Sunday, June 17, 2012

Tell them I'm struggling to sing with angels

I opened up the Reform siddur (prayer book) Mishkan Tefillah and this poem caught my eye (I'd never noticed it before); I saw the word struggle and I decided to read it through. I read it and it really struck me, so I thought I'd share:

Tell them I'm struggling to sing with angels
who hint at it in black words printed on old paper gold-edged by time.
Tell them I wrestle the mirror every morning.
Tell them I sit here invisible in space;
nose running, coffee cold & bitter
Tell them I tell them everything
& everything is never enough.

Tell them I'm davening & voices rise up from within to startle children
Tell them i walk off into the woods to sing.
Tell them I sing loudest next to waterfalls.
Tell them the books get fewer, words go deeper
some take months to get through.
Tell them there are moments when it's all perfect;
above & below, it's perfect,
even in moments in between where sparks in space
(terrible, beautiful sparks in space)
are merely metaphors for the void between
one pore & another.

David Meltzer

It has both the negative and the positive. I appreciate the searching nature of the poem and also the rawness of it. There is such a sense of frustration that embodies the frustration I feel when I am trying to be the person who "sings with angels" and can't quite get there. That in trying to encounter the divine one can get tied down in their earthly roots, in the realities and environments/situations around them. That in trying to become the best rabbi I can become, sometimes I feel I am not doing enough. There is so much out there that is challenging, am I making the right choices? There are many obstacles...And sometimes everything is perfect. There are those fleeting moments of clarity where I feel that I am fulfilling a calling, that I am a part of a beautiful tradition. I am striving towards a goal, and sometimes I feel like I am making more progress than other times. Uncertainty.   Usually poems don't really do it for me, but this one just resonated for me and I wanted to share it.

Speaking of struggling, I have been having a tough time this past year in Rabbinical school. I have learned a LOT, but after a lot of thought and evaluation I came to the conclusion that HUC is not the right place for me anymore and I will be transferring to Ziegler (a Conservative Jewish Rabbinical school at AJU). In my striving to become a rabbi and a rabbi in a way that is authentic to me, I realized I want to study more text and be more involved within the tradition. In my rabbinate I want to be able to use the Jewish tradition  to help add meaning to peoples lives, whether that be in moments of extreme joy or sorrow. We have such a gift as Jews to have the Torah and all the wisdom that comes with it, be it the Talmud or midrash.  I want to be in a place that has more intensive text study so I can add as much text to my arsenal as possible, and that is one of the reasons why I decided to transfer to a different rabbinical school.

The other reason is that I'm not really a Reform Jew anymore. While I will respect peoples choices in terms of their own personal observance, for me I feel a sense of obligation toward the Jewish tradition. I keep kosher, I keep shabbat, I pray and sometimes the way I practice my Judaism comes into conflict with the Reform movement, or with the jobs and roles I hold within the movement. Leaving the movement will be hard. I have grown up in it, and have gained so much from it, but I feel like I don't have a place in it anymore.

While I do feel a sense of sadness leaving HUC, I am also excited about my future school. It is weird to feel happy and sad at once, but I do. I am excited to go to Ziegler and study halacha, and dive back into the world of Talmud and have the opportunity to study with some really great professors. I am excited to have a community that will share more of my beliefs (although I'm sure there is still a lot we will have to disagree about) and observances. I know I am making the right choice for me, it's scary and it was certainly not in "the plan" but I think I will be a better rabbi because of it.

I guess we will see...


  1. I was atheist when I went through marine corps boot camp and decided to go the the synagogue on Sundays while about 98% of the recruits went to the christian service, and I am glad I did. I stumbled across this poem as well and wrote it down in a little note pad I had at the time. It really stuck with me and since then I have found God and something to truly believe in!

  2. I love this. I saw it too and it struck me. Sometimes the Reform Siddur feels like Rumi to me. I love it.