Two related poems

Here are two of my poems, one with a pitcher and one with a vase:


I am the pitcher
You are the water
I am drinking

I am water
I am nothing
More than water




In praise of the opening,
the turning,
the facing.

A vase
and water stands

Without a face,
you faced me,
stringing the space
between faces:

My translation of Sahaki by Shaul Tchernichovsky:

Laugh, laugh about the dreams
I, the dreamer, lay in view.
Laugh that I believe in humanity,
that I still believe in you.

That my soul still yearns for freedom,
I’ve not sold it for a calf of gold.
That in humanity I still believe –
the human spirit, a spirit bold!

That spirit will cast off senseless shackles,
and raise us up to highest heights.
The worker will not die of hunger:
Bread and freedom – each soul’s right.

Laugh that I believe in friendship,
I believe I’ll find a heart again-
a heart whose hopes are also my hopes,
that feels joy and also pain.

I believe, still, in the future,
Though it’s far off, nonetheless
It will come and then each nation
every nation with peace will bless.

My nation then will blossom, too
and our land will see the sight:
A generation with no shackles,
eye-to-eye they’ll see the light.

Living, loving, working, making,
a generation truly alive;
not in the future, not in heaven –
spirit-life will not suffice.

Then a poet will sing a new song,
whose heart to beauty will be awake.
For that young man, from o’er my grave
let them pick flowers for a bouquet.


Hakkafot for Hoshana Rabba

Here’s a piyyut for Hoshana Rabba (the 7th day of Sukkot) based on a series of piyuttim I found in a Yemenite Siddur.

הוֹשַׁעְנָא hoshana
[save us!]

God who is One and whose name is One
in memory of Abraham who was the one and only Jew
You who uttered “keep” and “remember” in one utterance
So your world may be one

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל, יְיָ אֶלֹהֵֽינוּ, יְיָ אֶחָד

2nd hakafah
הוֹשַׁעְנָא hoshana
[save us!]

God who gave us two tablets of covenant
who created two people, male and female, in your image
who caused two nations to be descended from Abraham
whose heaven and earth are two witnesses to remind us

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל, יְיָ אֶלֹהֵֽינוּ, יְיָ אֶחָד

3rd hakafah
הוֹשַׁעְנָא hoshana
[save us!]

God whom the angels proclaim three times holy
whom we proclaim three times holy
for the three fathers of our people
for Torah, Prophets, and Writing, the three parts of Tanah

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל, יְיָ אֶלֹהֵֽינוּ, יְיָ אֶחָד

4th hakafah
הוֹשַׁעְנָא hoshana
[save us!]

for the four letters of your name
for the four seasons of the year
in memory of the four mothers of our people
You whom we praise with four species on Sukkot

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל, יְיָ אֶלֹהֵֽינוּ, יְיָ אֶחָד
5th hakafah
הוֹשַׁעְנָא hoshana
[save us!]

for the five books of the Torah
for the five scrolls of the Writings
for the five names of the soul (nefesh, ruah, n’shamah, y’hidah, hayah)
for the five angels who appeared to Hagar

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל, יְיָ אֶלֹהֵֽינוּ, יְיָ אֶחָד

6th hakafah
הוֹשַׁעְנָא hoshana
[save us!]

You who gave us six days of creation
and places us in the middle of six directions
whose seraphim have six wings
for the six Orders of the Mishnah

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל, יְיָ אֶלֹהֵֽינוּ, יְיָ אֶחָד

7th hakafah
הוֹשַׁעְנָא hoshana
[save us!]

You to whom the seventh day is consecrated
on the seventh day of Sukkot
in memory of the Abraham’s peace treaty of seven sheep
in memory of Joseph who saw seven years of plenty

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל, יְיָ אֶלֹהֵֽינוּ, יְיָ אֶחָד

