offering: The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it. The priest shall dress in linen raiment, with linen breaches next to his body; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. — Leviticus/Vayikra 6:2-4
Scholars have long drawn lessons of derekh eretz [manners/ethics] from this passage: Dress appropriately to an occasion, including Shabbat, as a sign of respect, e.g.; change dirty clothes before serving food, (see Something to Notice). Those preparing for Passover often seize on the topic of “housekeeping” as a sacred task, linking it with the seasonal search for chametz. But less straightforward lessons have also been linked with taking out the ash.
The olah — burnt offering, totally consumed by fire — is not obviously linked with any sin. However, R. Simeon bar Yochai associated the olah with sinful thoughts (Vayikra Rabbah 7:3). Nachmanides (Ramban) saw inner or secret thoughts — hirhurim ha-lev [literally: speculations of the heart] — as a kind of first step toward active sinning. See A Torah Commentary for Our Times* for a discussion of this.
The passage above’s focus on a sacrifice which burned all night caused some teachers to link it particularly with inappropriate sexual passions, which might also “burn all night.” (Can’t find an English citation, but some cite the Hebrew Torah Shelemah Menahem Kasher.)
Avivah Zornberg, in her book The Murmuring Deep,* links the Akedah — which was to be a burnt sacrifice — with Abraham’s hirhurim, his “qualms.” (See also “Look Behind You.”)
Considering the link between the olah and hirhurim is one path to follow. Here’s another…
Continue reading Tzav: A Path to Follow
“…Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev…said to God, “Your tefillin have fallen.”
God’s “Back” and Inter-Jewish Outreach
Continue reading Ki Tisa: Great Source(s)
Here is poem #18 from the Hebrew edition of Yehuda Amichai’s “Gods Change, Prayers Are Here to Stay” IN Open Closed Open. (Thanks, Merv, for scanning it.) The English edition leaves this one out.
For complete citations of English and Hebrew editions and more on Temple Micah’s Hebrew Poetry study group, please see the Yehuda Amichai page.
In their great love my parents saved me from disappointment,
from pain and sorrow. Now I am left with their savings
plan the pain I would like to spare my children.
How all those savings have piled up on me!
The 20th Century Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai wrote a number of poems that clearly reference the Akedah [Binding of Isaac, Genesis/Breishit 22]. But I think this section of “My Parents’ Lodging Place” — from the collection, Open Closed Open — reaches the heart of the Akedah as well as anything he – or anyone else – has written about it… even if he didn’t plan it that way.
Continue reading “Look Behind You”: Akedah 5770