18 February 2010

Just to See

The Persian women at minyan raise their open hands toward the Torah as its removed from the Ark, when it's raised above the heads of worshippers after it's read, and again when the Ark is opened and its returned to its place at the close of the Torah reading service.

I love these moments of expression, not "required" per se but regional and ethnic practices that belong to particular Jewish communities throughout the world and then, when those communities in-gather--to Israel or the United States or elsewhere--one sees them scattered among a variety of particular practices inside one prayer service or another. I watched the women do this with their hands on Sunday morning, when we read Torah for Rosh Hodesh, and again today, for the Thursday morning Torah reading, and today was reminded of the midrash related to Jacob's ladder where the angels who are ascending and descending the ladder are imagined to be ascending the ladder to see the Throne of Glory, God's Big Chair, which in the majestic metaphors from the prophetic literature (this is a big theme in Ezekiel's visions) is a very Divine place to be. Ezekiel himself appears to be quite comfortable with the anthropomorphized God, sitting in a chair, an image borrowed from Moses, who also beholds this vision on Mount Sinai. God's footstool, of pure sapphire, is as close as we seem to get to "seeing" the Divine.

I spoke to a friend back in Brooklyn today and told him how beautiful I thought LA was. He said he hated it. When I asked why, he said there was too much sky. He preferred the density of buildings and the feeling of being in the bowels of civilization to the open air. I'm the opposite.

And in particular, being exposed to the sky these past several evenings and during all times of the daytime, one is obviously aware of their place, on an earth, a planet, being hurdled through space and time. I really like that.

Of course, one could get lost in such thoughts and experiences and wind up meditating on a mountain top, communing with the divine, and, I would fear, losing touch with the messy humanness of reality. So the tradition gives us for seeing beautiful things in nature (beautiful trees, beautiful plants, stars, deserts, mountains and the sunrise) which connect us consciously to the Divine while also bring us back to earth with one word, Amen, which etymologically has the force of "something to lean on." Stable.

Like the Foot of a Throne. Which brings me back to the Persian women in shul, holding up their open hands toward the Torah and Ark, as if they were at the very Throne of Glory. This morning, while the Torah was being led around the room and the worshippers sang the Rommemu, the words in the prayerbook in translation read, "Exalt the Lord and worship Him, for He is holy. Exalt and worship Him at His holy mountain." But the Hebrew reads, "Exalt and worship Him at His footstool for He is holy," which the editors of the prayerbook chose not to even translate, figuring, I suppose that the problematics of the anthropomorphism would be too complicated to deal with.

But the Persian women knew what was going on. I believe they saw the bright sapphire stone, where God's feet rest, on a footstool that is like the sky, lit up on bright morning. So luminescent that they needed to raise their hands to block its intensity. And then the Torah passed, was put away in its Ark, and their hands went down to their side.

These are the quiet moments of revelation that occur each day. Worth getting up early for shul--just to see.

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