This week’s Torah portion (Yitro) finds the children of Israel really and truly stranded in the desert. With the episode at the Red Sea behind them, and their daily manna rations commonplace, they are told to wash up and get ready for the big show at the foot of Mount Sinai. There, amid thunder that can be seen and lightning that can be heard and only a few short weeks after liberation, God delivers the 10 Sayings – and there’s no going back. The relationship, though sorely tested and repeatedly almost-but-not-quite abandoned, sticks. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, the reason for leaving Egypt, the blueprint by which a mixed multitude of escapees will be transformed into a holy people.
This week’s poem, Apologia, began its life 8 1/2 years ago at the bris of my grandson Jacob. As the house filled up with well-wishers and the mohel (ritual circumciser) set up shop, I considered the whole strange scene: an 8-day-old boy was about to undergo the same tribal experience as millions of Jews before him in the name of covenant. A decision (deal?) made thousands of years ago (generations, in fact, before the action of this week’s Torah portion) and halfway across the globe was about to play itself out on his unsuspecting body.
In that moment, I felt kind of sorry for the kid. What an enormous bundle of contradiction and wrestling, beauty and awe, to dump on such a sweet face at so tender an age (and without his permission). Just as the first generation of freed slaves didn’t really know what they were getting themselves into (no one asked their permission, either, far as I can tell), so it is for every generation. Friends, it’s deja vu all over again.
Not that I’m complaining about these choices made long ago — choices made over and over again in each of our lives — but I did think that a small apology would be in order.
P.S. This poem was published on a very cool website, Scribblers on the Roof, where you can find Jewish poems, prose, and other tidbits of interest.