Tuesday, March 13, 2018

“The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.” ― G.K. Chesterton

Monday, March 12, 2018

Many years ago I asked Rav Benny Eisner about the fact that after a day of work it's hard to come home and learn Torah.  He said to learn things that you forward to learning, to learn things that you love learning. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

I Miss You

I started re watching West Wing tonight.  I didn't see the whole series and am picking up from Season 4, though I saw part, if not all, of it. Watching West Wing reminded me of this post, where I cited it and then someone questioned my being a rabbi and watching TV, and then there was some communicating and miscommunicating.  I miss that time, 12 years ago! There was a chevra here that read and discussed. Things change. (Which is the name of a movie I like.) I like blogging. It doesn't exist anymore.  Not on the list of social medias that people use.  I somehow have moved forward time gives no choice) but this heyday of blogging feels like a quick minute ago and I have not yet, can't, let go of this blog's hand (nor the hand of all it meant and means to me).

I may write more, but I'm going to post this now, feeling like holding back (while also feeling like sharing).  I wonder if anyone will see this, wonder if people look here, wonder about almost never getting comments (save for spammers). 

I push and pull, hide, and seek to be seen.

I pray for all good for you.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

What should I say when Y asks, "Do you remember X?" I guess I should just say yes and little more.  When I say yes, and then start recounting joint experiences that I shared with X and Y, and Y has no clue what I'm talking about, it can feel awkward.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

I have long chosen alone-ness that's good over connected-ness that's not good, introvert that I am.

Thursday, February 08, 2018


"If a someone borrows something from another person and it is injured or dies while he's not there with it, he must make complete restitution." - Shmot 22:14
The one exception to the halacha stated in this pasuk, that a borrower is completely responsible for damage done to the thing he borrowed is "בּעלו עמו," if the owner is there with him. Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa explains how this applies to us and to our souls. Our souls are given to us on loan and we are responsible for any injury our souls suffer. But if we fulfill שויתי ה' לנגדי תמיד - striving to keep 'ה close to us then we are not fully responsible, because it's a situation of בּעלו עמו - the owner was present while we had what we borrowed.
The meaning of אחת שׁאלתי may be (not one thing I ask, but) "one thing I borrowed from 'ה." And how can I make it that 'ה will not judge me harshly for the mistakes I've made with my soul, the one thing I've borrowed? I can achieve this through fulfilling שׁבתי בּבית ה׳, cleaving to ה׳ all my life. If the owner is there with the borrower then it's clear that he shares ownership and responsibility for the borrowed object. If I keep G-d close, strive always for connection to Him, then as I live (and when I pass forward from this world) G-d will mitigate and share the responsibility for the soul that He lent to me.
- Via Rabbi Shmuel Silber

Sunday, February 04, 2018

A Moment At Kiddush

Discussed,the affects
of the stumbling man's illness:

Saturday, February 03, 2018

“We’re all seeking that special person who is right for us. But if you’ve been through enough relationships, you begin to suspect there’s no right person, just different flavors of wrong. Why is this? Because you yourself are wrong in some way, and you seek out partners who are wrong in some complementary way. But it takes a lot of living to grow fully into your own wrongness. And it isn’t until you finally run up against your deepest demons, your unsolvable problems—the ones that make you truly who you are—that we’re ready to find a lifelong mate. Only then do you finally know what you’re looking for. You’re looking for the wrong person. But not just any wrong person: the right wrong person—someone you lovingly gaze upon and think, “This is the problem I want to have.”

I will find that special person who is wrong for me in just the right way.

Let our scars fall in love.”

- Galway Kinnell

Friday, January 26, 2018

Rav Menachem Froman On His Poems

There's a great interview w Rav Froman in the book "Learning in Jerusalem," published in 1998. In it, he's quoted as saying (page 152):

"For three years I wrote for the paper Davar, since closed, a weekly Torah commentary that took the form of a poem. Each week i would write a shir, a poem, on the Biblical portion of the week. It might be on one pasuk or one particular idea within the parashah. For one whole year i did this for each Shabbat and also for the chagim. My other most recent effort was a book of love poems to Eretz Yisrael, between the person and the land.In both of these works i took a Torah idea and gave it freedom. That is, I checked in the poems all kinds of options as to how to how this idea can develop. Often these were non-unconventional and remote possibilities...'"

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

T.S Elliot taught me about the meaning of words, 
Dylan Thomas taught me about the beauty of words, 
and E.E. Cummings taught me about the rhythm of words. 

- Steve Martin, in an interview with Bob Osserman (for most of which he was joined on stage by Robin Williams)

Friday, January 12, 2018

Good Erev Shabbos

3:37 PM - Prepping for Shabbos.  Water boiling for cauliflower. chicken and asparagus in oven, chicken based, grain free cholent on, Pandora on, thinking about first Yahrtzeit of dad, which was yesterday, condiring the cold war that I seem to always be fighting or at least keeping troops mon the borders for, thinking about Nesivos Shalom and how he tied in Galus and Shabbos.  He says that we, sadlt get ibnto our own Galus every week and Shabbos is the Geulah that pulls us out.

4:06 PM - Thinking about Nesivos Shalom: he speaks of the don't dos of Shabbos - the negative rules, and the dos - the positive rules, and sdds that this parallels shamor and zachor respectively, as well as sur meirah and asei tov.  He addresses a contradiction concerning if we need to keep one or two Shabboses.  He explains that it's one Shabbos that has two aspects, the seemingly negative aspects of abstention, and the more active, seemingly more positive elements - the shamos and the zachors.  This brings to mind for me the idea of Rav Hirsch that every mitzvah has a shamor and zachor side.  As Rav Hirsch sees it the two sides of the coin are the philosophical and spiritual element on the one hand and the technical rules element on the other hand.  He says that sadly proplr often picj a camp, there are th halachic types who sometimes err by moving away from the spirit of the law.  And then there are those who mistakenly think there can be a true spiritual experience without the element of keeping every part of G-d's word.

