Monday, June 30, 2014

The Arithmetic of Death

The arithmetic of death
Is made up of straight lines
And hard numbers.

One hundred eighty six.
Two hundred nineteen.
Might as well be
Six million.

Lives subtracted--
Their numbers carried
In harsh columns,
Where they multiply;
A geometric progression
Of loss
And death.

Murder is an irrational number
The empty set
Of grief to the power of
And sadness is a
Brittle arc,
A broken circle
Bisected by

For the parents of the Israeli and Kurdish boys, and the Nigerian girls, who are grieving for their lost and kidnapped children. We are all diminished, we are all less because of their kidnapping, their torture, their deaths.

For all of us, who share in this grief. Let us pray, let us act, let us work to bring them all home.

Stacey Zisook Robinson

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dancing at the Well

I danced with Miriam --
In the dark,
While the sea curled,
Hungry and wild,
around our bare feet.

We danced,
And filled with glory.

And I drank from her well.
The water was sweet,
Tasting of summer,
And it cooled my fevered skin
As I walked the Wilderness
And learned to hear
The stillness of God.

And we danced
With timbrels and lyre,
Voices raised in exultation,
Hands clapping out a rhythm --
Hungry and wild,
And the music curled
Around our swelling hearts.

Now I grieve at her well,
And it echoes --
Not with the Sea,
But with her silence,
And my sorrow.
And my feet do not dance.
And the timbrels do not sing.
And oh!
I thirst for sweet water
And the stillness of God.

c Stacey Zisook Robinson
June 2014

Sunday, June 22, 2014

In Praise of Doubt

I find God in my doubt,
In the struggle to
The absolute best of me,
And in my fear
That I find only my
I wrestle,
and am restless
and I wander, rootless,
barricaded by my silence.
God of Hosts
and Light
and Mercy--
God of the desert
and unseen edges--
God of my devotion
and my rebellion:
Open my lips
That I may declare your praise.

c Stacey Zisook Robinson
20 June 2014

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Lighting the darkness, even for the Exile (B'haalot'cha 5774)

I adore my son.

And, much as I adore him, much as I would lay down my life for him, without question or hesitation, there are times I would like to sell him to the highest bidder. 

"But Mooooom," he whines, "Please mom! Please. I'll be good! Pleeeeeeeeease!"

And then I want to put spikes through my forehead and shout: "Stop. Just stop whining and go away!" Though I adore my son, there are times I'd love to banish him to somewhere – anywhere – that is not here.

Banishment. Exile. It is, for us, in many ways, the ultimate punishment. The story of our people is littered with this threat—God tells us, again and again “Do as I command or you'll have to leave, your houses will be destroyed, nothing will grow, your children will die.”

We stumble, we're exiled, and we yearn for return. Psalm 137, one of the most achingly beautiful of the psalms, captures the essence of this desire, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down/Yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion..."

So what does this have to do with this week’s parasha?

Though the essence of B'haalot'cha, we begin far from exile. God instructs Aaron through Moshe: “raise up the candles of the menorah and light them to shine in the darkness.” How awesome — shine a light into the darkness, and more—do it for eternity. Thus was born our Ner Tamid, the Eternal Lamp, not as a lamp lit to shine eternally, but to be lit every day, for eternity: a light in the darkness. I love that image.

After further instruction on a few other matters, we come to the main event. So much happened along the way, so much peril and danger and disaster—and now we must leave Sinai. The complaining begins:  “I don’t like manna!” “Why couldn't You have just left us in Egypt?” “Are we there yet?” Then, to add insult to injury, Aaron and Miraim voice complaints of their own. They moan, “How could he embarrass us so, by marrying that woman? How does it look to the neighbors? Aren't we prophets, too?”

God schools them both, and when they leave the Tent, Miriam is covered in white scales. She's become a leper. Aaron is horrified. No leprosy for him, but horrified nonetheless. Moshe prays “El na r’fah na la—O God, please heal her.” God isn't so willing to forgive just yet, and exiles her from the community for seven days.

