The Laziness of Lovers

קוֹל דּוֹדִי דוֹפֵק

At first blush the Song of Songs is an unlikely candidate for inclusion in the biblical canon. An apparently secular narrative poem, it describes the love between a man and a young woman living in ancient Judea, in and around Jerusalem. The language is sensual and boldly erotic, while the story-line mingles moments of passionate yearning and tender consummation with episodes of sharp grief at loss and separation. There is no explicit mention of God, Torah, or of religious rituals, Jewish or other.

Nevertheless it was recognized as a sacred text, and interpreted as an allegory of the mutual love between the seeker (either the group, Israel, or the individual) and the Divine. Some mystically inclined commentators understood the depiction of physical desire as a metaphor, a guidebook for the Journey to the ultimate Encounter, that of soul with Spirit. The surges of enthusiasm and the unexplained hesitations of the protagonists thus serve as warning markers and  good signposts.

Look, for example, at Chapter Five. The female character is lying on her couch, half asleep, day-dreaming about her most recent tryst, and wondering about the next, when she is awakened by a call.

“The voice of my beloved beckons … His hand is at the door latch… But I have already disrobed, should I put on my gown again? And I have taken off my sandals, should I soil my feet.”

She lingers lazily, and by the time she reaches the door, the loved one has disappeared into the night.

O H’, if ever again we hear that beckoning voice, if ever again you do call, may we break free from the sloth of self involvement and rush joyously into Your embrace.

@2012 Jonathan Omer-Man

Follow the Faint Traces

אוֹר זָרֻעַ לַצַּדִּיק
“The light that is sown for the seeker”

The Primal Utterance, “Let there be light,”  precedes all. Even before there was time, with its evenings and its mornings, its first days and its second days, there was light.

This first light is not the same as that of the sun and the moon, which were created only on the fourth day.  Those great luminaries are ever in flux, and with their waxing and waning they make possible days and nights and the sequence of seasons; the blazing golden rays of the one sustain all life on earth, the pale silvery reflections of the other provide the stuff of dreams and pull at many tides.

This light of the first day is constant, unchanging and trustworthy. It can guide us on our path to alignment, but its traces are subtle and faint, and are often obscured in the bright business of our lives.

Help us, H’, that we may discern that hidden light.

@2012 Jonathan Omer-Man

Too Sacred to Sing

אֲסַפְּרָה כְבוֹדְךָ וְלֹא רְאִיתִֽיךָ, אֲדַמְּךָ אֲכַנְּךָ וְלֹא יְדַעְתִּֽיךָ

 

“I shall describe your Glory, though  I have not seen You; I shall envisage your Face, I shall name your Name, though I know You not.”

There is an imagination, call it fancy, or fantasy, that looks inward, like a mirror, delighting in the unreal fabrications of its own psyche; there is an imagination, call it inventive, that turns outward, to the uncreated new, to the world of the potential, toward that which can perhaps be real; and there is an imagination, call it sacred, that seeks to peer through the veils between the known and the Unknowable, that attempts to draw close to that which is truly Real.

The saintly rabbi Judah of Regensburg, whose mystical words are quoted above, did not strive to compose a beautiful hymn depicting a private vision of the celestial spheres; he did not seek to build great theological systems for others to study in generations to come. But he did see the Glory, did name the Name, and of the Nothing that lies beyond he did not speak.

Let us honor his reticence and ponder on his words in silence.

@2012 Jonathan Omer-Man

 

That Very Narrow Bridge

“This life’s journey is like crossing a very narrow bridge; the main thing is not to give in to fear.”

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

The bridge in that well-known hasidic song is not a wooden stucture mounted on a trestle a few inches above the ground, a plank from which any fall would be gentle and uneventful. It is more like a catwalk suspended precariously high over a windy abyss, whose distant depths are occasionally visible but more often shrouded in gloom or fog,

Rabbi Nachman is not saying that the terror below is not real — he knows that it is, and that it is palpable — but rather that there is security in holding firmly onto the handrail of faith.

The abyss is radical doubt, despair in divine providence. The bridge is certainty, trust in divine goodness and truth; it is a pathway to the Infinite.

When abyss and bridge are no longer two, but one, there is no abyss, there is no bridge, and life’s journey is a broad highway to the One.

Give us the courage, H’, to look into the darkness, to find You in your absence. Show us there a radiance that is brighter than a thousand suns.

לֹא-תִירָא, מִפַּחַד לָיְלָה;    מֵחֵץ, יָעוּף יוֹמָם

@2012 Jonathan Omer-Man

 

 

In Praise of Lingering

There are those who choose to linger in prayer, to break free from the pacing of public liturgy with its many chants and hymns. They will remain with a single blessing, phrase, word, or even a solitary syllable, embracing it, caressing it with tongue, clinging with soul to its inner lights, merging with it in joyous, silent song. These may prolong the ba- of barukh till the end of the last Amen.

Concerning these the Pious one said: “People do not pray to God. Prayer is God.”

And there are those who need to pause during the study of sacred text, to break free from the tempo of turning pages and the quick, dialogic to-and-fro of  academies. They will reflect lovingly and slowly on the holy script till “reader, reading and written are one.” These may still ponder on the appropriate timing of the evening Shma’ while their companions are debating the impurities that attach to honeycombs.