4:19 PM - Going to sign off now.  Wishing everyone a wonderful Shabbos that is as whole as I wish for your life to be.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Suddenly Grief

For many years I went to the home I grew up in to spend Shabbos with my parents, and later just with my father. During that time I was an honorary member of the Shul community I grew up in.
One of the highlights of being in the Shul was talking with Rabbi Avraham Holtz. We would chat at Kiddush and in particular after davening on Friday night. More than once we stood outside at this time of year in the cold, talking for a long time. Or we'd talk in the summer as the hour got later and later. As his wife waited for him and my dad for me.
It was in one of those talks that he first mentioned his friend Aharon Appelfeld to me. Rabbi Holtz had just been to a conference on Appelfeld at U of P and he was thirsty to talk about it, he couldn't stop. He was taken by a presenter who said that Appelfeld's work was like science fiction. At first he couldn't imagine, and then it made sense to him. Appelfeld conjures a surrealistic reality that is so real and yet so unreal. He writes about the Holocaust without naming it by it's name, without naming the war, without naming the unnameable, which is so nameable.
After that talk I started reading Appelfeld and was captivated by his stories. And I'm not a fan of science fiction, but I got how there's an element of that to him, and I always thought of him in that realm. He writes a lot about losing home, and wanting to go home, and wanting to belong, and wanting to be separate. He writes about wounded ghosts, of survivors. His work is captivating. I even bought some of it in Hebrew and broke my teeth on it.
Rabbi Holtz told me that Appelfeld wrote every day at Beit Ticho. So I went once on a Friday and shyly asked a waiter if Aharon Apelfel wrote there . He said yes, said he's very open to talking to people - but he didn't come on Fridays. On another visit I was told that Beit Ticho was renovating and was temporarily relocated as part of another cafe'. I went to the other place and a waitress told me that he had come in the past, but he was presently old and frail and couldn't come anymore. In each case I felt like the wait staff liked Appelfeld, and that they liked that I came looking for him.
Something about Aharon Appelfeld and his writing resonated for me. Something about his honesty, sadness, alienation, ambivalence, longing, his whimsy, his romanticism. Something. Also, sadly, I related to is how he didn't remember the past, he experienced it together with the present, not just haunted by it, but in it.
I wish I would have found him writing at his table and that we would have chatted. I'm glad I discovered his writing even if I never found him in person. It comforted me to know he was alive. And it saddens me that he's no longer in this world.
I miss Aharon Appelfeld.

I'll catch a ride on your violin, strung upon your bow, 
and I'll float on your melody, sing your chorus soft and low.
- Ian Anderson

Monday, January 01, 2018

וְנֹחַ, מָצָא חֵן בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה - The Nesivos Shalom cites a different take on this pasuk (usually translaed to mean that Moach found favor in G-d's eyes): Noach found favor by viewing things with G-d like eyes.

Maybe only a
certain type of narcissist
falls for another

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Tevet 10 Ebbs Away

I just reread an idea cited by the Nesivos Shalom (in his essay on Vayechi on the bracha Yosef received).  He cites the line from Tehilim, "They have eyes and they won't see," and quotes someone who noted that the word translated as "they have" doesn't really mean that.  The Hebrew word להם means for them.  As long as eyes are used for oneself, one's own desires, etc then one won't truly see. To, so to speak, see G-d one must be careful with using one's eyes in a self-central way.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

One Of My Favorite Dvar Torahs

בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ - With all your heart: [The double “veth” in לְבָבְךָ, instead of the usual form לִבְּךָ, suggests:] שלא יהיה לבך חלוק על המקום - that your heart should not be divided [i.e., at variance] with the Omnipresent.

Reb Moshe of Kobrin (1784 - 1858) cited in Torah Avot, p.118 (2005 edition) notes that the word used here for G-d is המקום - The Place (which the Talmud explains to mean that "G-d is the place in which the world exists, and the world is not the place within which G-d exists). He says that this also teaches us that we should not argue with, but rather accept as meant to be, the place and time that we were born into.

 "If wind asked permission 
we might wait and listen" 
- John Freeman 

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Blog Post

I never know what to write, where, if... And yet I come back here, still, after 13 years.

It's close to Shabbos.  I am getting older.  We all are.

I am grateful:

I went to a Yeshiva poetry slam this week. I think it's probably around my 30th one.  That's a lot of poems.  It's an amazing thing - good for the kids who go on it I think/hope.

I form connections with students.  This was manifest this week in several ways: The kids at the explanatory minyan that I run, the kids at the explanatory minyan I used to run, the kids I helped with poems, the kids I learned with privately, the kids who asked for help with assignments in other classes, the kids who say thank you as they leave class at the end.

I recently officiated at my first funeral.  I want it to be mostly a G-d thing, and not share too much about it. I will share that a particular funeral home involved was very unsettling to deal with, so if you ever have options in New Jersey in this sad area and want to know where not to go, let me know.  On the other hand, the helpers came out - an amazing organization that helps with anything in this realm, a kind head of a chevra kadisha, and more.

I miss dad (and mom, but dad's leaving is rawer).  I miss being with him for Shabbos (not the place where he was for the very last years so much, but him). I miss his simple love and support (even if it didn't always feel simple to me, it was).

I yearn for connection.  I usually steer clear of this topic, but we humans need connection.  I pray for all the never marrieds, all the widowed and divorced, all the unhappily married, all the people of this world.

I am grateful for poetry in my life, for the passion I have for it.  People at the slams I've neen taking kids to for I think 6 years assume I teach English.  When I told a colleageue from another school on Thursday that I don't teach English but rather Jewish Studies, her response was, "Get out!" Im particular I'm grateful for Rav Froman's poems, which I miss.

It's almost Shabbos, I don't know who will see this, whoever you are I hope you had a beautiful and meaningful Shabbos and I wish you all the best.


