Texts to the Holy


by Rachel Barenblat


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"Your Voice Knocks"

When I wake
your name is honey
on my lips.

All day long
you’re with me.
My heart rests

in your hand.
I am safe
in your embrace.

You know
my innermost parts.
Nothing I say

nothing I am
could drive you
away from me.

Your voice knocks.
Like a magnolia
I open.

"Texts to the Holy"

Shechina is riding shotgun.
Her toenails are purple.

She’s tapping at her smartphone
sending texts to the Holy One.

What’s it like, I ask her,
being apart? Do you wake up

melancholy and grateful
all at once, and fall asleep

thinking Shabbes can’t come
soon enough, is always too short

you’re always saying goodbye
and your own heart aches

to know he’s hurting too?
And she looks at me

eyes kind as my grandmother
and timeless as the seas

and says, you tell Me, honey.
You tell Me.


When I remember you
my fingertips tingle.
I’m a lilac, petals
prickling to spring free.

Yearning tangles my tongue.
My words become fragrance.
My heart overflows
like a wadi after a storm.

The thought of you
nourishes me, dizzies me.
Breathe into me
and I bloom.

"The One Who Sees Me" (video)

Advance Praise

Rachel Barenblat’s Texts to the Holy bridges the human and Holy, so that we realize the bridge is really just an illusion to get us to realize that the human is itself Holy—“Bless the One Who separates / and bridges. Even at a distance / we aren’t really apart.” And yet, in every honest line, she also comforts us in the uncomfortable knowledge that realization does not exactly bridge the unavoidable separation from That to which we are so close, and that sometimes, “yearning is as close as you get to whole.” The Ba’al Shem Tov or the Aish Kodesh couldn’t have said it better.

—Netanel Miles-Yépez, translator of My Love Stands Behind a Wall: A Translation of the Song of Songs and Other Poems, and co-author (with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi) of A Heart Afire: Stories and Teachings of the Early Hasidic Masters.

These poems are remarkable, radiating a love of God that is full bodied, innocent, raw, pulsating, hot, drunk.  I can hardly fathom their faith but am grateful for the vistas they open.  I will sit with them, and invite you to do the same.

—Merle Feld, author of A Spiritual Life and Finding Words

These are simple poems, radiant with joy. There is nothing clever or snide about them, no giving-only-to-take-back: the speaker of these poems is in it for keeps.

When it comes to you, dearest one,
I am profligate with promises…

They are not — and do not pretend to be — artless: but they have a hard-won simplicity, poetic and spiritual. We are here to celebrate love, to celebrate wanting and being wanted, seeing and being seen. There are moments of tender humor, that might verge on blasphemy to those who do not take immanence seriously:

Suddenly though among strangers
I am not alone. You are with me.
Your emoji and your texts
—they comfort me.

But Barenblat takes immanence very seriously. The conflation of the divine and the beloved is not a device or a conceit, in these poems: it’s just the truth, as seen by a veteran, disciplined contemplative.

It is you who wipe
tears from my face
with tender hands

who remind me
I deserve better
than desolation

To read these poems is to take up the challenge of being this vulnerable, and this much in love.

—Dale Favier, author of Opening the World

About Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, named in 2016 by the Forward as one of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis, was ordained by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal as a rabbi in 2011 and as a mashpi’ah ruchanit (spiritual director) in 2012. From 2015 to 2017 she served as co-chair, with Rabbi David Markus, of ALEPH. In spring 2017 she served as interim Jewish chaplain to Williams College. Since 2011 Rachel has served as spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel, a congregation in western Massachusetts. As of 2018, she is also a Senior Builder at Bayit: Your Jewish Home.

She holds a BA in religion from Williams College and an MFA in Writing and Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars. In addition to several poetry chapbooks she is author of five book-length collections of poetry: 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia Publishing, 2011), Waiting to Unfold (Phoenicia, 2013), Toward Sinai: Omer poems (Velveteen Rabbi, 2016) and Open My Lips (Ben Yehuda Press, 2016), as well as the forthcoming Texts to the Holy (Ben Yehuda, 2018.)

A 2012 Rabbis Without Borders Fellow, Rachel has served as alumna facilitator for the Emerging Jewish and Muslim Religious Leaders retreat organized by RRC‘s Office of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives and co-presented in 2016 with the Islamic Society of North America. Since 2003 she has blogged as The Velveteen Rabbi, and in 2008, TIME named her blog one of the top 25 sites on the internet.

Rachel was a regular contributor to Zeek magazine, “a Jewish journal of thought & culture,” from 2005-2015. Her work has also appeared in the Reform Judaism BlogThe Wisdom Daily LilithThe Texas ObserverThe Jewish Daily Forward, and anthologies including The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry (Bloomsbury)The Women’s Seder Sourcebook (Jewish Lights)and God? Jewish Choices for Struggling with the Ultimate (Torah Aura), among other places. Her downloadable Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach has been used around the world, and with R’ Jeff Goldwasser in 2014 she released Days of Awe: the Velveteen Rabbi’s Machzor, now available in a revised edition.

She has taught courses arising from the intersection of the literary life and the spiritual life at the Academy for Spiritual Formation, the National Havurah Institute’s winter retreat, the ALEPH Kallah, many congregations around New York and New England, and at Beyond Walls, a writing program for clergy of many faiths at the Kenyon Institute.

Rachel lives in Williamstown with her son.

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