My Recollection of Revelation
Rabbi Jeremy Schwartz

When it was time for the Jewish people to receive the Torah, Moses led them out to Mount Sinai, and had them stand all around the mountain as he climbed the mountain. The mountain and the sky above was filled with fog and smoke, so that the people couldn’t see a thing. It was dark and no Torah came. The people looked around and saw that in the circle around Mount Sinai, there was an empty space. In fact, there were two empty spaces. Someone was missing. I don’t know who it was. Maybe it was a grandmother who had stayed behind to change a diaper, and wasn’t sure that it was appropriate to go directly from that to the Revelation of God’s Torah, and so was nervously hanging back a bit. Well, Moses came down and found that grandmother, or whomever it was, and brought her to her place in the circle. And Moses stood next to her. Now, when they took their spots in the circle, suddenly, as if someone had plugged in the plug at an amusement park, the whole mountain lit up and, indeed, it lifted into the air above their heads, as it is written “they stood beneath the mountain – vayityatsvu betakhtit hahar.” The fog and smoke filled the space under the mountain as well, but as they began to look around and see each others’ faces, they also noticed that the fog was beginning to condense and clarify. They saw that it was condensing and clarifying into letters. A great rolling mist of letters. And they saw the letters of Torah, of Talmud, they saw the letters of midrash and of Maimonides and of the Jewish poets of medieval Spain. They saw the letters of the words we, here, speak on a Shabbat morning in discussing the verses of the Torah…. For it is written, “the entire people saw the voices – vekhol ha’am ro’im et hakolot.” And as the people watched, this great tumble and mist of letters, of voices, rose up from under the mountain and ascended up to heaven. And out of the rising letters came a new Voice. It was a Voice that was at once booming and terrifying, but also, miraculously, as comforting as the voice of the person you love, as quiet as your own thoughts. And the Voice spoke these words, “I am the Eternal, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, ….” And the people heard God speak the ten words, the ten commandments, through to their last word, “lere’ekha – to your neighbor.”


Targum Yonatan Exodus 19:12

ותתחם ית עמא ויקומון חזור חזור לטורא ….
Make the People a border and let them stand all around the mountain….

Midrash Bereshit Rabbah. Genesis 70:8-9 (Parashat Vayetse)

[Commenting on Genesis 29:1-3:
א וַיִּשָּׂא יַעֲקֹב רַגְלָיו וַיֵּלֶךְ אַרְצָה בְנֵי-קֶדֶם: ב וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה בְאֵר בַּשָּׂדֶה וְהִנֵּה-שָׁם שְׁלשָׁה עֶדְרֵי-צֹאן רֹבְצִים עָלֶיהָ כִּי מִן-הַבְּאֵר הַהִוא יַשְׁקוּ הָעֲדָרִים וְהָאֶבֶן גְּדֹלָה עַל-פִּי הַבְּאֵר: ג וְנֶאֶסְפוּ-שָׁמָּה כָל-הָעֲדָרִים וְגָלֲלוּ אֶת-הָאֶבֶן מֵעַל פִּי הַבְּאֵר וְהִשְׁקוּ אֶת-הַצֹּאן וְהֵשִׁיבוּ אֶת-הָאֶבֶן עַל-פִּי הַבְּאֵר לִמְקֹמָהּ:
Jacob lifted up his legs and went to the land of the people of the east. And he saw and lo a well in the field and lo three flocks of sheep crouching by it, for out of that well they would water the flocks, but the stone was large on the mouth of the well. And all the flocks gathered there, and they rolled the stone from the mouth of the well, and watered the sheep, and returned the stone to the mouth of the well, to its place.]

ד”א וירא והנה באר בשדה, זה בית הכנסת, והנה שם שלשה עדרי צאן, אלו שלשה קרואים, כי מן הבאר וגו’, שמשם היו שומעים את התורה, והאבן גדולה, זה יצר הרע, ונאספו שמה כל העדרים, זה הצבור, וגללו את האבן, שמשם היו שומעין את התורה, והשיבו את האבן וגו’, שכיון שהם יוצאים להם יצר הרע חוזר למקומו.
Another thing: “He saw and lo a well in the field”: This is the synagogue. “And lo there were three flocks of sheep there”: These are the three called [to the Torah]. “For out of that well, etc.”: for from there they would hear the Torah. “But the stone was large”: This is the yetser hara. “And all the flocks gathered there”: This is the community. “And they rolled the stone”: for from there they would hear the Torah. “And returned the stone, etc.”: for as soon as they leave, the yetser hara returns to its place.