Here's a link to the video, and these are my notes on Rabbi Markowitz' shiur on Parshat Vayigash:
Yehudah's speech is unusually long amount of time that someone speaks straight in the Torah. And it leads to the reveal and great emotion. Rav Yehudah Saviv suggests that vayigash may really mean not that he went to Yosef, but to Binyamin to protect him. He was saying, "Itchah ani," you're not stuck alone with this leader. (It wouldn't make sense that he approached a ruler, not done.) And when Yosef saw the compassion and empathy that Yehudah showed for Binyamin he was greatly moved. As mefarshim (Sforno, later R Fohrman) point out they showed their lack of empathy by eating and drinking after throwing him in the pit. And now they've moved from that insensitivity to empathy.
Chidah, in his Hagadah, says that the four galuyot (Bavel, Paras/Madia, Yavan, Edom) mentioned by Chazal are all branches of the original galut of Mitzrayim. which is the "av lekulam." The brothers go down to Mitzrayim 4 times, corresponding to the 4 exiles - for food, then to get Binyamin, then to save Binyamin, then they come back with Yaakov.
They all correspond (eg. Paras U'Madai corresponds to the second time they go down and eat and drink with the ruler and Binyamin wears 5 garments, just as Mordechai will in the future!) And the first was the shortest stay, like the first galut that was 70 years, and the last time they go is longest, like ours now is longest.
Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz/Olelot Efraim/Kli Yakar: 70 nefesh went down to mitzrayim vs. Eisav's descendants who are described as nefashot. 4 things that never changed for the Jews, one is shelo shanu et shemam. The K"Y say a different p'shat than the conventional one (that they didn't change their names) - based on the idea that we are called Adam and the umot ha'olam are not called Adam. He says that Adam reflects togetherness and connection because there are 4 words for a person - adam, ish, gever, and enosh. They each have a plural for, except for adam - there's no adamin. This reflects the connectivity, kol Yisrael areivim zeh bazeh. And thus here, nefesh. The RaMak and the Ba'al HaTanya write that we are neshamah echad begufim mechulakim. And that's lo shinu et shmam on a deeper level. They did not allow themselves to become disconnected and sway from being Adam - one unit. (Related - it thus says Adam on the kisei hakavod, and also this is the idea of ke'ish echad beleiv echad.)
Daat Zkeinim - R Chaim Shmuelewitz - Paroh and Yaakov meet. What do they discuss? Yaakov's age, and his feelings about it. Some point out that we see from here that in the eyes of the Torah general conversation is important - conversation that's sometimes called mah bekach (seemingly incidental, polite). Deeper: The Daat Zekeinim says Yaakov was supposed to live to 180 like Yitzchak, but he lost 33 years, corresponding to the words he spoke, 33. But Rav Chaim Schmelewitz notes that it's 23 words! He answers that it includes the words of the question. Yaakov exuded something, an air of being old and worn, somewhat negative, that caused the question to be asked, and so he was taken to task for the fact that the question needed to be asked.
10 of Tevet is this Thursday. It is the only fast that falls on Friday, and even if it fell on Shabbos the Beis Yosef says we would fast! The Lubavitcher Rebbe says that the siege of over 2 years preceded and foreshadowed what would happen. And so every year on the 10th of Tevet the Jewish People are judged for whether or not there will be a 9th of Av this year.
Chasam Sofer in Teshuva - The 9th Av has a precursor in the Torah: Meraglim, 17th of Tamuz, the precursor is Cheit HaEigel, and 10th of Tevet 10 the precursor is Mechirat Yosef!

Friday, December 15, 2017


Breishit - 43:33 - They are placed at a table in order.  Rashi says it was not just age order, but age order according to their mothers.  They are surprised.  but they still don't get that it's Yosef! How could they not recognize Yosef? R Shlomo Wolbe in his Shiurei Chumash (page shin nun) points out that when one is in the middle of the story it's hard to connect the dots, even if from an outside perspective the truth is clear.  This applied for them in this story, and is true for us in life.  We see wild things happening in the world.  When we on day hear, at Mashiach time "Ani Hashem," then all the answers will be provided.  But till then it's hard to see things as making sense, though we have to try, because we're inside the historical story. It's just like when Yosef tells them "Ani Hashem" it all makes sense.  May we be blessed to do our best to see G-d in our lives, even  now.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

I think this is a social media, but it's the medium i go to when I want to write while hiding from social media. I believe there's something positive and unique about blogging.  I believe that personal blogging has a certain form, in short - the more real and free flowing the closer it is to what this is meant to be. Recently it was the 13th anniversary of my blog, this blog (I have a whole bunch of others). (I like the word bunch, though I've been criticized for this, by one person - though maybe it secretly bothers everyone.) In my first post I wrote that blogging was "my way of  calling G-d out of my depths." I also wrote lots of other things, that first time out. That first time out was a Saturday night at home, late.  Very similar to now.  I recently was talking with some people about years ago - going back like 12 years maybe and everyone had a story. Then I was asked where i was at and I said I was doing the same things - living in same place, doing same job, etc.  someone said that's impossible, and I guess in a way he was right, though I think largely he was wrong.  Much is the same, though there's some change. It's like that story about a man who took a picture on the street at the same time every day, daily, over years, and it looked the same but he knew it wasn't the same each time.  Mom and dad were here when this blog started and they were fans, and I could critique the style of the appreciation, but I took it then, and I'll take it still.  Dad once wrote me a beautiful email, in which he said that this blog allowed him to see and appreciate me better.  I'm feeling the loss of dad strongly.  Mom, still, too - but dad's moving on was more recent, so recent, so raw.  My assignment at work changes every year, and every year starts and ends and then the next one starts again, not like many other jobs - teching is unique in how things get dismantled and set up all anew again year after year.  And in my job in articular I have had many different preparations of classes, almost never teaching a class one year that I had taught the year before. I remember when dad finally understood that, that it wasn't a repeat of the same topic each year - I appreciated that he got it.  Dad.  I miss the Shabboses every other week, and the phone calls every day.  And much as there were pieces that were uncomfortable in being my age and being so associated for myself and others as a son, I am not over the loss of being identified that way, not fully ready to move on from it. 

It's been well over an hour since I wrote the paragraph above, and so it's gotten late (that's how it goes).  And yet, before sleep I want to write more,  Writing is big for me. I just looked back at the previous sentence and dislike it, it does not come close to saying how writing is a need I have, that if I don't write my life feels lacking, unhealthy, imbalanced.  And when I write I feel more like myself.

I've been asked by friends to give a public shiur about Chanukah.  i'm excited and afraid, so many ideas and I want to connect them.  I will give some headlines here, but it may be too shorthand to make sence.  There's the Rav Zevin piece about Ohr and Oor - light vs. fire and how it fits with the war and the oil and the opinion of Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel, there are two poems - one blatantly about Chanukah and one about darkness and light, there's the idea of pachim ketanim, caring about seeimngly small things, there's the famous oil vs. war question - Al HaNissim vs. Mai Chanukah and the Maharal's answer, and the question of why eight days and what I think of as the Rav Dovid Feinstein answer, one of a hundred answers collected in Ner LeMeah.  There's Mizmor Shir that we say daily and what it means for Chanukah and for every day, how the house is inside us, how we start new each morning and rededicate our insides, and so too as a people after hard times.  And there's the Gemorah about Adam.  An there's the similarity to the moon, and the fact that we go by the moon, a reflection of light, a more vulnerable light, and there's the fact that this is the only holiday with a Rosh Chodesh in it, and there's the statement of R Elyashuv that we don't see that Mizmor as about the Bet HaMikdash because we're so far from getting it, and there's the idea of the mood being in the air at the time of the holiday even before the holiday and how this is a time for light expanding from darkness, and that's thetheme of Bet Hillel too and that's the theme of everything relating to hanukah including the weak beating the strong, the light winning, and it fit's with Yosef getting out of the darkness of jail - so described by Chazal and with yaakob becoming Yisrael and the line of being lowered and raised like bucket and how that;s how it goes like in mitzrayim and galus in general how the darkness is needed for the light.....

