About this book
“The Talmud teaches that the Torah was given in black fire on white fire. This collection of poetry and art by contemporary Jewish women illuminates the white fire of the Torah — the ancient and modern literary interpretations that carve out the negative space of the Torah’s letters so that they dance before us as joyously as when they were given in fire on Sinai.”
—Ilana Kurshan, author of If All the Seas Were Ink
I was inspired to begin this project by my friend Jess Spencer, who spent a year writing a poem for every parsha.
Every week I learned the parsha on Sefaria, trying to achieve the most holistic and rich view of the parsha possible, trying to find material that stuck with me, inspired me.
Much of the midrash and parshanut I found myself most caught on were those expanding or weaving anew stories of women the original text mentioned only in passing, or relegated to a footnote; and those examining the intricacies of romantic and familial relationship, both between humans and between the complicated triangle of Moshe, Hashem, and B’nei Yisrael.
I found myself moved and enchanted by these stories hiding beneath each pasuk, and still left with a lingering sense of dissatisfaction. Oftentimes, these stories of marginalized characters were learned out by the very fact of their absence. These stories and interpretations lend the text greater depth, but cannot simply make up for the silence in which they were born.
Nonetheless, I hadn’t anticipated how these poems would make me feel. In spinning together disparate threads of midrash, putting pesukim and gemarot in conversation, placing myself in the head of Chava, Sarah, Miriam, Moshe, Hashem (heretical as it may be)—I found myself in the chain of transmission and creation. Giving voice to unarticulated interpretations and stories, weaving yourself into the text, is a way of claiming ownership. Rather than crouching beneath the text, we expand it. L’hagdil torah v’yadir.
I’d also like to note that these poems drew inspiration not only from midrash, parshanut, etc., but also from an array of divrei torah I’ve read over the past few years. The brilliant individuals writing these—some friends, some teachers, some strangers—had already provided their own incredible syntheses of the texts, which helped inform my readings and writings. Having these divrei torah to accompany my parsha learning over the years has lent incredible depth, and allowed me to be in conversation with voices both ancient and contemporary.
By collaborating with Arielle Stein, who produced gorgeous and deeply representative artwork (and later Claire Abramovitz, who produced several more stunning pieces), and Jess Spencer, who contributed her poems, I hoped to make something that can draw other people into this process. I hope that this parsha booklet can supplement people’s learning and exploration; that the sources and thoughts shared here can serve as a starting point for further study. I want to share some of the means I’ve found for engaging deeply and earnestly with the text, and enable others to better engage with material that may feel inaccessible or alienating.