Torah Retold: And Your Child Will Ask

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when you observe this seven day festival
you must explain to your children
it is because of what the lord did for us
when we were set free from the land of egypt

your child will ask
did the lord free us from the land of egypt
only that we might conquer a land inhabited by others
the canaanites the hittites the amorites
the hivites and the jebusites

and your child will ask further
did the lord free us from the land of egypt
only that we might lash out at the world
with a mighty hand
or rather to reach out with an outstretched arm
to all who seek liberation

your child will ask still further
did we mark our doorposts on that dark night
only to cower from the angel of death
or rather to announce to the world
that god stands with the oppressed and
that we have nothing to fear and nothing to hide
all who are hungry please
come and eat

(Parashat Bo, Exodus 12-13)

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Torah Retold: Promise of True Liberation

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now i have heard the cry
of the israelites enslaved in egypt
you must go back and tell them
i have not forgotten my promise
i have been waiting
for precisely this moment
to liberate them
from their oppression

when you return
tell pharaoh i will strike him down
and lay waste to the land
soon all of egypt will know
who is the greater master
over heaven and earth

then you must tell the israelites
i will take them away from pharaoh
so that they may serve a new taskmaster
i will bring them into the wilderness
to possess as my very own

and as the titans clashed
and the rivers gushed with blood
the cries of the oppressed rose higher still
to the place where the promise
of true liberation
still patiently waited to unfold

(Parashat Vaera, Exodus 6:2-9)


Torah Retold: Which Voice Shall I Heed?

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venturing beyond the wilderness
he came to the mountain and
saw the sounds bursting from the flames
a blazing fire that burned insatiably
but was not consumed
voices calling to him over and
over again until he finally
opened his eyes and cried out
hineini here i am

one voice said i am the god of history
another said i am the one that is ever yet to be
another said i will keep you safe another said
i will teach you how to fear

another said i cannot bear the pain
of so many oppressed
will you free me from this suffering
another said go to them and tell them
they’ve got a new master now.

another said won’t you bring
my message of liberation to all
who are oppressed another said
you will never be free until you destroy
the people of the land i am giving you
as your inheritance

he asked which voice shall i heed and
which voice shall i say has sent me
but now there was only silence
as the fire lept higher and higher
sparks flying and twisting endlessly
then finally disappearing
into the dark night

(Parashat Shemot, Exodus 3:1-13)


psalm 88: one of these nights

just like they say:
it’s always worse at night.
the shadows lengthen
and once again the dread slowly starts
its nighttime creep.

it’s really quite the routine,
this nocturnal dance of mine
so go ahead, enjoy the show –
i’m sure it must amuse you
the way i thrash through the night,
sheets coiling tighter and tighter
around my throat like
some demented night serpent
faithfully returning every night
to feed on my fears.

one of these nights though
when you least expect it,
the joke will be on you
that’s right i know you’re there
do you really think i can’t see you
lurking offstage in the shadows,
enjoying the nightly entertainment?

oh yes, my latest act
is opening soon and
i just can’t wait to see
the startled confusion on your face
when i finally stop struggling,
spread open my hands,
and sing psalms of praise to you:

the one who hides
in the darkness.


psalm 87: the spaces above

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lifting my eyes skyward,
squinting into the sun,
i almost catch a glimpse of you
dancing across the mountains peaks,
gliding like a flock of birds
winging impossibly high
above the valley.

now i lower my gaze
and the air around me grows leaden;
the sky darkens,
i can almost feel you crashing
back down to earth.

that’s the thing about these
so-called sacred mountains:
they have this way
of drawing our souls
down to the ground
even as they secretly yearn
to soar.

can you show me
how to see beyond?
can you help me to loosen my
idolatrous grip upon your land
that i make truly see
your dwelling place?

can you teach me once and for all
that these peaks point upward
so I might somehow be guided
into the spaces above?


psalm 86: heart of my longing

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i’m not calling out to you any more.
no more simplistic, needy prayers.
no more pleading to you for rescue
on my day of trouble.

they say there’s none like you
but i’m starting to realize
that you’re all created
more or less the same:
jealous, imperious, possessive
and come to think of it,
pretty needy in your own right.

for so long i’ve sent out my yearning,
for too long i’ve fixated on you
and your boundless largesse,
never stopping to consider
you might really just be
a reflection of my own
inner impoverishment.

so as of now you’re off the hook.
i’m going over your head.
i’m daring to imagine
a boundless source of beneficence
yes, even beyond your own.

no expectations, no desire to fill
this bottomless well of need.
i’m sending my prayer straight into
the heart of my longing,
beyond hope, beyond desire,
for isn’t this the place
where all prayers are truly
and finally answered?


psalm 85: land lord

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we used to believe all the sorrows
visited for so long upon this land
were just a sign of your
angry, vengeful nature –
that you were visiting
your fierce disappointment
upon generation after generation
of unruly, ungrateful children.

maybe that’s been our problem
all along;
that we’ve been making
this all about you:

projecting our deepest fear and loathing,
onto some petulant, omnipotent
land lord
that we might somehow avoid the truth
of our own dark wrath.

how could we have known
that the terrifying voice
we heard roaring down
from the mountain
wasn’t yours at all?

how could we have possibly missed
that one fleeting moment
when truth and justice kissed,
then vanished into the
cold night air?