Time to close, good night and G-d bless.

Chanukah Basics Quiz

1. In what year (BCE) did the Macabeees rededicate the Great Temple of Jerusalem (Beit HaMikdash)?
2. What does the word Chanukah literally mean?
3. Which people did the Macabees reclaim the Beit HaMikdash from?
4. a. In the time of Alexander the Great, Israel was considered part of what country? b. Israel was considered a province of what empire?
5. What was the job of the provincial governors?
6. What name is given to Greek culture?
7. What type of god or gods did the Greeks worship?
8. Where were Greek laws written and how were these laws decided?
9. a. How did Alexander force people to accept his beliefs? b. How did his immediate successors do this?
10. What was Theos Epiphanes’ real name and what does this chosen name mean?
11. What policy did he introduce ?
12. Who was worshipped in the Beit HaMikdash under the rein of AntiochusIV?
13. What two things served as tests of political loyalty?
14. Give four examples of things that were prohibited and punishable by death?
15. In what town did the rebellion against Antiachus begin?
16. a. Where was this town? b. Near what modern town?
17. What event sparked the revolution?

The Night Before The Funeral

Brooke: “Tomorrow's a big day,”

Tig: “Tomorrow's actually a very small day because my mother's not in it. Every day from now on will be smaller. The town's smaller. I'm smaller.”

Sunday, December 03, 2017


In the first dream he says they were all binding stalks of wheat and then his stalk stands up and their stalks bow to his stalk.  In the second dream the sun, moon, and the stars (that represent his brothers) are bowing to him, himself.

When they go to Mitzrayim and meet Yosef who is in disguise (42:6) it says they bow to him. But they are bowing to him, as he was just described, because he was the wealthy ruler of the land.  Thus, in the first dream they bow to his stalk, his possessions, the wheat that he controls.  But the second time they see him they bow to him himself (In Perek 43), not just to what he provides.

- Mei'Otzreinu HaYashan Pg. 196. citing Knaf Ra'ananim

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

In The Moment Thoughts

There's an impact I feel from the many many hours I spent clearing out my parents' (/my) home.  Most of the time it was me and my dear assistant Angelica sorting through stuff for hours on end and filling myriad large garbage bags. 

Part of the effect is that I am getting tired of my own clutter.  I don't even know who, if anyone, would do it, but in case one day when I've moved forward someone clears through my stuff I'd like to make it a bit less work for them.  I realized that while my parents always told me to throw stuff away, they almost never did.  The house didn't look like a hoarders' home (except for the basement) because things were stored away.  And went untouched for maybe 50 years, till I touched them. 

There were these cabinets parallel to the kitchen ceiling filled with old rusty appliances.  May parents' closet had a top shelf that went back deep and in the back of it there was there wedding album, which I had never seed.  It had sat there since we moved in in the late sixties.  My dad had check stubs and other paper work going back to the early sixties, at least. What was once my room was packed with their clothing and other items.  On and on.  Books that hadn't been touched in fifty years. A piece of furniture filled with my mother's teaching stuff which spilled over to elsewhere too.  All the stuff they got from when my grandparents and so on. 

So tonight I'm giving away a lovely set of books that I've had for about thirty years.  it's called Sarei Meiah by Rav Y L Maimon.  I've never read anything from it till I just now read this: He says that Rav Kook practiced what he preached by moving to Israel.  As much as he was already a big rabbi and leader he wanted more.  he taught that the Jewish people could only become who they were meant to be in Israel, and he believed this about himself too.

Friday, November 17, 2017

On Friendship

Rav Hutner says that the word rei'ah/friend is related to the word teruah - the broken sounds of the shofar.  a friend sometimes breaks you down, if he/she is a true friend. This is why the command to love our friends is followed by the prohibition of getting back at a friend.  Sometimes a true friend will critique us and our temptation may be to get angry at them when the appropriate response is thank you.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


Six stages of Yitzchak's life discussed in Torah -

He's born
In land of Plishtim
He dies

Each stage finds him being passive rather than active.

Rabeinu Bachya - 26:18 - Yitchak kept the names of the wells that Avraham gave.  He represents continuity and stability.  Thus his name didn't change. Rav Shteinzaltz says that his greatness was in floowing and continuing what Avraham did. Gevurah is holding back and not acting. Carrying things further is key, more than just starting.The Ketav VaKabala points out that the renameing of the wells with G-d related names reflects how the people tried to forget Avraham's meaasage and Yitzchak reopened (redug) that message, continued on that path.

(Inspired by presentation of Rabbi Yamin Goldsmith)

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Something came up about Nechama Leibowitz in class and I got choked up as I related that she only allowed the one descriptive word, "Morah," written on her tombstone.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

I have been enjoying and gaining from  Rabbi Yamin Goldsmith's SFW Daily What's app message. Here are some ideas I remember from it.

Lech Lechah - When a father says the bracha on brit milah he calls it the brit of Avraham Avinu. Then he says that just as the the newborn has entered the bris, so too he should enter Torah, chupah, and ma'asim tovim.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab (in his sefer on Chumash commenting on Parshat Pekudei) says that there is no benefit that a person gets from having a brit milah. It is done only because it was commanded by G-d. So what the parent prays for is that just like his child has had a bris, which is done only for G-d, so too may be go through all the stages of life and fulfill the mitzvot that are associated with each passage, for the sake of Heaven.

Chayei Sarah - 

1 - Why did Avraham say that his son's wife had to come from his hometown of Aram, and not from Canaan?  The Ran says that he was stressing the importance of midot, something that they has in Aram, even though they were idol worshipers, as opposed to in Canaan, where they were unkind.  

2 - Eliezer says that the girl may not want to go with him, and asks Avraham what to do then.  The word is ulai, Hebrew for maybe. Rashi says that Eliezer (not named in the parsha) says that wanted his daughter to marry Avraham's son and therefore had some hopes that his mission would not succeed.It's pointed out by commentaries (Ketav VeKabalahoothat the word ulai is written in an in incomplete way (missing the letter vav) and this is what gave Rashi the idea that that Eliezer had some hesitation about his mission. It's worth noting that the story is told twice, once when it happens and once when it's recounted by Eliezer to Avraham's family in Aram.