For seven days, Miriam is to separate herself, live disconnected from her community. For seven days, Miriam is alone.

There is injustice here, and it's so easy to focus on the whys of it-- why would Aaron escape unpunished? Surely he was just as guilty. In fact—more so! He built the golden calf after all! The rabbis tell us that this, in fact, was his punishment, that he would know, forever, that he had done this. 

I don’t buy that. I think it’s an example of capricious Divine behavior. But I was reminded that I could just as easily look, not at the why of it, but ask, instead, what's the lesson we learn from it?

Miriam was exiled for her voice. How often do we exile the dreamers and prophets, the broken and damaged of us? We cringe, and we banish them, proclaiming their apostasy: "Get out. Stay out. You're not welcome here. We don't want your kind here."

Whatever the words, we exile the Other. We look the other way when confronted with need or pain. It's so easy to say “Pull yourself together! You've grieved long enough, suffered long enough, cried long enough, complained long enough-- just get over it."

Worse, we are often way too ready to exile ourselves. We've made it so difficult, so demeaning to ask for help, that we prefer to live in dark exile. For some of us, the pain is so great, the separation so complete, we choose to exile ourselves permanently.

Miki Raver, in her book, Listen to Her Voice, tells us that the lesson of Miriam’s exile is this: just as Miriam had waited by the river to watch over her brother Moshe in the river, so, too, did all of Israel wait for Miriam to be healed.

Not just the people; God waited as well. They moved when God did, so as long as the God hung about as a cloud over the Mishkan, the people stayed put. All during Miriam’s exile, for those seven lonely days, the cloud hovered over the Tent. 

Perhaps they could have done more. We can always do more, but we must never forget that, in the desert, in our own exile and darkness, we can only survive as a community.

This parasha began with instructions to raise up the candles, to light the darkness. It is my hope that we will find a way to bring the exile in, help them heal, light their darkness and share the burdens of their journeys, just as we hope and pray to find candles along the way to light our own.

c Stacey Zisook Robinson
June 2014

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


I counted out the measures
In cubits
and inches
and baskets of grain
And made a sanctuary
From a field of grass
And cornflowers,
And it was pleasing to behold,
And silent.

Beyond those borders,
Beyond the altars and their
Sacred, silent beauty,
Lay the wild lands--
Choked with weeds
And shadows
That stretched in still echoes
Over miles
And unmeasured days,
Leached of color
And light.

They came,
Crossing the wilderness
With steps of infinity,
Measured in endless cubits
And dusty inches,
And gathered here,
In my field of glory,
Carrying baskets laden with their gifts
And sins
And doubt:
Their sacrifice,
Offered in silvered longing.
And laid on that altar
Their gifts and broken burdens,
All together and all at once.

They gathered there
In the field of grass
Bounded by cubits; and inches
and meters and measures
They lifted their voices
In  an endless hosanna
In aching need,
And sang


It was benediction--
A bounty of sweet and
splintered offerings.
They sang
Into that holy stillness--
That glorious sanctuary
Of unbounded measure
And sweetly bending grasses,
And mist that hovered
Like the breath of God--



For the ending of the counting of the Omer
Stacey Zisook Robinson
c 2014

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Holiness of Silence

I remember the silence of the desert.
I entered those wild lands
of heat and cracked earth and wind
that twisted everything it kissed.

My shadow danced, a stumbling gait
on the solitary plains and morphing hills
that rose and sank and shimmered
under a sky absent of clouds.

I felt its blueness.
It lay heavy on my skin,
and tasted of bronze,
swept clean
and empty.

I saw visions there,
and felt the echoes of stardust,
and still my shadow danced--
there was no hiding from it
in the silence and sere beauty
Of wind and earth and trackless glory.

I walked
And danced
And stumbled, weary,
in a vast and antique land
of desolate grandeur,
To gather together
my brokenness,
to return to the gate of Heaven
and rest, at last,
in the hand of God.

I remember the desert
and the holiness of silence.