My father was God and didn’t know it. He gave me
the ten commandments neither in thunder nor in fury, neither in fire nor in cloud
but in gentleness and in love. He added caresses and added kind words
adding, “I beg you,” and “please.” He sang keep and remember
in a single melody and he pleaded and cried quietly between one commandment and the next:
Don’t take your God’s name in vain; don’t take it, not in vain.
I beg you, don’t bear false witness against your neighbor. He hugged me tightly and whispered in my ear:
Don’t steal. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t murder. And he put the palms of his open hands
on my head in the Yom Kippur blessing. Honor, love, in order that your days might be long
on the earth. And my father’s voice was white like the hair on his head.
Later, he turned his face to me one last time
like on the day he died in my arms and said, I want to add
two to the ten commandments:
The eleventh commandment: “Don’t change.”
And the twelfth commandment: “You must surely change.”
So said my father and then he turned from me and went off
disappearing into his strange distances.
(Click here for Amichai poem in Hebrew and English)
(Click below to hear the Amichai poem as interpreted and sung by Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann)
The poet, Yehuda Amichai, wove a personal story of receiving Torah on the loom of Scripture’s own account in which God gave ten commandments in thunder, fire, and cloud. The poet’s text-weaving shows an intimate texture. His father gave him ten commandments in a voice that inflected stone-hard, chiseled words with loving and gentle urgency, with tears, and with embrace.
The joining of the timeless, epic warp and the timely, personal weave present a Torah that is ever-more fully revealed.
Torah is more fully given when the Sinai moment becomes larger than the mountain.
The Torah of the Sabbath commandments is more fully given when divergent commands—keep in Deuteronomy, and remember in Exodus—are sung in a single melody; a venerable story captured in an ancient legend and in a Sabbath hymn. To sing them together is to bring them together.
The Torah of a parent is more fully given when the inner tensions of nostalgia and of hope are equally expressed: Don’t change! Change!
I was very moved by Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann’s sung version of the poem and felt she embodied its ultimate and penultimate commandments in both adhering to and, at times, altering meter and words. Leonard Cohen-like, she performs midrash on the midrash that is the poem.
I thought that this was absolutely gorgeous. I am using the poem for my d’var torah on nitzavim and am now incorporating the song
I was lucky enough to attend a Healing Service a few years ago for a Hispanic boy who was killed and we honored the boy and then the men offered Blessings to anyone who attended and so I took advantage of that and knelt and he put his hands on my head very reverently and I was so taken by that gesture and never knew it was the Yom Kippur Blessing, thank you for that. AND Don’t Change, Change is a Beautiful Blessing. Love the Song. Grateful.