haibun: Southwest Destination

Arizona desert,

stretching across the miles;

the emptiness of the skies.

I still recall how in my rear-view mirror, the desert highway stretched for miles, receding into the Eastern sky. As I approached city limits, the first visible landmarks were the San Francisco Peaks; Humphreys, the highest peak at 12,633 feet, looms over the otherwise level desert region of Arizona, at the edge of the Colorado Plateau. The humbler peaks complement the majesty of this mountain range, especially when snow-capped in the winter.

Now, twenty years later, the village square in historic downtown Flagstaff, reminds me of Boulder, Colorado – one of my favorite cities along my journey years ago. Since the pandemic, there has been an added dimension of rustic coziness, via the planters, and environmentally friendly receptacles for recycling downtown. Also, because restaurants have expanded their seating onto the sidewalks, and into the streets, somehow, every time I walk past Heritage Square, I am reminded of the small park in downtown Boulder, lined with shops. And, the retro-hippies, aka New Age spiritual folk, playing frisbee.

That same crowd can be found in the most popular local coffee shop, south of the tracks, right past the train station in Flagstaff. When I frequented the place more often, I would engage in conversation with those who embrace the All, I would try to find common ground for the sake of conversation, while remaining in my own integrity. Yet, even so, in reminiscence of my past engagement with new age spirituality, this can be dangerous, like treading water in a whirlpool, rapidly increasing in speed. I left that phenomenon behind me years ago, a smorgasbord of spiritual delicacies that only amounted to a collection of subjective experiences, one after the other, to entertain the soul. The last time I stopped by the coffeeshop the doors were closed. I waited in a long line at the takeout window for a cup of genmaicha tea.


Seeking Refuge

Despite the explosions nearby,

they daven as usual at shul;

a staunch commitment to the Almighty,

in the face of adversity and ruin.

—– —– —– —–

And, the presence of the Shechinah,

who shelters all who seek refuge under her wings;

will guarantee protection to those on the bimah,

and amongst the congregation otherwise serene.

—– —– —–

For, neither war, nor the chaos that might ensue,

will damage the spirit of the truly pious;

sending our hopes Above, into the azure blue,

our heartfelt prayers to Whom we trust.

—– —– —–

Nothing will shake the faith of the soul,

who aspires to dream beyond what appears bleak;

everything is possible, as silence reveals the toll,

of redemption, soon at hand for the meek.

haibun: New Snow

Cold breeze, heart stirring,

dusk settles, upon this town;

snowflakes, drift in sky.

Time passes like a shadow, slowly moving across the face of the earth. The penumbra brings a spark of hope. Scanning the horizon, I see the clouds aligned like a host of angels. The Red Rocks alongside the highway, soon are covered with the whiteness of an Arizona snow. And, the tourists have a field day, because this is not what they expect in the land of the sun. The locals know, all of this will melt by early afternoon; and, everything will return to itself.

A peculiar reverie, occurs from time to time, as if this small paradise on earth, bears no resemblance to the rest of the world. And, I know within the depths of my soul, that I will not stay here forever. Every time I become too comfortable, G-d challenges the status quo. Keeps me on my toes. This way I can reach towards greater heights; and, find the next cul de sac in my life, where I can grow accustomed to the patterns of weather, induced by the seasons.

Only forty-five minutes up the hill, I find my new home, where the seasons are more pronounced, and the snow takes several days to melt away. Here, I wait, sheltering in place for an extended period of time, because the pace suits my lifestyle. And, I can begin to look back upon my life, see more clearly, in retrospect, where I have been. In some cases, it’s as if I haven’t really been there at all – unmindful of the passing days. Yet, currently, these are days to be remembered for the rest of my life.

haibun: Natural Course

Ice melts quickly here,

pavements are soon cleared of snow,

as the sun glistens.

Winter is mild as usual, here in the Southwest, on the edge of the Colorado Plateau, 7,000 feet above sea level. Here, as icicles bask in the sunlight, melting as drops return to their source, completing the cycle of precipitation.

haibun: Silent Light

The menorah lights,

too soon burn down to the wicks;

watching in silence.

I gather my prayers and intentions, for a life that will transcend the darkness of the past. Every Chanukah now is bittersweet, as it seems that hope is as fragile as the last moments of the candles flickering flames, before the wicks are extinguished. There is no Chanukah gelt (chocolate coins), nor family or friends while I sit in the evenings meditating on this sacred light; this is exactly how I prefer to spend this time. While my family celebrates together on the East Coast, and my friends attend all of the local Chanukah celebrations, and public displays of the lighting of the menorah.

