This past Wednesday, September 23 at 1:30pm, a grand jury in Louisville, KY acquitted all of three officers in the case of the murder of Breonna Tayler, and merely indicted Det. Brett Hankison for wanton endangerment for the shots fired into neighboring apartments, but not for the murder of Breonna Tayler. 65 years to the day that an all-white jury found Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam not guilty of Emmett Till's kidnapping and murder.
We arrive to Shabbat intimately aware of the cavernous space between the world as it is and the world that we long, and we walk along a very narrow bridge, brave and scared at the same time.
The rabbis have much to say about the holiness of the space between. One midrash famously describes Torah as white fire on black fire. Which is to say the space between the letters and the words, it too is Torah.
Nowhere is this more visible than in biblical poetry. In poetry, the absence of words says as much as their presence. And when we are in the depths, the absence is what is present. At the end of his life, bereft and longing Moses turns to poetry for his final teaching.
Our parsha begins,
הַאֲזִ֥ינוּ הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וַאֲדַבֵּ֑רָה וְתִשְׁמַ֥ע הָאָ֖רֶץ אִמְרֵי־פִֽי׃
Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the words I utter!
יַעֲרֹ֤ף כַּמָּטָר֙ לִקְחִ֔י תִּזַּ֥ל כַּטַּ֖ל אִמְרָתִ֑י כִּשְׂעִירִ֣ם עֲלֵי־דֶ֔שֶׁא וְכִרְבִיבִ֖ים עֲלֵי־עֵֽשֶׂב׃
May my discourse come down as the rain, My speech distill as the dew, Like showers on young growth, Like droplets on the grass (Deut. 32:1-2).
But it is not just the words that are themselves spacious, it is the page of Torah itself. You can see it here! It is laid out in two columns, with a cavernous space between, the words calling out across the void. But also leaving space. Space for weeping and for longing, for our voices and our vision, for connection.
Rabbi Alan Lew writes,
"When we lose touch with a sense of nefesh, of space, of emptiness, we feel overwhelmed, overstressed, overburdened. So for many of us the question is, How do we find our way back to heaven? How do we relocate that spaciousness out of which we emerged? How do we connect with our nefesh?" (121).
In honor of Moses the poet, I offer you another poem written by Shelby Handler, "The Day the World is Born":
...Here is the way to start again: let heaven
slither in through the holes this year
left in you. Everything you've lost is enough
space for your wholeness to return into. Every day
is someone's birthday. Today is everything's
birth day. We're all here together: holding our breath
in the delivery room. We're tugging at the curtain,
eager to catch it all in our tired and wild arms.
This Shabbat Shuva, in the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I invite you to take this page of Torah to heart. To make space in your day and in yourself. May you emerge renewed, as we sing in V'Shamru, "shavat va'yinafash" - with a new sense of nefesh.
Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach,
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.