Tikkun Leil Shavuot, 5AM
It's 5AM; call my name,
I'm waiting. I want you to see who answers
and shoves back when you try to elbow past
because if I never end,
if I am many roads but no walls,
how can I stop you?
I yield; you flow through me;
all we do is surrender. The mirrors
confuse, and we forget which is real
and which the rebuke, a hoarse cry of hunger, letters on a scroll
that refuse to dance when you run out of breath.
There are no mistakes, and even if there were,
I would give you more
because this night I beg you to change,
be frustrated, break my arm,
don't bother to peek, just tear down the curtain.
How can it be morning? There's a woman walking her dog.
We make music on a street corner.
Back inside I catch you as you shiver and fall,
and you pretend to forgive. But I sing back:
Eagles' wings, altars of mud, they're all the same
because it's 5AM
and I need an answer.
I think I did receive new Torah last night. Only problem is that I can't read it. Maybe the ink wasn't dry and the letters smudged. I'll give it a few months; OK, much longer. But it would be really nice to understand, one of these days.
We had a long night of wonderful learning that began with ideas about what "being Jewish" might really mean, the question of where God resides, and if it's possible to perform a mitzvah without accepting a challenge. Then, after midnight and some great pastry, we again sat on the floor among rose petals and considered conversion, sacrifice, caves, magic potions, blame, forgiveness, and rebuke. My brain was full after an hour, and I mostly propped myself up against a wall and watched words float past, but at about 4AM I got a second wind just in time for a subject I can barely tackle when wide awake: a text from the Netivot Shalom about the utter, empty quiet at the foot of the mountain before Israel received the Torah. The Slonimer Rebbe compared that moment of complete union to how we, as a holy people, must always be:
We must completely surrender and give ourselves to God... We merit receiving the Torah and all the insights that come with receiving the Torah in the same measure as we are capable of surrendering.
"Surrender": an uncommon word in Jewish theology. The rabbi wondered what we thought of the idea. To me, at first, it seemed obvious: how else can one pray but with the goal of surrender, of a naked and open heart? That's part of it, said the rabbi, but what about the times when you confront and argue with God?
I had no answer, because I don't really pray that way. I don't blame God for anything; what is, is. But I am self-critical when I don't understand what God is trying to say--when I don't listen to the message. Last night at around 4:30AM it occurred to me that I needed do a better job of praying outwards, not necessarily through prayer itself but directly, through words and actions, to make sure God hears MY message. Surrender, openness and honesty, is not always passive. Maybe it's just a semantic difference, but it was a jarring thought just the same. I read Torah and stumbled (I wasn't the only one); I got annoyed with myself (no one else seemed to mind). I came home at 7AM and slept for many hours, and awoke to the sound of my cat demanding food and the words "It's 5AM; call my name" left over from a dream. I realized that the night served its purpose: in my exhaustion I really did reach a stripped-down but safe state of powerlessness that let some ideas slip in where there might not have been an opening before. I felt very chutzpadik writing this poem from God's point of view, but our relationship is reciprocal. We mirror each other; in love, we share the rebuke; and mine needs to be a little louder.