Yet, I am an introvert; and, because my life had been lived as if I myself was a flickering flame, susceptible to the passing currents of time, I now prefer to remain within my own integrity, reflecting in a meaningful way on past, present, and future. This past Chanukah marks three years since my father passed away, two years of pandemic, and one year from the last time that I met with my entire family at once on Zoom. As fate or divine guidance would have it, I am meant to know my place amongst the silence of the world, where most people would prefer not to be. If it were possible, I would become a Jewish monastic.

haibun: Clay Vessel

You mock yourself, when you do not uphold your own ideals, like the fool, who does not walk the talk. Patiently, you try to succeed, only to fall down a rung or two, on Jacob’s ladder. Do you dare to go where angels tread? Or reach the heights of Icarus? O mortal man, if you cared more for your eternal soul, rather than for the clay vessel where that soul is placed, you would do well.

Spinning around, like a lump of clay on a Potter’s wheel, slowly being shaped into something new, a cup, a bowl, a saucer. You are being molded by the potter’s hand, despite your failings; as the saying goes, may your failures be the bridge to your success. How many times can a lump of clay be remade, until it is finally shaped in perfection? Yet, you have only one life, to live, to permit the master craftsman’s hand to guide you.

Sailing on the wind,

angel wings, close to the sun;

ride the air current.

haibun: A Sweet Beginning

apples and honey,
sweeten the New Year’s advent;
Rosh HaShannah bliss.

As Rosh HaShannah, the New Year on the Hebrew calendar approaches, I prepare my soul, so that I might be able to stand before the King on Judgment Day. Selichos (the penitential prayers) have already begun; these prayers will continue, until the eve of the Day of Judgment, when all the world is judged, and decrees are made for the New Year. Yet, charity, prayer, and repentance have the effect of lessening the severity of any negative decrees placed upon us.

The two days of Rosh HaShannah are said, according to the Zohar, to symbolically represent a day of judgment, and a day of mercy, resting upon G-d’s attributes of both justice and mercy. Because the world could not survive upon being judged without mercy. Justice alone would bring harsh condemnation upon all the earth, for no one is able to sincerely live 100% by G-d’s standard; everyone falls short of the mark to varying degrees, because of our “human nature,” as some say, inherited by Adam and Eve, who disobeyed G-d, even while living in Gan Eden (Paradise). So, mercy has a sweetening effect upon our judgment, so that we can be reconciled to G-d.

haibun: Consolation

I await the time,

when our sorrow shifts to joy;

with words of comfort.

Inasmuch that I am inclined by my pensive nature to perpetual reflection, if not melancholy, when the Hebrew month of Av arrives, I look forward to the demarcation between sorrow and joy on the fifteenth of the month, known as Tu b’Av. The month begins with solemn and intense mourning for the destruction of both the first and second Temples, culminating on Tish b’Av – the ninth of Av – the date on the Hebrew calendar when both Temples were actually destroyed, about 6oo years apart from each other. Yet, Tu b’Av is a day of joy, for almost inexplicable reasons; moreover, on the first Sabbath after Tish b’Av, we begin the readings from the prophets that have to do with consolation.

And, so, while the month recalls a world in turmoil, that brought down our sacred building, where the presence of G-d dwelt, we acknowledge that the Jewish people have always rebuilt after times of disruption. Chaos and order was the natural order of progression, beginning with the Creation, when order prevailed over chaos; at least, up until the time of mankind’s expulsion from Gan Eden, after the first act of disobedience towards G-d. Yet, all yearn to return to Him, even if that yearning expresses itself in pathways that sidetrack the route prescribed for return. A wake up call is sometimes necessary to jar ourselves, that we might be shaken out of our confines, to realign with the Divine.

haibun: Stars and Dew

The stars spin around,
at heights, above and below
the earth’s equator.

On the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, the concealment of G-d’s presence is greatest (Accidental Talmudist: Summer Solstice and Judaism). While other ancient traditions mark the day of solstice in their own ways, Jewish tradition evokes the quietude of an inward reflection (Chagigah 14b). Additionally, the month of Tammuz, that always occurs around this time, is a time of introspection, as we prepare to mourn the destruction of Jerusalem, and the subsequent loss of the Temple(s).

Interestingly, the summer has already begun, according to the religious calendar of prayer, whereas the liturgy demarcates only two seasons: summer and winter, encompassing two seasons each, out of the four observed on the civil calendar. On the first day of summer, on the liturgical calendar, the Tefillat Tal (Prayer for Dew) is recited. This always occurs on the first day of Passover in the Spring (according to the four seasons model).

haibun: Aviv

O Aviv, upon your full moon, hinge all of the promises anew. The grains of the barley harvest, are roasted, ground, and sifted. Mixed with oil, a handful of frankincense placed on top. Then, consumed by the flames, it’s smoke arises to Shomayim. Thus, completed, we may partake of the abundance of the harvest.

The sheaf of the first fruits stands as a reminder across the generations. To all who aspire towards righteousness, as upright sheaves, standing in the field. Waiting for the harvest, we seek renewal, when the day arrives for joyful reaping. And, the sheaves will be gathered, waived like lulav branches in the wind. Carried across the lands of the earth, to be planted anew in Yerushalayim.

Pesach offering,
unleavened bread, wine, and guests;
waiting for next year.