Sunday, September 16, 2012

'Close And Slow': A New Year's Prayer


Kippur by Maurycy Gottlieb 1856-1879
Whoever put on a tallis when he was young will never forget:
taking it out of the soft velvet bag, opening the folded shawl,
spreading it out, kissing the length of the neckband (embroidered
or trimmed in gold). Then swinging it in a great swoop overhead
like a sky, a wedding canopy, a parachute. And then winding it
around his head as in Hide-and-Seek, wrapping
his whole body in it, close and slow, snuggling into it like the cocoon
of a butterfly, then opening would-be wings to fly.
And why is the tallis striped and not checkered black and white
like a chessboard? Because squares are finite and hopeless.
Stripes come from infinity and to infinity they go
like airport runways where angels land and take off
Whoever has put on a tallis will never forget.
When he comes out of a swimming pool or the sea,
he wraps himself in a large towel, spreads it out again
over his head, and again snuggles into it close and slow,
still shivering a little, and he laughs and blesses.

 - Yehuda Amichai (From Open Closed Open, translated by Chana Kronfeld and Chana Bloch, Harcourt, New York, 2000)

3 comments:

Potter said...

Shana Tovah

And thank you fo this blog! and Yehuda Amichai.

This reminds me of a man I saw in an airport somewhere, davening, also waiting for his flight--or my dear poor dad every morning that I knew him.

john james said...

An odd bit of extended sentiment for a liberal blog... where sentiment is generally a conservative sin.

I think conservatives move naturally to sentiment because they are not naturally able to accurately judge the emotional value of things - hence their unnatural /unhealthy focus on material objects and wealth (and the dubious value of their own distended skins) rather than on where it should be - on people, on love and goodness and kindness.

And I think that if they learned to refocus their emotions on these human values - the higher values that their religion actually demands - they would discover that their skin had become a little less distended, and they would be living the happier AND safer lives of God's wise children rather than the nervous, indulgent lives of God's renegade warriors empowered not by wisdom or love but, sadly, only by their sentiment (or a childish focus on a metered piece of cloth).

THAT I think is a New Year's vision worth focusing on.

And in unison with Potter, I THANK YOU Prof. Avishai for this blog, which far more often than not (well, pretty much always) represents the best of humanity, Judaism, and the dreamy early vision of the internet. And for that matter, I thank Potter too for his regular contributions and thoughts which I think add a lot to this site, and help keep the intemperate warriors in their place.

Potter said...

Thank you John James. We should have a beer.

Best Wishes.