the second day of creation

then dark waters gushed forth
across the face of the deep god
drove back their raging and
destroyed the great sea monsters
leaving their remains to feed
the creatures that
scavenge the bottoms of
of the deep the tempest now
exploding god wrestled
the waters of chaos behind
the floodgates of the
heavens saying you may come
this far and no farther
here your surging
waves will

god looked at the expanse
that separated the waters
below from the waters above
and called the expanse
and there was evening
and there was morning
a second day

(Genesis 1:6-8, Psalm 74:13-14, Job 38:8-11)

the death of moses

the night before he died he
dreamed he was floating in the
water like a freshly fallen
leaf whirling further and
further downstream just
before he went under
the daughter of his executioner
drew him out of the water
and cradled him in
her arms
turning to his savior he
wondered could this
be the face
of god?

the next day as he gazed into
the eyes of his beloved
his soul was reclaimed
with a kiss and
the one whose
name means taken
from the water

(Deuteronomy 34)

face to face

“Death of Moses” by Alexandre Cabanel

on that day the lord said to
moses take your final
journey ascend to the top
of mt nebo and i will show you
the land from above
do you see how it
fulfills my promise do you
see how its light flows
and dances like
milk and honey do not
grieve moses do not be
frightened for now you will
finally greet me face to face
the moment for which you’ve
yearned now turn and gaze
into the eyes of
your beloved

(Deuteronomy 32:48-52)

Wrestling Our Way Home: A Sermon for Erev Yom Kippur 5773

From my Erev Yom Kippur sermon last Tuesday:

I’ve often thought that there’s (a different Torah portion) that is just as appropriate – perhaps even more appropriate – for Yom Kippur.  I’m referring to the famous episode in the 32nd and 33rdchapters of Genesis, when Jacob wrestles on a riverbank with a mysterious stranger the night before he meets up with his estranged twin brother Esau.

Anyone who’s read or studied this text will attest that it’s a phenomenal story with deliciously rich spiritual symbolism.  Indeed, I often find myself returning to this portion for its insights on forgiveness, reconciliation and personal transformation.  All of which, of course, are central themes to the Yom Kippur holiday.

So on this Yom Kippur eve, please allow me to submit this story as an alternative Torah portion for your spiritual consideration. I hope its lessons will help us all engage more deeply in the spiritual work that lays ahead this coming new year.

Click below to read the entire sermon:

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bitter fruit

the lord said to moses soon you
must die and my children will
cross over the river
a generation that did not know
slavery and liberation
who has known only wandering and
who do not know this land
cannot fulfill its promise
that their struggle
will never be complete
therefore write down this song and
teach it to them put it
in their mouths so that when
the season turns and
they harvest bitter fruit
the taste of milk and
honey will not be
far from their

(Deuteronomy 31:14-21)

know with whom you stand

“Crowd at Coney Island” Weegee, 1940

you stand here this day all of
you before me your tribal heads
your elders your officials your wives your
husbands your children your friends
enemies jewish christian muslim hindu
buddhist taoist jain believers
doubters deniers blessed cursed
wounded wandering howling breaking
into song crying out in pain seeking
finding losing winning falling all
who know the struggle all who limp
their way into the water all of
you stand together on this day to
enter into a covenant
with the lord
your god

(Deuteronomy 29:9-14)

promised land

beware lest you hold onto the land
so tightly that it hardens and
you find you are worshiping an idol
of stone
then you must go forth and
wander among the peoples
of the earth
make your way from one end
of the universe to the other
maybe then will understand
no matter where your footsteps may lead
wherever your eyes may seek me
wherever your spirit pines for me
there you will find
your promised

(Deuteronomy 28:58-68)

the wayward and defiant son

if you have a wayward and defiant son who
does not heed or obey
take hold of him and bring him out to the
town elders and say to them
our son is disloyal and disobedient
thereupon they will tear down your darkest
desires your illusions of power your
desperate fantasy of control
thus will you sweep out the fears you’ve
wielded like weapons against
your child before he
was ever even

(Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

battle ready

when you see your enemies in
the dark of night when you
close your eyes and see their
horses and chariots at every
turn you must do battle
with your fears let not your
courage falter
face down your panic and
for it is the lord
your god that struggles with
you be strong and never forget
this is only the way
you can do the work
of peace

(Deuteronomy 20:1-4)