The Poetry of Torah
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.
William Carlos Williams – Asphodel, that Greeny Flower
Every Biblical narrative and law is a unique creation, yet consists of universal components and techniques which are shared by other narratives. Can we read the Book of Ruth without comparing it to the story of Lot’s daughters, Yehudah and Tamar, and the laws of Yibum – levirate marriage – and our obligations to help our poor relatives redeem their land? If we ignore the poetry of the narrative, will we learn how to apply the story to our lives in meaningful ways?
Can we read the stories of Revelation in Yitro, and Mishpatim without comparing them to the same stories retold in Vaetchanan and Eikev? What do we miss when we ignore the intentional differences in narrative? We miss the poetry of the Sinai experience. It becomes an historical story, without pulling us into the scene so that we can relive Revelation and its challenges.
How can we make sense of Ezekiel’s vision without a sense of his standing outside of Israel? How can we live Ezekiel’s lessons without wondering about the Sages’ comparison of Ezekiel’s vision to that of the lowest person crossing the Red Sea? They are calling our attention to the subtle messages. They are inviting us to relive the miracle of the Sea even as we are mystified by Ezekiel’s words.
Torat Chaim, a Torah of Life, asks us to pay attention to the poetry of her words. Without the poetry, we may live according to instructions, without joy, and live “miserably every day – for lack – of what is found there.”
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