Rabeinu Ovadia of Bartenura says that he is giving credence to the whole story by telling them that she's so nice that he wanted her for his son, and he's only here out of his loyalty for Avraham.  Rav Chaim Brisker says that now that he's actually met Rivka and sees how goosd she is, he wishes his son could marry her. And he hoped that in telling them about how he wondered that maybe the girl wouldn't want to travel they would think that maybe there was a reason not to send her and would hold back from letting her go.

3 - Tradition has it that Yitzchak went went to a field to pray and instituted Mincha.  The word used is that he went to speak - lasuach in the field - basadeh.  The word is used for the first time in Parshat Breishit describing the creation of plant life.  Just like plants need care and time to grow so too do our prayers time time and need care.  it's not for nothing that prayer is called avodah shebaleiv.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

GNAGB - 2017 Edition

It's a long time since I started writing here, keeping a "blog," and now I write less, but I'm not done here.  Less people read than once, and commenting happens so rarely it's almost like it doesn't happen.

I recently was chatting with someone who gets down sometimes about his life.  he said something about where he was 12 years ago, and then someone else chimed in, and then he asked me.  I said I was doing all the same things, living in the same place, working in the same place, status the same. He questioned that but didn't pursue it, went back to himself.  We all want things that others have and have things others want.  May we all be blessed with contentment balanced with drive, and gratefulness, and kindness woven through it all. 

It's late at night, later than the time here will say because I want it to say Saturday night (Motzai Shabbos Kodesh) even if it's technically Sunday morning.  Of course there are changes in my life - but certain changes not others.  I have no child who's older to refer to, no car changes (no car) no house changes (no house), no spouse, still.  If nothing else, shouldn't I be talking about re-doing a kitchen by now.  (Is it me or does it mean something other than re-doing a kitchen when a kitchen ggets redone?)

Dating has happened, - but I don't talk about that here (here?) (don't?). Friendships have been  tweaked. and have morphed  I've written new things.  I've read new things.  I've learned new Jewish texts. I've gone through changes in how I teach and what I teach and what else I do at work besides teaching Jewish studies (public speaking, poetry, improv, lots of guidance).

I have worked on my health , various aspects of it, nefesh and guf, in various ways.  I've exercised more and less and more...  In the last year and a half I have been more consistent than ever before with exercise and with eating and weight.  I've seen doctors I needed to see and done some of what I've needed though it feels regarding health that it's a mountains beyond mountains kind of thing. 

I've been there for people and people have been there for me.  And the reverse of that is sadly true too.  I've become part of a temporary community of unmarried (never and divorced and widowed and older and younger and sad and more sad and less sad, so many shades) frum people who spend Yom Tov together twice a year - for the past 8 years.

I've been keeping a graph for the last many years of my weight, week to week. It's down about 20 pounds from a year and a half ago.  It's plateaued and I've stopped being as careful with my food.  I need to truly avoid carbs and eat lots of veggies and protein becaue for me  it works.  Someone I know had the surgery recently, on the stomach.  He/she tells most people he/she just watches carbs.  I don't want to do that.  He/she's one of 3 people who have told they've done it. 

People tell me stuff.  I got my license for social work renewed, but it's already time to renew it again.  I think about being a therapist. 

I've published one book.  I don't know why I didn't get it on Amazon. I have more books to publish. I've made some art.

I've said yes. I've said no.

I bought a new bed for the first time in over twenty years, and it was a hard experience.  I bought a different kippa for the first time in many years, bought 5 of them, and then decided I may not be comfortable with it. 

I went to Israel several times. 

I spent a lot of time with my dad, sleeping on his couch in his house, then on his floor in assisted living, them on the bed he had them move in for me.  Shabbos regularly there for what might have been many years, turned out to  - suddenly - end at two and a half.  I spoke at the meals there, spoke to the people, told jokes, listened. 

I experienced the death of dad, seven years after the death of mom.  I lost my parents. 

I've done some financial things I needed to do. 

I've taken care of myself better than I might have, and not as well as I might have.  I've excelled at somethings and fallen short at others. 

Things may look the same but there is movement, there is living and not just existing.  I've gotten better at going to bed -sometimes, but not tonight.  Tonight I'm here with the energy stored from sleeping on Shabbos, maybe too much. 

Signing out and sending blessing to you (the you who once told me that my writing you is powerful, and to all of you). 

"The time has come to say good night,
My how time does fly.
We've had a laugh, perhaps a tear,
and now we hear good-bye.

I really hate to say good night,
for times like these are few.
I wish you love and happiness,
In everything you do.

The time has come to say good night,
I hope I've made a friend.
And so we'll say May God bless you,
Until we meet again."

- Red Slelton

Friday, November 03, 2017

One of the most valuable lessons of my life has been to understand that one truth does not cross out another, contradictory truth. We have the capacity to hold opposing truths in one hand. - Cheryl Strayed

Thursday, November 02, 2017

“A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape of the universe, helps to extend everyone's knowledge of himself and the world around him.” ― Dylan Thomas

Vayeirah via Shemen HaTov

The Torah says that Avraham offered much hospitality and abundant food to his guests. However (Breishit 17:4) when it comes to water to wash with he asked them to take "a little water." Rashi comments on his offer to take water, saying that this was done by way of a worker, on Avraham's behalf. Perhaps Rashi is answering the question of why he only gave them a bit of water. Avraham was in the desert, water was not easy to come by.  He had someone get it for him.  He did not want to burden the go between who got water for him, even though he went all out on all other fronts.  Perhaps the lesson here is that we can go all out when it is at our own expense.  But we should be careful of being kind at someone else's expense.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

“We are at the center of our own stories. And sometimes it is hard to believe that we are not at the center of other people’s.” - Rachel Joyce

Saturday, October 28, 2017

In the summer of 2016 I received new life in my life when I found the poetry of Rav Menachem Froman.  I shared 5 of 6 of these here before.  May I merit to keep learning from and trying to translate them.

Due Process For Madness
By Menachem Froman
(Translated by Neil Fleischmann)
It’s easy to let yourself forget
in the light of day, the way
of the madness of the night.
It comes as if self-evident,
like the light that conquers the darkness,
like the words that conquer the blank page;
they are all the same:
As much as they try not to be worn and torn
in the morning, of course, they just must
dress up so that they will be known
and make sense to others
or at least
to themselves.
Only in the middle
of the madness of the night is hidden
the wholeness
that cannot be divided,
completely yours.
This is the ancient lure
to be like G-d.