 Concerning these the Mystic hinted: “The Holy One, Torah and Israel are One.”

And there are those who without sound will call upon H’s holy name again and again and again.

Concerning these the Psalmist exclaimed: “I shall sing to your name Most High.”

@2012 Jonathan Omer-Man

Headstart (Prayer)

וּמֵחָכְמָתְךָ, אֵל עֶלְיוֹן, תַּאֲצִיל עָלַי, וּמִבִּינָתְךָ תְּבִינֵֽנִי, וּבְחַסְדְּךָ תַּגְדִּיל עָלַי, וּבִגְבוּרָתְךָ תַּצְמִית אוֹיְבַי וְקָמַי

“Shine your Mind into my mind, H’ Most High, imbue me with your Wisdom, invest me with your Virtue, provision me with your Power.”

(free translation of an intention on donning phylacteries)

 

Before mind is filled with self, may we be empty vessels for your Light.

Before tongue begins to explain, may we be empty vessels for your Truth.

Before right arm flexes in zeal, may we be empty vessels for your Grace.

Before left hand clenches fist in anger, may we be empty vessels for your Justice.

Before heart is darkened by despair, may we be empty vessels for your Love.

וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי בֶּאֱמוּנָה, וְיָדַֽעַתְּ אֶת יְיָ

@2012 Jonathan Omer-Man

Sanctuary

אשרי יושבי ביתך

“Happy are those who dwell in your House”

(from the morning and afternoon prayers)

I have seen your Glory reflected, H’, often in silence but also in song, in moments of prayer and in hours of study, in tender love and in tearful loneliness, in the good times of peace and in those long years of war.

I have heard your Voice echoed, H’, as it speaks through children’s laughter and the veils of  pain and suffering.

I have known your Reality sanctified, H’; it fills all worlds, it encompasses all, it vivifies all, it is everywhere, it is always, it is everything. 

But where is your House? Is there not a single shrine in which, day or night, I may encounter you? Is there not one place in which you are forever before me?

“In my heart I shall build a sanctuary.*”

בתוך לבי משכן אבנה לזיוו

(* By Elazar Azikri, a 16th-century mystic, who also composed the hymn “Yedid Nefesh”)

@2012 Jonathan Omer-Man

Tide pool

Dragged in by the moon the sea rises; salt spray moistens the dry rock, collects in rivulets and trickles down into the lower fissures.

The tide moves in, and swirling streams pour into the once empty pool.  More crashing waves, and barrier, brim and rim are gone, Pool and ocean are one.

Breathe in, hold, bless the One.                                                                              אֵין עוֹד

The  moon moves on, the waters ebb, the currents recede, the barrier returns,

Glistening starfish and fronds of silvery kelp regain their separate home.

Breathe out, hold, praise the Multiplicity.                                                        בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד                                                                 Amen, amen

@2012 Jonathan Omer-Man

 

A Light at Dusk

וְהוּא רַחוּם יְכַפֵּר עָוֹן וְלֹא יַשְׁחִית, וְהִרְבָּה לְהָשִׁיב אַפּוֹ, וְלֹא יָעִיר כָּל חֲמָתוֹ.

“The Merciful One That Covers Over Iniquity
(from the evening prayers)

It is evening, and notwithstanding all our diligent efforts and worthy intentions, the books are still unbalanced. Debts remain unpaid, some of which may weigh upon us, but we lack the means, or the will, to discharge them, whereas of others we remain either oblivious or only vaguely cognizant.

It is not our way simply to incant, “I forgive myself” (whatever that means): real damage has been done and restitution can never be complete. True, we are good people, and will persist in our worldly work on the morrow, but the stain remains, and Yom Kippur is half a year away.

Have mercy, H’, and on this night, as on every night, forgive our sins before we lay down our heads in rest.

הַמֶּֽלֶךְ יַעֲנֵֽנוּ בְיוֹם קָרְאֵֽנוּ
@2012 Jonathan Omer-Man

 

Sing, Don’t Shout

One who recites every day “The Song of all Creatures”  in this world will surely sing it in the Palaces of Eternity.

An ancient and mysterious text called  “The Song of All Creatures(Pereq Shirah) tells us that every created being, from the Heavens above to each scorpion, snail and ant below, has its own song, a unique hymn with which it praises H’. This piece, composed of a beautiful selection of relevant biblical verses, once occupied a place in the daily liturgy  — may it be restored.

Each of us too has a particular song, one with which we may offer our prayers. But  however pure its sounds, however intense the yearning it expresses, it can never be a solo performance. We are forever part of numerous ensembles, within which we must listen  to and hear the voices of the other players. No musician can participate in an orchestra without being finely attuned to all the other instruments, and though ultimately every voice is part of the vast cosmic symphony, we are limited beings and must find a local troupe, or troupes, within which we can weave our melodies and create elevating harmonies. So when we sing praise to H’, when we magnify and glorify and sanctify the Source of All, whether standing in the company of trees in the Redwoods, walking with the oppressed of the earth and with those who serve them, or sitting with members of a religious community, let us speak softly and hear the prayers of our fellow beings.

ברוך שומע תפילה

@2012 Jonathan Omer-Man