Prepare for the holiday with us!
Moses dies, but where is he buried? We offer a startling possibility… There are also poems, because what would Simchat Torah be like without poems?
As usual, we offer three different selections from our books that follow the parasha cycle. The first one is an excerpt from Torah Journeys by Rabbi Shefa Gold – this book offers a blessing & a challenge for each portion, and a practice to go with them.
These discussions are several large-size pages long, so we’re only highlighting some choice portions from this week’s chapter (p. 221-226).
Moses dies in this Torah portion. Yet it is an unusual death in multiple ways. Unlike other religious leaders, we don’t have access to his gravesite so that we could go there to pray. Why is that important? Rabbi Gold explains…
The death of Moses represents the ultimate and most profound spiritual challenge that God gives to each of us. The vast body of literature, poetry, and midrash that describe the death-scene and burial of Moses stand in contrast to the actuality of the stark and spare text in Deuteronomy that says he died (by the mouth of God) was buried, and that no one knows where his grave is.
The fact that Moses’ gravesite is unknown, poses a major challenge in the development of Judaism. Religions tend to develop as the glorification of some great man. “He was so great and we are nothing. Let us worship him, or pray at his grave, or receive the merit of his goodness.
We’d note in parentheses that Jews tend to do this too, if not worshipping leaders, but definitely receiving the merit of their goodness. The pilgrimage to Uman, the gravesite of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, is a famous example.
However, Rabbi Gold notes:
But here the message becomes, “Don’t look to Moses… it is not really about him… the Torah is about you.”
A bit later, Rabbi Gold talks about one of her own spiritual experiences that relate to this portion …and that turned out unexpectedly:
Once during a meditative journey I asked, “Show me where Moses is buried”. I was told, “It’s not out there. Moses is buried within you.” […] The moment I found stillness, a flower opened up inside my heart.
How can we incorporate Moses’ death, or our own, into our spiritual practice? As Rabbi Gold points out, this was discussed even in the Talmud…
Rabbi Eliezer, one of our great sages, taught his disciples, “Turn (repent) one day prior to your death.” And his students said to him, “Master, how can anyone know what day is one day prior to their death?” His response to them was, “Therefore, turn today, because tomorrow you may die.”BT Shabbat 153a
How can we incorporate this awareness into our lives? Here is a contemplative exercise –
[I]magine that you are lying on your death-bed, surrounded by everyone you have ever known. Your heart is filled with memories of the life you have led. What do you regret? What are you proud of? What seeds have you planted? What are your priorities “one day prior to your death?” Now, turn towards the faces that witness you – family, friends, bosses, employees, co-workers, enemies, neighbors, strangers. Perhaps the meaning and fullness of your life can only be expressed through the blessing that you impart to them.
Rabbi Gold notes that this portion is not just about Moses’ death, but also about the blessings he provides to the tribes! What blessings could we offer to the people we know? And could we accept blessings from other people dear to us?
And because we are SOMEwhat contrarian here at Ben Yehuda Press, we’d also like to ask you to consider receiving a blessing from your enemies.
What would that be like? Can you think of a time when that happened?
There is a famous example of just that in the Bible, discussed by one of our authors, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, on her blog. Very timely, also because next up we’re going to share one of her Simchat Torah poems…
Mobius by Rachel Barenblat
For Simchat Torah
I want to write the Torah
on a mobius strip of parchment
so that the very last lines
(never again will there arise,
arpeggio of signs and wonders
stout strength and subtle teaching)
would lead seamlessly to
the beginning of heavens
and earth, the waters
all wild and waste, and God
hovering over the face of creation
like a mother bird.
This is the strong sinew
that stitches our years together:
that we never have to bear
the heartbreak of the story ending
each year the words are the same
but something in us is different
on a mobius strip of parchment
I want to write the Torah
I love how the first and last stanzas tie together – if you wanted, you could write out the poem on a Mobius strip.
You can get Rabbi Barenblat’s collection Open My Lips from us –
We also have another book from her, Texts to the Holy –
And now, another poem, this one from we who desire: poems and Torah riffs by Sue Swartz – this book also follows the weekly cycle, so now is a good time to pick it up and start anew!
(infinite in all directions)
by Sue Swartz
This is the book of face to face.
In it, curved throat of god brought close.
In it, nothing remains itself very long.
Our fingerprints are all over its pages,
our minds’ lathe spinning and spinning –
Dear reader, dear dizzied reader:
Enjoy the circumnavigation.
I will not lie. There are easier ways
to make a life. But this is your only one –
Do not disappear yourself from it.
& it was evening and it was morning,
a hundred hundred perfections arrayed
in all their fertile expanse –
all the lands we permit ourselves not to see,
pointed twig and the intention of –
so the instructions are in a foreign tongue
so the skies melt in our hands
let us praise the wild and waste,
the floating out there, tumbling down there
you said let there be and there was
we said let there be and there was
Like a pencil poised for calculation –
A key not yet turned in the twitchy ignition –
We end on this point, full of possibility and renewal. Thank you for following along, and let us welcome you for another cycle!