Conversing with the Poet

What follows is the beginning of a conversation between myself and Rivka Miriam, a wonderful poet who lives in Jerusalem.  One of Rivka’s poems (click here for poem) made a moving contribution to the theme of the recent Sicha Shabbaton (see blogsite for more information), at Wildacres Retreat, in western North Carolina:

Dear Rivka,

Last week, my new organization, Sicha, sponsored a Shabbaton in the mountains of North Carolina.  Our study theme was: “Naming Ourselves, Naming God.”  The project of Sicha is to create conversations between ancient Jewish texts and modern experiences.  Sicha participants bring their own experiences into conversation with Torah, Midrash, Mishnah and Talmud in pursuit of creative, imaginative and rich Jewish life.  In addition to these ancient voices, other voices are important to the conversation—voices such as yours, a modern Israeli poet writing in Hebrew and engaging an ancient tradition in a personal conversation that you make available to wider audiences.

Your poem, “I Spread Out God’s Names In Front of Me,” was one of our basic texts.  This title is Linda Zisquit’s title in her fine collection of your work, These Mountains: Selected Poems of Rivka Miriam.  I offered our group my own translation to which I gave a slightly different title:  “I Spread Out My God’s Names in Front of Me.”  I wanted to emphasize the very personal nature of your poem. We, your readers, never see the names of God spread out in front of you.  You offer us the experiences that create the names.  But the names are for you alone to know.

Your first word, parasti—“I spread out,” evokes the name that cannot be invoked, shem ha’m’forash—the name that is most explicit, but that we do not pronounce.  Your names for God are parus/spread out, but they are hidden from the reader.  Here is an echo of Rosh HaShannah when the poet says: ein peirush l’eilum sh’mecha—”There can be no expressing of the hidden-ness of your name.”  Your names of God are hidden, but in hiding them you offer each of us the quest for our own names.

This poem became an important example for each of us:  Naming God is a creative act of deep and high importance—a way of bringing a God into the world.

The end of your poem also suggests deep associations.  The cold floor of your room, covered with your Names of God, offers you cool comfort k’chom ha’yom—“in the heat of the day.”   This phrase evokes Abraham meeting the unnamed divine strangers k’chom ha’yom—“in the heat of the day” (Genesis 18:1).  Abraham prostrates himself before the three guests.  You strike the same pose as Abraham.   Your verb for “prostrating yourself” is playfully similar to the verb in Genesis.

In these and other ways, you add a modern poetic voice to a timeless conversation about the power of names and the creative act of naming God.

Our Sicha Shabbaton participants may want to write to you, if you are willing, to continue the conversation.  In any event, we are grateful to you.

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