And Then
By Menachem Froman
(Translated By Neil Fleischmann)
Suddenly amidst the movement
you want to hold on to a fixed point
and just then in the middle of the confusion
you come to believe.
In the midst of the desolation
you find a fresh water spring
Amidst all this all of this.
You get up and say, "Thanks."


By Menachem Froman
(Translated By Neil Fleischmann)
I go
to cover my little daughter
go to watch over this sleeping sweetness
wanting to protect this delicate breath
so that no harm shall befall her
for all days
for always
so that nothing bad should happen to her.
My daughter is named for my mother
and she looks so much like her
when she shuts her eyes in bed
eye for eye I see
yes, I tremble
her time of death.


Eilu HaDevarim - These Are The Things
By Menachem Froman
(Translated by Neil Fleischmann)
Don't let things seduce you
Don't let things
Don't let books make you
Not books
Nor for experiences to force you
Not even poems


A Poem For Yom Yerushalayim: Har HaBayit Veyadeinu*
By Menachem Froman
(Translated by Neil Fleischmann)
In childhood of old there's a story we told
of two brothers who rose in the night
and tarried to carry bundles to one another, using their hands.
They went in private, so as not to embarrass.
In the place where they met, in the place where they
interlocked hands in silence
the Holy Temple was built.
Two with clean hands will ascend the mountain
One from this and one from that
At night, so as not to embarrass
They will raise their hands
In faith
Until the battle stops
and the war breaks.
When G-d returns
the Return of Zion
we will be like children
How it will surely be as once
carrying their bundles.


The Elephant In The Room :
A Love Story Between An Orthodox Woman and a Leftist Man
By Menachem Froman
(Translated By Neil Fleischmann)
In the dark
both of us
feel around him
with cleaving but without hope
I hold onto his dragged tail
and believe it is rope
grasp his large, widespread ears
and surmise them to be wings
After giving up we both conclude
that what we have
never happened at all
And it's not just
a metaphor. He is right here.
Now he gets up
huge, upon us, awesome
May he not trample us
May he not knock us over
May what we have
not end badly
lift my hands in prayer
hold him with two hands
My G-d, My G-d - maybe
he'll carry both of us on his back.


By Menachem Froman
Translated by Neil Fleischmann
He betrayed, clearly shown
And suddenly I'm alone
Reached out a hand for life
And suddenly - a sharp knife
Good reasoning:
You have your world
"Don't be a baby
That's just how it goes."
Miraculous connection
A fairy tale it might be
By Menachem Froman
Translated by Neil Fleischmann
Betrayal shown
and suddenly I'm alone
Reached out a hand for life
and suddenly - a sharp knife
Good reasoning as
you have your world:
"Don't be a baby
That's just how it goes."
Miraculous connection
A fable it might be
The sea saw and fled
The Jordan river retread
You too 
went on your way

On the side I stayed

Friday, October 27, 2017

I just discovered that there are a bunch of comments going back some time that have been awaiting moderation. I am so sorry that I missed them. Please try to understand that I did not know if you had commented. I never received notification.  I just put them up.  I am not sure I will find them all and be able to reply.  So, I will comment here, now. Thanks to the friend who posted condolences when dad passed away. Thanks to the relative who asked about remembrance gatherings for dad. Thanks to all who still visit here and particularly to those who comment.  I wondered why no-one had commented in so long.  They mean a lot to me.  Thanks again!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Review - Turtles All The Way Down

At points while reading "Turtles All The way Down" I worried if John Green was going to be okay. It's not a memoir, but it's written from and about his own experiences. The protagonist, a sixteen year old girl named Aza, says (on page 261) that people "talk like there's a bright line between imagination and memory" when there's barely a line at all. I imagine Green's voice when Aza says, "I remember what I've imagined and I imagine what I remember."  There's an unacknowledged thin line between fiction and memoir, and this book presents a raw and real revelation of who it's author is in his insides. I don't want to give away lines or plot but to simply say that this book is unusually well written. You're going to hear a lot of people saying that Green successfully puts words to pain in a way that hasn't been done before.  It's true.  This book is going to resonate for a lot of people and it's going to spark talk about how real and prevalent mental health concerns are.  Since the book's publication two weeks ago I've been reading up on it and i think the New York Times reviewer got it right in calling this book astonishing.  Read it and then let's talk about it.  Do it before its words are on tee shirts and your non reader friends are talking about the movie.  Read this book now.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

 Hope is a function of struggle. - Brene' Brown

Monday, October 16, 2017

Many years ago I read a piece in Newsweek following some politician getting in trouble via his diaries. Meg Greenfield wrote that anyone writing in a diary (like anyone writing anywhere),at least in part, wants to be read.  Before I started writing here about 13 years ago I wanted my personal writing to be read, even though I kept my journals private.  On the other hand, I didn't want to be read. Really. Part of me misses the writing I used to do more of, the writing that was just for me - or at least so I claimed. I still do it. But I also have gotten more used to sharing my writing, which has it's charm.  Right now, I'm missing the umph I had to write and keep it to myself.

Sunday, October 08, 2017


Suspended water
in clouds of tiny droplets
plays misty for me

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Yud Gimel Tishrei

Today was my Hebrew birthday.  I forgot - until it was dark, and thus, Jewishly, no longer my birthday. I didn't bless anyone, or get any birthday wishes, I din't pause in gratefulness - until now, after sundown. 

I gave two tests today and most of my day was focused around that, answering questions of students, making sure the tests were right, coming to class early and staying late for the kids who have extended time. Tests are a problem and a solution, they hurt and they help - like much in life.

I taught other classes today too, and tended to other work stuff, but mostly today was about exams.  I slept very little last night, working on writing the tests, and resisting working on the tests.  Today was a hazy mix of exhaustion and adrenaline and the day it passed without my remembering it was my birthday.

I think sometimes about the scene in Our Town, where Emily comes back to watch a few moments of her life on earth and is overwhelmed by the beauty of the seemingly mundane.  I forget sometimes that life is great, that I am blessed with so much.  Thank you G-d for another year gone by.  Looking forward.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

I'm Glad You Were My Dad

Tomorrow is/was dad's birthday.  He would have been completing his 88th year here had he not moved forward in January.  He'ezinu was his parsha - he had leined the whole thing and remembered it fondly.  His Hebrew birthdate was Ellul 27,5689. He passed on from this world on Jan 22, 2017/Ellul 27, 5777.  It is of interest to me that our birth dates are close.  Also interesting is that he passed away on a close date to when my mom passed.

