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Multiple faces of desire


I hope you’re noticed my absence, dear friends, from the blogosphere. I’ve been getting ready for — and then going on — vacation. Well, not exactly vacation. Retreat. Three weeks in which I will be finalizing (really and truly) my ever-expanding full-length book of Torah-inspired poetry. Also going to my favorite yoga studio. Also strolling along the Pacific. Don’t hate me.

Standing in the sun, contemplating the anti-free speech law passed yesterday by the Israeli Knesset, I realized this is the week of Pinchas, the Torah portion of multiple desires.

Desire #1: To be good.

We pick up the story in the aftermath of last week’s gory scene wherein Pinchas, grandson of Aaron, spears an Israelite man and Midianite woman through their “bellies” after catching them in the Tent of Meeting with pleasure on their minds. God tells Moses: I grant Pinchas my pact of friendship…. because he took impassioned action.

This is also the desire to be better than anyone else, in turn related to the desire to be right.

It is the sort of desire that does not brook disagreement well and lends itself to violence & vitriol if taken to extremes. It is the cause of many an obsession, over-compensation, marital argument, and prejudice. Note that being good is different than being holy or just or loving your neighbor as yourself. It is not the same as being right (or wrong, for that matter). In this case, it is also deadly. It has a childlike quality, this virtuous-ness.

Desire #2: To be heard.

This week also brings us the story of Zelophechad’s daughters, those feisty & brotherless women, worried that they will not inherit land from their father’s estate because they’re…. women! They bring their concern to Moses who brings the question before God who says the women are right! Let’s fix the dang oversight.

This is also about the desire to be known. And, as I’ve written elsewhere, this is an anniversary of sorts for me: the first Torah service I attended with the man who would become my dear spouse.

Desire #2 may lead to speaking truth to power. It sometimes makes us single-minded and over-sensitive to small hurts. A burning need to be heard often brings us activists, artists, and (dare I say it?) poets. It is risky work. Rejection is likely. It is a desire that talks too much and occasionally interrupts others in the middle of a good story. It leads to a search for something we can’t quite put our fingers on.

It creates pains in the ass. Which brings me back to the Knesset and the wrong-headed notion that you can outlaw speech you don’t agree with (in this case, calling for a boycott of Israel and/or the settlements). If the daughters of Z were around today, would they be allowed to speak? Would they be heard by the powers that be? Would Pinchas again earn a big fat gold star for taking action on behalf of God? Would only one kind of desire be allowed?

If you’re interested in 2 very different poems on the subject (one uplifting, one not so much), check them out here.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Victoria H. Bedford permalink
    07/13/2011 3:18 pm

    This is my bat mitzvah d’rash (when I turned 60). Love the daughters of Z and the poem, something upbeat in a depressing world. Happy travels. Yes, we hate you of course, but it’s nice to be in Bloomington too.

  2. Dan Price permalink
    07/14/2011 4:01 pm

    Interesting word “vacation.” It’s so much more accurate than the British term “holiday.” What is it we vacate; home, work, responsibilities, reality? I prefer the last choice; what could be more satisfying than to temporarily vacate reality? The downside is that we have to come back. It does make me wonder what sort of poems you’ll pen though.

    • sue swartz permalink*
      07/14/2011 7:40 pm

      Well, let’s see — the first words of poetry I wrote today were “I believe in detestable things.”

      • Dan Price permalink
        07/15/2011 12:58 pm

        That sounds detestably realistic.

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