Songs at the Sea

waters

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.

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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)


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)


jacob at the well of souls

Photo by Bart Bernardes

as soon as jacob rolled the stone
away it all came bursting forth like
the waters of a long forgotten spring he
he told her of his sorrow and
his fear his shame and
regret all the dreams
he dared not recall
in the light of day

when rachel took him to her father’s
house laban ran out and embraced him
jacob told him of his journey laban
smiled and tightened his grip
my god you’ve got your mother’s eyes
then leading him into his house he added
i believe the two of us
are going to get
along just
fine

(Genesis 29:1-14)


separation

when he felt himself being
separated he held fast to
his twin gripping tighter the
pressure slowly tearing them
apart with growing
terror he realized the presence
of a force much more powerful was
upending this exquisite balance
he heard a far off voice pleading
but if so then why do
i exist?

when he felt him pulling
away he reached out
but could only grab hold of
his heel that’s
how they came into
the world esau
howling in the blinding
light and jacob whose
name means the one
who refused
to let go

(Genesis 25: 2-26)


unveiled


ever since his mother
died it always ended the
same way as the
the knife descended
the veil fell away
but he could never
identify his executioner
the moment the blade
pierced skin he would
wake up screaming
now here he sits in his
father’s field watching the sun
slowly bleed away
looking up he sees a
veiled figure standing
before him
she lifts her veil
and swaddles him
his pain now bound
up in the softness
of the spreading
night sky

(Genesis 24:62-67)