Our Prayers Are Heard
Shavuot In a Time of Drought
by Diane J Schmnidt
The other night around a table 12 women scholarly students of Judaism discussed evil while waiting for the dawn. It was Shavuot, the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, when the Ten Commandments were received.
We were at the home of Rabbi Chavah Carp, ordained in the modern Jewish Renewal movement and leader of Makor-Jewish Source, studying to make a tikkun, a ‘repair’, a healing. [See Tikkun Leyl Shavuot 2013 and Preparing for Shavuot for more about this gathering.]
Rabbi Carp said, from evil, good can result. Chaplain Linda Friedman said evil is not relative. Evil does not need to be justified or explained. Evil simply is. For me, both statements were true; it was just good to be there, to be listening.
I fell asleep. Sometime after midnight we were reading in Genesis that the waters of the firmament parted and then there was earth and sky. Earth and sky? Was Navajo cosmology from the same roots?
I lifted my head and looked again at the sacred study notes, selected and translated with great care by Rabbi R. Karpov, who once had come to work at the edge of the Navajo reservation in western New Mexico and then moved on.
What she had written there was, “In a beginning - - Creator created the Heaven and the Earth,” unusual in other ways. It was only I who had heard ‘earth and sky’ in the murmuring of the night's salted winds, winds that came bringing a heavy scent of flowers and a little rain. (And I learned some days later that it was said in ancient times that murmuring would bring rain in a drought.)
At dawn we stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai (the mountains around here standing in), ready to receive the computer-download of the Torah. The darkness lightened and the waters of the firmament parted and there were tiny clouds over the mountain. The clouds grew in a crescendo across the sky, rain fell in the west and a rainbow sprang up. Some are listening. Some are witness.
What is truth? Where is the path? I thought about how I came to be there. Having been around the world and to Cicero, mine would be the tell all, be all, wanna be story of a true believer who found out, after a long search for It, that there's no place like Home.
That the secret of life is in the tasting, the living of it, not in the prize - you don't get to take home an ashtray, some kind of party-favor, at the end. So do sometimes I still confuse the sound of fury with the sweet flypaper of life?
One repetitious dream, after months pursuing stories about uranium, kept ending in a parking garage where trucks ferried in the deadly ore, and underneath which in a great windowless hall rows of reporters passed photos around.
Last week, while asking who will keep funding Na’nizhoozhi Center Inc., the alcohol detox center with a Native rehab program, in the dream I am sent along a tunnel at the end of which I am told the answer lies – past a curtain I find only a hall of mirrors.
There is drought, but a lot of people don't care yet. The livestock are suffering; I read that some have deformities now; I hear that some have died of thirst in a mountain meadow where last year there was water.
Last week I heard about an abnormally shaped foal that was stillborn. The owner said they tried to report it to local authorities, but no one was able to come. So now it won't be found in a government report, and if there are more unreported like that, no one will know to ask later either.
I have to wonder, if our waters and mountains are gone, will God still hear us? (For the Navajo give their offerings to natural waters and mountains.) There is an allegory, a story about learned rabbis, that is told by Jews, because, well, you know, we lost our homeland and went wandering, so we have had to ask such questions.
I found the story told in the frontispiece of a book, "Exiled in the Word, Poems and Other Visions of the Jews from Tribal Times to the Present,”** by Jerome Rothenberg & Harris Lenowitz (the one good that resulted from once dating an evil poet - finding this book):
The Baal Shem Tov used to go to a certain place in the woods & light a fire & pray when he was faced with an especially difficult task & it was done.
His successor followed his example & went to the same place but said, ‘The fire we can no longer light, but we can still say the prayer.’ And what he asked was done too.
Another generation passed, & Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov went to the woods & said: ‘The fire we can no longer light, the prayer we no longer know: all we know is the place in the woods, & that will have to be enough.’ And it was enough.Later, when I read that the Baal Shem Tov, father of the Chassidic movement, passed away on Shavuot, I opened the book again, this time it was the last entry
In the fourth generation, Rabbi Israel of Rishin stayed at home & said, ‘The fire we can no longer light, the prayer we no longer know, nor do we know the place. All we can do is tell the story.’
And that, too, proved sufficient.
RAIN EVENT ONEPerhaps, it is telling me, I could learn to be a rain whisperer.
Whisper until it rains.
(1) The Hebrew word for magic — kishuf— literally “murmuring” or “muttering.”
(2) “If you see a generation over whom the heavens are rust-colored like copper so that neither rain nor dew falls, it is because that generation is wanting in whisperers. What then is the remedy? Let them go to someone who knows how to whisper.” (Talmud: Ta’anit 8a.)
(3) “In oriental countries in general, the Jews have acquired, for one reason or another, a special reputation as rainmakers.” (Raphael Patai, The Hebrew Goddess.)" JR.HL.
Diane J. Schmidt is a writer and photojournalist in New Mexico who was raised in the traditions of Reform Judaism and is an admirer of all things spiritually resonant.
This column appears in the June/July, 2013 issue of The New Mexico Jewish Link. View this and Diane's earlier columns online at The Albuquerque Judaism Examiner.
**"Exiled in the Word" is out of print and a collector's item now. An earlier mass-market version of the book may be found more easily, with some of the content, known as "A Big Jewish Book," by Jerome Rothenberg and Harris Lenowitz.