Sunday, September 5, 2010

This is the Blessing

Friends, I'm going to cheat a bit this week. The parasha is Ha'azinu, which takes us almost to the end of Deuteronomy. The last bit, V'Zot ha-B'rakha--"This is the Blessing"--is read on Simchat Torah. But I'm going to jump ahead, wish you a very happy new year, and close "My Portion" with this poem. Thank you for reading along with me.

In the same way Moses lived his life in the public sphere as leader of the Israelites, so he concludes it in a public way by blessing the people according to their tribes. [“This is the blessing with which Moses, the man of God, bade the Israelites farewell before he died” (Deuteronomy 33:1).] There is no mention in his farewell address of his own two sons, Gershom and Eliezer.

I ask a blessing in the name of Gershom,
about whom we know only: he did not succeed
his father; a prayer for Eliezer, who is no more
than a “begat.” If Asher dips his foot in oil
and Joseph reaps the bounteous harvest
of the moon, let the sons of Moses stand
for all of us whose names are just recorded
in the family Bible with no deed inscribed
beyond birth and dying. Say of us:
The Lord has sent them rain in its due season
and when it pocked the grapes with mildew
and set the corn to germinating in the ear.
The Lord has smote the loins of their foes
and cut their own sons down on the fields
of Degania and Lachish*. They have rested
between His shoulders and fallen beneath His feet.
He has tested them at the waters of Meribah**
and with the blood libel at Kishinev***.
They have invited their kin to the mountain
and the stranger to drink the finest wines.
They have born sons and daughters who know
but do not speak the name of God.

*Degania was a kibbutz, attacked by the Syrians in 1948. Lachish was one of the fortress towns protecting the approaches to Jerusalem, laid siege to and captured by the Assyrians in 701 BCE.
**The “place of testing,” where Moses is told to call water from the rock but instead strikes the rock with his rod.
***Site of a pogrom, or anti-Jewish riot, that took place in 1903 when the Jews were accused of killing a Christian child to use his blood in the preparation of matzos.

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