Sunlight pours through the library window.
An hour’s snowy drive from my family,
I grade expository essays on the overlap
between Buddhism and psychology
to pay for my children’s Cheder tuition,
so they can learn texts in the holy tongue
which offer a different approach
Raised in a home
where the Marx Brothers played anarchistic pranks
as background to family dinners,
Roy Orbison’s falsetto floating up
from my father’s Danish speakers,
I tried to become a Chassid.
And which texts and whose voice
do I carry
as I shuttle between yeshiva
and classes at the university?
Between driving, grading papers, the children
waking us each night,
so little time for thinking, for learning, for love.
Action, the Rebbe taught, is the most essential thing. The deed
prescribed by the Infinite One
the only highway
beyond the finite.
The heart of a man meditating in front of a lake
but only as high
as the human heart can climb.
Yet, because it is
a Divine command,
when he hears the shofar
after the others have roused him, a worshiper
who’d fallen asleep in the middle of services
climbs the ladder,
embraces the One Without End.
Perhaps this is why
there are so few pious Jews in poetry–
that profession of rowing
through the rivers of the heart
with oars made of memory
The walls of the Rebbe’s office
absorbed sadder stories
than any other room in the world.
His heart was so full
of affection, he cried in a synagogue
full of bearded men in Brooklyn
whenever he spoke of God’s hiddenness.
On my drive home tonight,
snow circles under street lights
as the sedan ahead of me inches forward.
My wife calls to say two of the children
have done something she cannot repeat
over the phone.
When she hangs up, a staticky recording of a discourse
the Rebbe delivered decades ago resumes:
The worshiper must serve the Divine
even if he feels or understands nothing.