I have written a bit regarding his sudden passing and how it's affected me. One example, written on
Tuesday, March 14, 2017:

Dad's funeral's mud
is still stuck onto my shoes
even in the snow

I have much on my mind, though I feel like sharing here, or elsewhere online, less than I used to.

May we all be blessed with good things in this year, in this life.

"Partnering With Hashem"

The Ohr HaChayim writes about Shmot 20:9 (on his commentary to 20:11) (Munk translation):

"G-d created the world for it to endure for 6 days. It follows that He has to renew creation, i.e. to issue a directive for the universe's continued existence every single day. The means He uses is the soul of the day called Shabbat, which He created by 'resting.' The fact that G-d desisted from creative activity after the sixth day resulted in the Sabbath coming into existence. Our Sages in Breishit Rabbah 10:9, indicate that prior to the Shabbos the world was in a constant state of turmoil. When the Sabbath came the world calmed down."

On a related note he adds another step relating to people on Breishit 2:2: "Only Sabbath observers keep the universe going.  Therefore the Sabbath observers have become G-d's partners by ensuring that G-d's universe survives for another six days."

I became aware of this in listening to R Abraham Twerky's presentation of October 11, 2016, YU Torah.

Monday, September 25, 2017

"Teshuva" means response, 
working to react appropriately.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

I miss my dad.  I am grieving still.  A bit past halfway - of the year, not halfway of forever.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

TTAD 12 -
I once heard Rabbi Kalman Pacouz say that the only thing that stands between us and us is us.
Sometimes great, yet flawed people become more popular after they died. It recently dawned on me that this is because they've gotten out of their own way.
Maybe an underrated part of teshuva is getting out of our own way. I think this is well articulated in the quote I cite below.
A dear teacher, friend, and mentor introduced me to her in 1982. I was struck by her faith and her ability to express herself in a real surreal, seriously funny, other-wordly down to earth way. She was an anchor for me when I was in my early twenties even though I thought I had rejected the likes of her. She died young long before I met her.
She brought me comfort again, as I read this, as her lips moved gently from her grave. In her early twenties she shared these words only with G-d:
"Dear G-d,
I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth's shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear G-d is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.
I do not know you G-d because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside..."
- From "A Prayer Journal," a posthumous book by Flannery O'Conner

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment unless you trust enough." ~ Frank Crane (h/t Gratitude Point)

"Nothing prepared me for the loss of my mother. Even knowing that she would die did not prepare me. A mother, after all, is your entry into the world. She is the shell in which you divide and become a life. Waking up in a world without her is like waking up in a world without sky: unimaginable. " - Meghan O'Rourke, The Long Goodbye, pg. 10

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

HaNeshama Lach

Been a while since I've done this -

7:30 PM - Need to eat, prep, make some calls. Tomorrow is first day of classes.  G-d, thank you for the merit of teaching adolescents,  and of teaching them Torah.

9:20 PM - I made dinner, ate dinner: salad and turkey burgers, spiked with sausage.  I am thinking about tomorrow.  Nechama Leibowitz was once about to go out and teach at an event and she said something about being nervous and the person with her was surprised. And Nechama said that a teacher needs to always stay nervous, it means you care.

11:59 PM - Listening to moving Levaya of Shalom Brodt.  moving beynd words, literally, as the singing and the crying moves even the words beyond the words.

Need/want/hope/pray to go to sleep and to get up.

The King Is In The Restaurant

When we say our Al Cheits, we mention that we sinned via food and drink. There's a fast day between Rosh and Shanah and Yom Kippur- which is, of course, itself a fast day. Between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur one law that many take on to be more careful about concerns the bread that they eat. These and other factors point to the fact that our need to eat and how we handle it is very relevant to our teshuva process. As Rav Tzadok HaKohein pointed out (as cited in Eating As Tikkun) it is no coincidence that the first mis-step that humans ever made was related to food. G-d should bless us to succeed as we try to work on the way we eat, which reflects so much on where we are at as humans.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Life is a test, please give the best answer
A or B or C, pick one instantly
What if there's so much more to me?
I've got a pocketful of poetry
I've got a head full of songs, a heart with wings
You couldn't tie me down to anything and that's enough for me
- Mindy Gledhill

Monday, August 21, 2017

The whole eclipse thing went over my head.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Demitri Martin: I have an L shaped sofa... lower case.

Art That Uses Words: Words Beyond Words

"When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one. The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can't be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning, and the purpose of making statements about the meaning of a story is only to help you to experience the meaning more fully." -Flannery O'Connor

On Parshat He'ezinu, Nechama Leibowitz says something quite similar about poetry and how it can't be simply decoded into other words because if it could be then those were the words that would have been used in the first place.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Via Qizony

"You should marry: Someone Who Is a Partner and a Best Friend"

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Tisha Be'Av, Judaism's Holy Day of Loneliness

This got a lot of love (and like) from friends on Facebook. To the best of my knowledge this is an original thought and phrasing. Since people have been taking to it I thought I'd share it here.  (Still not ready to tweet.)

Tisha B'Av is the Jewish holy day of loneliness. This day is consecrated for the focus on what it means to feel disconnected and alone. Tisha B'Av the Jewish Day of Loneliness will one day become a holiday when we have learned to connect and be whole, with G-d, one another, and ourselves.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Something For Us to Work On

When we say, "What I thought you were going to say was..." It is a strong example of not focusing on taking in what the other person is saying.  They are less interested in hearing you go on about what you thought they were going to say. they wanted you to hear and respond to what they said.

Rule #45, The Playbook

By Kwame Alexander





Sunday, July 30, 2017

"Al tehi baz lechol adam" is generally translated as, don't put down (don't be baz toward) any person. It can also be understood differently. Do not let yourself become baz in regard to just anyone. Don't let everyone's comments, attitude, essence get to you!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Closing narration of "In Praise of Pip"

"Very little comment here, save for this small aside: that the ties of flesh are deep and strong, that the capacity to love is a vital, rich and all-consuming function of the human animal, and that you can find nobility and sacrifice and love wherever you may seek it out: down the block, in the heart … or in the Twilight Zone."

