Day 6 of Chanukah arrives with a prose poem from our forthcoming retrospective, The Missing Jew: Poems 1976-2021 by Rodger Kamenetz. If you’ve read and enjoyed his poetry (or his nonfiction!), or if you’re new to it, it will bring light into your life – quite literally.
Before we start, you can also take a look at the earlier updates:
And now, let’s read this poem inspired by the Rebbe Nachman of Breslov!
To Add Light to a Name by Rodger Kamenetz
— after Rebbe Nachman Sichos HaRan #44 “On the topic of a person’s name”
Am I a misspelling? Perhaps there are too many versions for any to be convincing. In one version you will bless intricacies. I see in the fey of rafael a dangling yod. And a white bet traced in black which meaning calls house. I will bet on a hidden bet the b-b-b-b of first creation. Letters inside letters spell hidden lives. The rebbe said I will take your name and permute —do not say it is a trick. Do not say this! It is a great work to add light to aname.
Or in a dream to seal a body in light to brave a darkened door. To wrap wings of presence around trembling shoulders. Every word has secret doors. I will find levels in my name or stumble through a trap. There is a trope in your name rebbe. You drew me into yours and we fell together in the Nameless Who says I kill and I make live.
All around me I saw live the light in every name.
Thank you for reading! We will be back after Shabbat 🙂 Shabbat shalom, chag sameach and chodesh tov!
We mourn Sarah, including with something you might not have noticed in the Bible
The letter yud gets very upset!!!
Fall is here in the Northern hemisphere, along with Halloween in Cheshvan (AND A BOOK PRESENT)
Make sure to read it alllll the way to the end, both for the offbeat Torah learning, and also because we found a poem for this exact time of the year, and it’s from a book we haven’t announced yet!
But first, we are going to show you something you might or might not have noticed in your Hebrew Bible. Some Bibles do not have it. Even some online Bibles do not have it, to our consternation… (Sefaria has it, as you’ll see in a moment.)
The excerpt that’s going to tell you about it is from Torah & Company by Judith Z. Abrams. This is a book that has sections of Mishna and Gemara for every Torah portion, and discussion questions to match. (Now is your chance to discuss with us!!)
In the Torah scroll, the word which describes Abraham’s crying, “v’livkotah”, has a small, half-sized Hebrew letter kaf in it:
One commentator suggests that this is because he [Avraham] only cried a bit, since she had reached the good old age of 127. Does this make sense to you? What factors influence how strongly you mourn a death? Can you think of another reason for the small letter?
I was actually proactive this time and looked for another reason. Right now I’m reading the MeAm Lo’ez on Genesis, and this offers a further explanation, listed as “the author’s own”. (Here is the author!)
This is an allusion that when a person mourns another, he should be small and humble, saying to himself, “This good person died because of my sins.”
Translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan
A very different explanation, but there is yet a third one! Rabbi Culi cites a midrash:
“It also teaches us that weeping should be kept “small,” and one should not mourn to too great an extent. (Bereishit Rabbah) […] No matter how close the deceased was, one must accept the loss with forebearance, and not question God’s judgment.”
Kind of similar to the first answer, but with a different emphasis, of accepting what G-d has decided about someone’s lifespan. Our next Torah tidbit, however, is about someone not accepting what G-d has decided. Someone, or some….thing?
This is going to be about the letter yud. The letter yud is very frustrated!
The excerpt is from Rabbi Jill Hammer’s Jewish Book of Days. A companion for all seasons, including this particular season… about the month of Cheshvan.
Autumn is a time of loss, and Heshvan reflects this subtle grief. It is, according to the Yalkut Melachim, the month when Solomon finished the First Temple. It receives no celebration or festival because of this; therefore, it is a sad sort of month. Yet there is a midrashic principle that nothing is ever lost. The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 107a) tells us that when the letter yud is taken out of Sarai’s name so that the Holy One can change her name to Sarah, the yud complains.
It is put into Hosea ben Nun’s name, and his name becomes Joshua, assistant of Moses. So Heshvan too must be repaid for its loss.
The legend arises that one day, in the world to come, Heshvan will be paid back because of King Solomon’s oversight. Heshvan will become the month when the Third Temple, the temple of peace among all peoples, is built. Like the Messiah, the Third Temple is the legendary culmination of all legends and all generations. Heshvan, though apparently without holidays, holds the promise of a future holiday: the dedication of a new and universal sacred space. This reflects the truth of nature – the decay of autumn will be paid back a hundredfold with growth in the spring.
And now for the surprise! We have a Cheshvan and also Halloween poem from Rodger Kamenetz, from his forthcoming The Missing Jew (with poems from 1976-2021) in our Jewish Poetry Project imprint. Cover reveal and preorders right here:
In a Season of Dreams by Rodger Kamenetz —Cheshvan, Baton Rouge
At the end of a season of dreams the sandman sprinkles black sand on the threshold and closes up his shop. The trees, once a sacred grove are individual, dead veins. Once every word was a sky, but now words sound tired and poor the breath knocked out of them. The mysterious guests who were spirits or angels, all speak plain English. They turn out to be strangers in a crowd their faces in a hurry and the urgent message they came to deliver is common, like a cry in the street. Dreams have their seasons and each day has its distinctive voice. Some quieter than others.
I listen for what speaks through me learn the patience of seasons slow to turn as the moon of Cheshvan wanes toward Halloween. I sit with a cup of coffee and stare to the bottom, stirring with my spoon. I hear voices, like dark wives, faint as shadows coming more and more to light. I will be there with them when they speak, I will move through walls fluid as coffee, where heaven dissolves like sugar till what is sweet in my life returns at last to my tongue.
Thankyou for following along, and if you have an explanation of your own for the small kaf – or someone else’s that you liked -, share it with us! Torah Cat is always glad to hear.
(If you are wondering why davka a cat – when we are not publishing parsha books and/or assorted heresy, we are the publisher of the yearly Jewish Cat Calendars!)
And something what you might have missed on Twitter – this past week (in addition to being Asexual Awareness week!) also included Intersex Awareness Day, and we had some Jewish intersex facts ready. Check them out!