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Friday, May 14, 2010

Poetic Commentary on Parshat Be'Midbar

The name of this week's parashah, and the fourth book of the torah, is Be'midbar meaning "in the wilderness."  It can be found in the book of Be’midbar /Numbers 1:1 - 4:20).

A rabbinic commentary points out that if we change one vowel in the name of the parasha,  the word במדבר  be’midbar, in the wilderness, becomes be'midabeיr, or with one who is speaking.

I found this ironic, since the wilderness is usually associated with silence and solitude. However, we can imagine that the wilderness of Sinai and its surroundings must have been anything but silent, with the multitudes of Israelites and others wandering through it for 40 years.

However, we all know that even in the midst of a cacophony one can experience silence, just as one can experience deafening noise while walking in solitude.  What determines the silence or the solitude is not one’s physical surroundings, but one’s inner state.

This poem uses the two different readings of the letters מדבר mentioned above to explore these various images.

The Wilderness of Silence and Speech

is silent
filled only
sounds  of nature
       wind rustling
     brush blowing
sand      animal footfalls
howls in the night
whispering the truth
a whole civilization lives
within this  wild place
humans go there
         to be at peace
  so we think
this is
    ideal     not real

our wilderness
is filled with people
is wild with sound
                with speech
          with dissent
    with screams
with tears
    with laughter
        with joyous shouts
            with words of love
          with speech
    never silent
40 years   
give or take
give and take
we take what we are given
            give back what has been taken
a life in the wilderness
alive with the sounds
the speech
         the words
creating and destroying
  people   life    worlds
     filling the silence
  a wild place of words
      cries of revolt
  it swallows up rebels
      critical words
turn a sister’s skin to white
    a chorus of complaint
fills us to bursting
words of mistrust
set us wandering
words soothe praise comfort
    the death of sons
        of a sister and brother
            of so many

words decree the death of a dream
the death of a leader
the birth of a new people

I wish words would cease
     filling the wilderness
        filling my mind
     emptying me of the ability
to be still
at one
with you
I want
a wilderness
without speech
without words
it does not matter
I do not want
I do not need
any words

I need a sanctuary
          not a wild place
but a place
where I can hear
   only you
       only me
            in the stillness     the silent sounds
       the whispers of the spirit
   hovering around us all

this is  
what I long for
what we all need
    most do not know
    for they cannot hear
    the whisper of your voice
they can only hear
their own words
constant cacophony
striving for everything
sound and fury achieving nothing

only in subtle stillness can we find
only in nothingness
can we find the truth
one and the same

this moment
I wish
we would all
stop talking
exile words from our lips
allow us to return
to the silent land
the true wilderness
of the soul
where it all began
where it all continues
where we are

in the moment
with you

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