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara, Longevity Expert, Dies at (or Lives to) 105

Amazing obituary today. Shared in comments.

Monday, July 24, 2017

"Is that how long it's been?" - he might ask me, if he was here in this world.

I feel like it's been a long time since I did what I consider a conventional personal blog journal style post here.  There are reasons.  I'm always hiding and seeking, and at this moment that brings me back here.

Shabbos was the 6 month anniversary of the passing of my dad OBM. It was sudden. And he was 87.  He was sick.  And he was completely fine. He was starting to slide cognitively.  He was sharp, sharper than many people of that age, still checking his stocks, reading several newspapers and magazines regularly, going to Shul for minyan 3 times a day, playing cards and still winning once or twice a week, on the board of his assisted living facility, dating a lovely, kind, sweet woman (who told me after dad passed that "we'll always be family"), watching Jeopardy and getting the answers right, loving the Big Bang theory, following pretty much every sport, on top of the daily and nightly news and the Sunday morning news focused shows, watching stock related TV, watching Shark tank though h was tired of the reruns because he had seen them all, talking to his best friend and his 2 sons every day, talking with his 2 nieces from his beloved sister on a regular basis, shmoozing and kibitzing with other people in the place - both residents and workers, getting and reading and following up on his daily mail, attending simchas, and more.

Sometimes when people would ask me (often with a sad and sympathetic voice) "How's you're father doing?" I'd say that I think he's doing better than me. A few months ago someone from a publication reached out to me about submitting to them and we agreed that writing about dad's passing made sense.  They told me that if it was on a blog it couldn't be published by them.  For that and other reasons I'm done with this topic for here, for now.

Sitting on the shore
staring into the ocean
from my sailboat spot

Hailing Haiku Horizons

Sunday, July 23, 2017

"I don't see how he can ever finish, if he doesn't begin." 
- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter IX

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

“If I’m ever unsure as to the correct course of action, I’ll think, ‘What would a ferret do?’ or ‘How would a salamander respond to this situation?’ Invariably, I find the right answer." - Eleanor Oliphant

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

After the still small voice
a noise
And after the noise,
a still small voice.
And after it, a noise.
And after it, a still small voice
And after the still small voice,
a noise.
Discard the rest.

- Yehuda Amichai

The still small voice comes from the portion of the prophets read this week (it's read some years as the Haftara of Pinchas)...

Saturday, July 08, 2017

A stiff apology is a second insult - GK Chesterton

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

From a Pun Competition

I went shopping for cherries and microphones the other day... bought a bing, bought a boom! - Here

Friday, June 30, 2017

Some of Billy Collins' Music Poems


I Chop Some Parsley While Listening To Art Blakey's Version Of "Three Blind Mice" 

And I start wondering how they came to be blind.
If it was congenital, they could be brothers and sister,
and I think of the poor mother
brooding over her sightless young triplets.

Or was it a common accident, all three caught
in a searing explosion, a firework perhaps?
If not,
if each came to his or her blindness separately,

how did they ever manage to find one another?
Would it not be difficult for a blind mouse
to locate even one fellow mouse with vision
let alone two other blind ones?

And how, in their tiny darkness,
could they possibly have run after a farmer's wife
or anyone else's wife for that matter?
Not to mention why.

Just so she could cut off their tails
with a carving knife, is the cynic's answer,
but the thought of them without eyes
and now without tails to trail through the moist grass

or slip around the corner of a baseboard
has the cynic who always lounges within me
up off his couch and at the window
trying to hide the rising softness that he feels.

By now I am on to dicing an onion
which might account for the wet stinging
in my own eyes, though Freddie Hubbard's
mournful trumpet on "Blue Moon,"

which happens to be the next cut,
cannot be said to be making matters any better. 


The Five Spot, 1964

There’s always a lesson to be learned,
whether in a hotel bar
or over tea in a teahouse,
no matter which way it goes,
for you or against,
what you want to hear or what you don’t.

Seeing Roland Kirk, for example,
with two then three saxophones
in his mouth at once
and a kazoo, no less,
hanging from his neck at the ready.

Even in my youth I saw
this not as a lesson in keeping busy
with one thing or another,
but as a joyous impossible lesson
in how to do it all at once,

pleasing and displeasing yourself
with harmony here and discord there.
But what else did I know
as the waitress lit the candle
on my round table in the dark?
What did I know about anything?



In the old joke,
the marriage counselor
tells the couple who never talks anymore
to go to a jazz club because at a jazz club
everyone talks during the bass solo.

But of course, no one starts talking
just because of a bass solo
or any other solo for that matter.

The quieter bass solo just reveals
the people in the club
who have been talking all along,
the same ones you can hear
on some well-known recordings.

Bill Evans, for example,
who is opening a new door into the piano
while some guy chats up his date
at one of the little tables in the back.

I have listened to that album
so many times I can anticipate the moment
of his drunken laugh
as if it were a strange note in the tune.

And so, anonymous man,
you have become part of my listening,
your romance a romance lost in the past

and a reminder somehow
that each member of that trio has died since then
and maybe so have you and, sadly, maybe she.



You are so beautiful and I am a fool
to be in love with you
is a theme that keeps coming up
in songs and poems.
There seems to be no room for variation.
I have never heard anyone sing
I am so beautiful
and you are a fool to be in love with me,
even though this notion has surely
crossed the minds of women and men alike.
You are so beautiful, too bad you are a fool
is another one you don't hear.
Or, you are a fool to consider me beautiful.
That one you will never hear, guaranteed.

For no particular reason this afternoon
I am listening to Johnny Hartman
whose dark voice can curl around
the concepts on love, beauty, and foolishness
like no one else's can.
It feels like smoke curling up from a cigarette
someone left burning on a baby grand piano
around three o'clock in the morning;
smoke that billows up into the bright lights
while out there in the darkness
some of the beautiful fools have gathered
around little tables to listen,
some with their eyes closed,
others leaning forward into the music
as if it were holding them up,
or twirling the loose ice in a glass,
slipping by degrees into a rhythmic dream.

Yes, there is all this foolish beauty,
borne beyond midnight,
that has no desire to go home,
especially now when everyone in the room
is watching the large man with the tenor sax
that hangs from his neck like a golden fish.
He moves forward to the edge of the stage
and hands the instrument down to me
and nods that I should play.
So I put the mouthpiece to my lips
and blow into it with all my living breath.
We are all so foolish,
my long bebop solo begins by saying,
so damn foolish
we have become beautiful without even knowing it.