According to an order from the most high
the first day of the month shall be a sacred occasion
when the shofar is sounded the gates will be sealed
and all roads will be closed to you.
You shall not you leave your homes
nor work at your occupations.
lest you and your kin be put to death.
Like fires lit on ancient mountaintops
the announcement spread throughout the land;
when the new moon came the wall was locked tight
so the people could gather in their houses of prayer
to greet another new year.
And the Chazan sang:
As a shepherd numbering his flocks
passing his sheep under his staff
thus I count you off one by one,
marking your every move, noting your every thought
writing you down in my Book of Life
that I may decree
who shall live and who shall die.
Day after day they sent out
fearful prayers into the dark dread
of a year they did not yet know,
desperately hoping their lives would be spared
by the merciful judge on high.
For today it is written
and in ten days it will be sealed
who will be taken in the dead of night
and who shall sleep until morning
who will die and who will be born
into this cruel and pitiless world
When the festival came to an end
the great shofar was sounded
and a still small voice was heard:
The gates of heaven are sealed;
they do will open to your prayers.
After Exodus 15:1-18
As the waters parted before them
they sang their songs of praise:
Some sang to the one who
shattered Pharaoh’s army
with a mighty right hand,
some sang to the god of their ancestors
who remained faithful to them
and them alone.
Others sang to the one
who redeems the oppressed
so that the world may know of his might:
who is like you god of war,
consuming the enemy like straw
incinerated with one awesome
mighty blast from on high?
Some sang a hymn of praise
to the god of vengeance
who shamed the Egyptians
hurling them all like stones
into the heart of the churning sea;
still others sang out with hope
that the peoples of the land
would now melt away
as god’s people went forth
to dispossess them.
As they marched on
their voices joined into one feverish song;
a tuneless wordless howl
echoing on through the depths
never to rise to the source
of their liberation.
A new rendering of Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7 (Prophetic reading for the Sabbath of Hanukkah)
Let loose your joy for
your prayers have
already been answered;
even in your exile
the one you seek has been
dwelling in your midst
Quiet your raging soul
and you will come to learn:
every nation is my nation
all peoples my chosen
anywhere you choose to live
will be your Holy Land,
your Zion, your Jerusalem.
Open your eyes and
look across the valley
look at this ruined land
seized and possessed
throughout the ages.
Look upon your
so-called city of peace
a place that knows
at your hand.
Turn your gaze to the heavens
and there you will find
the Jerusalem that you seek:
a city that can never be conquered,
only dreamed of, yearned for, strived for;
a Temple on high that can never be destroyed.
No more need for priestly vestments
or plots to overrun that godforsaken mount –
just walk in my ways
and you will find your way there:
a sacred pilgrimage to the Temple
in any land you call home.
Enter the gates to
this holiest of holy places,
lift up its fallen walls,
relight the branches of the lamp
so that my house will truly
become a sanctuary
for all people.
Yes, this is how you will
restore the Temple:
not by might, not by power
but by the spirit
you share with every
living, breathing soul.
Blessed is evening’s fall,
the heaven’s transformation,
the ever-changing seasons.
Blessed is the imperceptible movement
of one moment into the next,
notes in a seamless melody
you compose for us
Blessed is the light that bursts
forth gloriously out of the darkness,
showering us in the warmth of the day
we know must inevitably arrive.
Blessed is the darkness
that swaddles and bathes us
in your dark beauty,
comforting us with the sweet promise
of liberation at long last.
Blessed is evening’s fall.
you’ve been my refuge,
or so i’ve been told since
the day i first learned how to sing
those rapturous hymns
to my stronghold, my fortress,
you may have noticed
i don’t sing those songs any more
or maybe you haven’t,
maybe the cacophony of all
these desperate hosannas
are just background noise to you –
a faint and constant buzzing
in the halls of your mansions on high.
oh yes, you’ve been my refuge.
or maybe more accurately my escape,
my pretense, my excuse.
looking back i think the moment
my song began to falter
was the moment
i came to question the purpose
of your so-called fortress:
did you build it to keep me safe
or merely complacent?
to teach me your ways
or to keep me in line?
to shelter me from the storm
or protect me from the sorrows
that inevitably lay beyond?
Stop for just this moment
the roads you are traveling
will not lead you to my kingdom.
You journey so proudly
through this barren land
and I can abide it
Your false piety
has become unbearable to me.
You look up to the skies,
you say all the right prayers
yet somehow you cannot see
that the world is coming apart
all around you.
You look for me endlessly,
you ask me to show you the way;
how can you be so eager to know me
yet so unwilling to see my face
in the one who is standing
right next to you?
You fast on this holy day of yours
while children go hungry in your own city
and families line up for bags of grain.
You pray for your martyrs,
you recite Yizkor and Kaddish
then sell handguns and Apache helicopters,
and profit from the blood they spill.
You call for inclusion and compassion
while you build a system of racism
and oppression that grows
You march for peace
but refuse to see the difference
between the hollow peace
of domination and control
and the true peace
of justice for all.
You advocate for human rights
in far off lands
and yet you lock up and shoot down
black and brown bodies
in your own backyard.
You chant from your holy texts:
“do not oppress because
we were once oppressed”
while you occupy another people.
You wield your legacy of victimhood
like a weapon
as you expel and expropriate,
build checkpoints and demolish homes.
You preach of freedom
and yet you treat the world
as your personal fiefdom.
you topple governments of nations
that refuse to serve your interests,
prop up tyrannical regimes
to ensure your hegemony.
Your fast today is meaningless to me.
Do you really think this is the fast I desire:
to forgo food for one day
to intone the same prayers
to confess the same sins
year after year?
Do you believe such a fast,
will make a difference?
No, this is the fast I desire,
dismantle your systems of oppression
open wide your prisons,
tear down your separation walls,
destroy your weapons of death
let justice rule in your streets.
Open wide the vaults and
share your abundant wealth so that
all are fed and clothed and sheltered.
Bring in the immigrants,
let the refugees return home
at long last.
These are the sacred sacrifices
I have been asking of you all along.
Do you think you are up to the task?
Will you offer them to me?
Will you let go of your old ways,
your hollow meaningless rituals
and find the courage to worship
with offerings that I truly require?
Are you ready to spread my healing
across this broken bleeding world,
to stop looking forward and behind,
and venture into the dark places
you would never dare to tread,
only to realize that you have been
dwelling there all along?
Do you have the strength to say
to the ones whom you find there:
here I am, here I am,
here I am.
These sacrifices you offer up to me
cannot possibly be sustained.
Your well will run dry,
the source of your very lives
will be depleted and soon
you will have nothing left to give.
So let these wells dry up,
seek out the springs that give forth
life giving waters without end.
Restore the foundations of my world
Tear down the walls you have built,
Rebuild the homes you have destroyed
Erase the borders that you have drawn.
Open your sidewalks and pathways,
your roads and highways,
clear the way for all
to find their way without fear
and you will discover a place
you never dreamed could
ever possibly exist:
the place where the low is brought high
and the high is brought low:
the kingdom of heaven
that dwells right here
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)