ט ר’ יוחנן פתר לה בסיני, וירא והנה באר זה סיני, והנה שם שלשה, כהנים לוים וישראלים, כי מן הבאר ההיא, שמשם שמעו עשרת הדברות, והאבן גדולה זו שכינה, ונאספו שמה כל העדרים, ר’ שמעון בן יהודה איש כפר עכו אמר משום ר’ שמואל שאילו היו ישראל חסרים עוד אחד לא היו מקבלים את התורה, וגללו את האבן, שמשם היו שומעים את הקול ושמעו עשרת הדברות, והשיבו את האבן )שמות כ( אתם ראיתם כי מן השמים דברתי וגו’.
9. Rabbi Yohanan interpreted it as being about Sinai. “He saw and lo a well”: This is Sinai. “And lo there were three”: Kohanim, Levites and Israelites. “For out of that well”: for from there they heard the Ten Utterances. “But the stone was large”: This is Shechinah, the Divine Presence. “And all the flocks gathered there”: Rabbi Shim’on ben Yehudah, a man from the village of Acco, said in the name of Rabbi Shmuel: If Israel had been missing even a single person, they wouldn’t have received the Torah. “And they rolled the stone”: for from there they would hear the Voice and they heard the Ten Utterances. “And returned the stone”: “You saw that I spoke out of the heavens, etc.” (Exodus 20:19)

Similarly, Mekhilta on Exodus 19:11 (see above):
לעיני כל העם מלמד שאם היו חסרים עד אחד אינו כדאי לקבל.
“In the sight of the entire People” teaches that if there were missing even one, it would not have sufficed to receive [the Torah].

Talmud Bavli Berahot 30a
(on prayer)
עומד במזרח ־ מחזיר פניו למערב, במערב ־ מחזיר פניו למזרח, בדרום ־ מחזיר פניו לצפון, בצפון ־ מחזיר פניו לדרוםֹ נמצאו כל ישראל מכוונין את לבם למקום אחד
In the east, turn your face to the west; in the west, turn your face to the east; in the south, turn your face to the north; in the north, turn your face to the south. So you find all Israel to be directing their hearts to one place — one Maqom

Martin Buber. I and Thou.(Beginning of part 3)
The extended lines of relation meet in the eternal Thou.

Kli Yakar (R. Ephraim of Luntschitz, 1550-1619) on Exodus 20:15

… כל דבור ודבור שיצא מפי הקב”ה, מיד נתגשם אותו דבור והיה בו כל כך ממשות עד שהיו רואין באויר כל האותיות פורחות וכאילו היה הכל כתוב לפניהם, וראיה לזה ממה שנאמר (תהלים לג ו) בדבר ה’ שמים נעשו וגו. הרי שכל דבור שיוצא מפי הקב”ה בורא בריאה חדשה ….
Each and every utterance that came out of the Holy Blessed One’s mouth, that utterance immediately became concretized and was so very real that they saw all the letters flying in the air, and it was as if it was all written in front of them. And the proof of this is what is said (Psalms 33:6) “By the utterance of the ETERNAL the heavens were made,” etc. Indeed every utterance that proceeds from the Holy Blessed One’s mouth creates a new creation.

Midrash Sh’mot Rabbah 47:1
בשעה שנגלה הקב”ה בסיני ליתן תורה לישראל אמרה למשה על הסדר מקרא ומשנה תלמוד ואגדה, שנאמר (שמות כ) וידבר אלהים את כל הדברים האלה, אפילו מה שהתלמיד שואל לרב אמר הקב”ה למשה באותה שעה
At the time that the Holy Blessed One was revealed at Sinai, to give Torah to Israel, God communicated it to Mosheh in order: Scripture, Mishnah, Talmud, and Aggadah, as it is said (Exodus 20:1): “God spoke all these utterances.” Even what the student asks the teacher, the Holy Blessed One communicated to Mosheh at that time.

Talmud Shabbat 88a.

ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר, אמר רב אבדימי בר חמא בר חסא: מלמד שכפה הקדוש ברוך הוא עליהם את ההר כגיגית, ואמר להם: אם אתם מקבלים התורה ־ מוטב, ואם לאו ־ שם תהא קבורתכם.
“They stood at the bottom of the mount”: Rav Avdimi bar Hama bar Hasa said, “It teaches that the Holy Blessed One made the mountain a domed roof over them and said to them, ‘If you accept the Torah, – good; but if not, there will be your grave.”

Targum Yonatan to Shmot 19:17
ואנפיק משה ית עמא לקדמות דיי מן משריתא ומן יד תליש מארי עלמא ית טוורא וזקפיה באוירא והוה זייג הי כאספקלריא ואתעתדו תחותי טוורא.
Mosheh brought the People out of the camp towards [or: to meet] the Eternal and immediately the Master of the Universe plucked up the mountain and stood it in the air and it was clear as glass and they stood under the mountain.

