A Poem for the Seder by Yehuda Amichai

A beautiful translation of a beautiful poem - enjoy - Happy Passover everyone!


Meditations for the Seder night: what is different, we asked

What makes this night different from all other nights,
Most of us grew up and we don’t ask anymore, while some
continue to ask questions throughout their lives, like when they ask
How are you? or What time is it? and move on
without hearing the answer. What is different, every night,
like an alarm clock whose tick-tock calms us and puts us to sleep
What has changed, everything will change. Change is God.
Meditations for Seder night: the Torah spoke of four sons
One who is wise, one who is wicked, one who is simple, and one
who does not know how to ask. But it doesn’t tell us
about the one who is good or the one who loves.
This is the question that has no answer and if there were an answer
I would not want to know it. I who passed all the sons
in different combinations, I lived my life, the moon shone
on me though I had no need for it and the sun went its way and the
Passover holidays passed without answer. What has changed, Change
is God and death is God’s prophet.

Yehuda Amichai, from “Gods Change, Prayers Remain Forever”

 translated by Rabbis Rena Blumenthal and Barbara Penzner

Thoughts for Yizkor - for our Community Memorial

[Given on Sunday, September 23, 2012, at the Hebrew Cemetery, Charlotte, NC]

The Place Where We are Absolutely Right - Yehuda Amichai

From the place where we are absolutely right
flowers will never grow in the spring.
The place where we are absolutely right
is trampled, hardened
like a courtyard.

doubts and loves
make the world rise like dough
like a molehill, like a plow.
And a whisper will be heard
in the place where a home was destroyed.
We still relate to those who are gone. We wish they were here to share time and space with us. We talk to them and wish they would talk back. We look back with regret over opportunities missed. Loss remains within us, a hollow space, demanding attention.

As our loss demands attention, so do we resist it – we want it to be simple and complete – to be absolute like the place in Amichai’s poem. A place where we are absolutely right sounds like a comfort. This place could be easier. It would certainly be quieter. Amichai reminds us what that place would look like – it would be truly lifeless. There are no possibilities there. In that place we allow our own small needs to crowd out everything else.

The people we have lost are not absolutely one way or another either, and to hear them we may have to admit that one person may have many sides that we remember.

My father (may his memory be for a blessing) and I used to hotly debate the issues of the day. We knew each other’s positions very well, and often started arguing where we had left off before. After hours of discussion on long car trips between North Carolina and New York we usually managed to discover some common ground – growing closer through our doubts and our love. Over the years, as he fell ill to pancreatic cancer, my father lost interest in these conversations, preferring exchanges that took less effort. I lost those times even before he died. Now that he’s gone I must go past that barren place where nothing grows into my older memories of him in order to connect with a more living time between us.

Instead of working towards that place of absolutes, let us embrace our doubts and loves. Let us live and struggle in our world of grays and colors and shades of partial knowledge. In this world where things grow, things die as well. Our loss grows and changes and we learn and cope.

Over time we all accumulate a bigger cast of characters in our places of loss. As their numbers grow, as our loss increases, so too do those conversations. The ones where we offer one side and have to imagine the other side. These conversations can only happen in the places where we are not always right. Reminiscing with family and friends and imagining the thoughts and ideas of those who are gone allows us to keep them with us, allows doubt and love to live on.

As we enter this new year of 5773, let us bravely enter the areas of loss in our lives together. May we find in our own hollows, in those spaces filled with destroyed homes, the whispers of those who have left us behind, and the responses of we who remain.

In this time of communal memorial, this space filled with repentance and confession, this time of broken hearts and open gates, let us comfort each other. Our doubts and loves shared caringly with each other, our compassion and loss felt together, may help leaven the rising dough of our world. Let us listen to each other whisper, let us find comfort in honoring what has gone before, and building anew together.

G’mar Chatimah Tovah – may we be well inscribed together in the New Year.