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

Traveling With Jonah: Pre-Yom Kippur Thoughts

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!
Traveling_with_Jonah
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High Priest’s Prayer for Those on Fault-Lines

As the ancient Jewish community added a prayer on Yom Kippur for those in an especially vulnerable spot, let us consider doing the same:

May this year that is coming be one of abundance, building, compromise, dialogue, respect and understanding, a year in which all realize their interdependence and work together for the common good.

And concerning the inhabitants of Washington, DC: May it be Your will, Adonai, our God and God of our ancestors, that they find common ground on which to safely build in the days to come, so that the fault-lines of race and class do not become their demise.*


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You Will Gather Me In: Fall Holiday Prayer Link

Psalm 27 is filled with foes and fear, betrayal and destruction. Many teachers suggest that the foes are (also) within us, as we struggle with the work of teshuvah [repentance, return] in the days leading up to Yom Kippur. This is the perspective of Joseph Rosenstein, translator of Siddur Eit Ratzon,* who has wars raging “around me, and within me” in verse 3 and turmoil “around and within me” in verse 11.

Psalm 27 is also full of comfort, particularly shelter: “Adonai is the strength of my life” (27:1), despite raging wars “You are with me” (27:3), God offers a “sukkah [shelter] during terrible times,” a tent for hiding from disaster (27:5), and “will always gather me in” (27:10). While God may provide shelter for the lost and frightened, however, the real lesson of Psalm 27 seems to be that we have to learn to ask for directions.

A powerful plea for permanent shelter — “only one thing I ask…to dwell in the house of Adonai all the days of my life” (27:4) — is answered with the promise of perpetual instruction (27:10-11):

Though my father and mother will leave me [ki avi v’immi azavuni]
You will always gather me in [v’Adonai yaasfeini]

Teach me Your way, Adonai [horeini YHVH darkhekha]
guide me to walk straight on Your path, [u’n’cheini b’orach mi-shor]
despite all the turmoil, around and within me [l’maan shor’rai].

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