Shmot Rabbah 5:9

בוא וראה היאך הקול יוצא, אצל כל ישראל כל אחד ואחד לפי כחו, הזקנים לפי כחן, הבחורים לפי כחן, והקטנים לפי כחן, והיונקים לפי כחן, והנשים לפי כחן, ואף משה לפי כחו, שנאמר (שמות יט) משה ידבר והאלהים יעננו בקול, בקול שהיה יכול לסובלו
Come see how the Voice goes out, with all Israel each according to his [/her] power: the elders according to their power, the young men according to their power, the little ones according to their power, the sucklings according to their power and the women according to their power, and even Moses according to his power, as it is said (Exodus 19) “Mosheh would speak, and God would answer with a voice” – with a voice that he was able to bear.

Bemidbar Rabbah 14:3

כתיב (שמות יט) משה ידבר והאלהים יעננו בקול האלהים ידבר ומשה יעננו בקול אין כתיב כאן אלא משה ידבר והאלהים יעננו בקול בקולו של משה היה מדבר עמו
It is written “Mosheh would speak, and God would answer with a voice.” It doesn’t say “God would speak and Mosheh would answer with a voice,” but “Mosheh would speak, and God would answer with a voice” – with Mosheh’s voice God spoke with him.

Counting the Omer

The seven week period starting with the second day of Passover can be an excellent season for a spiritual/personal check-up. Beginning on the second night of Passover, we say the brachah and count the days and weeks of the omer. Each of these weeks is associated with one of the divine/human attributes (humans are, after all, created in the divine image) known as “sefirot.” You can take some time each week to remind yourself to look for the divine in your life within the theme of that sefirah or check in with yourself how well you are reflecting the divine within that theme. The kabbalist belief is that working through the seven stages creates a channel for the divine to flood into our lives, culminating in the Revelation at Sinai, which we receive each year on Shavuot morning.
May the divine flow into each of your lives!

Week 1
Hesed חסד

Be generous with your self and your possessions.. Give without thought of reward. Give others the benefit of the doubt.

Week 2
G’vurah גבורה

Also called – “Din – Judgement.” The setting of limits. Cause-and-Effect. Necessary to hold life, to give it the shape it needs, but also sometimes painful, dangerous. Death and evil are usually seen as stemming from G’vurah

Self-discipline. Doing and expecting justice in the world. Sometimes righteous anger is necessary. Also equanimity, understanding the Godly necessity of Din. .

Week 3
Tiferet תפארת
Splendor/Beautiful Balance

The balance of Mercy and Judgement without which the world could not endure. Synthesis.

Seek balance. The middle path. Also: hiddur mitzvah – doing every mitzvah (even every deed) as well and beautifully as you can.

Week 4
Netsah נצח

Also associated with Moses and prophecy.

Honor that which is of enduring value, so that you may endure. Listen for God’s word.

Week 5
Hod הוד

Also associated with Aaron and Worship

Cultivate your sense of awe. Give God your words.

Week 6
Y’sod / B’rit יסוד / ברית
Foundation / Covenant

Also called “Tsadik – Righteous One”. Associated with (pro)creativity. The channel of blessing into the world. The Pillar upon which the world stands.

Know the power of good deeds and righteousness to make blessings flow. Try to be a conduit for blessing. Be firm. Be creative.

Week 7
Malhut/Sh’hinah מלכות/ שכינה

The divine presence in this world. “When they have troubles, She does not move from them; When they have joy, She does not move from them.”

Try to be aware of everyday miracles. What everyday miracles can you facilitate? Know the power of the gift of your presence. Be in solidarity with others.

a few lines translated from Eliraz’ “Habet” – “Look!”

I remember “know before whom you

a painting testifies not to awaken a memory (as does a photo)
but to say, know that before this i stand, and you,
the viewer, know before whom you stand. those two testimonies
– the artist’s and the viewer’s – cross, and at the point of intersection,
the spark is ignited

know before whom you become you

Finally submitted!

I’m thrilled that I submitted my first full book manuscript to a publisher today! My translation of “The Incredible Simply Is” (הלא ייאמן פשוט ישנו) by Israel Eliraz. Getting publishers to take a book of translated poetry is a bit iffy, but Eliraz is a serious award-winning poet, his translations into French have won him honors in France, and I’ve been getting good feedback on my translation. So here’s hoping! And anyway, the process has started, which makes me happy.

Maybe there isn’t anything
the what

Not understanding, not
self-negation, not desire