(This poetic essay, like so many of the unpublished writings of Rabbi Sager, z”l, is the beginning of a sicha (conversation). Rabbi Sager eloquently likens his aging body to Torah. He has become a living Torah and suggests that others among us likewise embody Torah — having become repositories of sacred teaching by virtue of “the swirl of aging life” and the redeeming power of an outstretched arm. Thanks to our dear friend, Rabbi Gary Fink, for his editing prowess.)
I have written this essay before. With each attempt, I have tried to be a scholar of midrash probing an important inquiry into healthy aging for the benefit of those who practice the spiritual arts of attending to life transitions such as aging and dying. In my previous attempts, I was always a docent pointing and explicating, standing on the visitors’ side of the cordoned area at a proper distance from the work, speaking in careful tones echoing scholarly words. Now, I am the art and the artist. Aging and cancer have opened new meaning for me as creature and creator. The ripening of life brings me inside—and brings me insight. Who can explain the moment when personal meaning happens, when text and experience illuminate one another, becoming words where no word had existed? Even if one agrees that Torah tells the truth and nothing but the truth, it cannot possibly tell the whole truth. Aging and the increasingly snug fit of mortality remake vision.
A fuller truth awaits telling, including our sages’ personal experiences, the swirl of aging life, as well as the dreams, experiences, observations and aspirations through which embodied life—the real art—might be weighed and measured.
I catch a glimpse of this process, and of myself—waking and dreaming. In my dream, I raise the Torah and hold it open so that all can see. The community points to the scroll and sings: V’zot HaTorah… And this is the Torah that Moses put before the people of Israel at God’s command by Moses’ hand.
I hold the scroll as high as I can. I extend my arms such that the loose sleeves of my robe slide from wrists to elbows uncovering thin arms stained with the purple ink that comes to light when blood thinner mixes with bumps and bruises. Unlike the Torah scroll that I hold, the script on my arms, hands, and neck constantly changes.
In growing circles around me, people raise slender fingers, pointing: V’zot HaTorah. They are also pointing to me: V’zot HaTorah… And this [too] is the Torah; a legacy for all who care to see and who see in order to care about aging and its vital place in the world. Both timeless and timely, the Torah tells a fuller story than either could have told separately.
I am a body-scroll, part of the art, constantly unrolling, getting closer to the end, and explaining the beginning:
on my skin whose gold has darkened
that has dried to parchment
is inscribed the acts of creation. (poem by Rivka Miriam can be found here)
I am proud of the scroll that is me (not only when I am dreaming). My straining, shaking arms enable the community to acknowledge that This is the Torah! Both scroll and body are Torahs that tell sacred stories and are told by them as well.
The God of the written Torah never ages. In the parchment scroll raised on high, there is no aging God to teach the unfolding Torah of personal experience. Thin arms dried to parchment reveal a fuller text.
An aging, fatiguing, outstretched arm has a redeeming power unknown to the untiring and unfailing arm that forever splits the sea. God’s omnipotence ends at the shore of a sea that God could not cross without my outstretched arm.
V’zot HaTorah… This is the Torah, the acts of creation, the outstretched arm, the swirl of aging life. Look around the room, through my in-the-round dream vision. This is the Torah, and This is your Torah, and This is my Torah, and This is the Torah that tells all of our Torahs.
The embodied Torahs point through all the years as they exclaim: This, and this, and this; these are the Torahs of aging, the Torah of the ages.
Oh my! This is simply beautiful. Thank you so much. May his memory always be a blessing and provide comfort for you. Diane
Beloved familiar teachings of Rabbi Sager z”l. Thank you so much for sharing this.