Thursday, June 16, 2005

I *heart* tefillin

I've never understood why everyone doesn't love the mitzvah of tefilin. I've always thought of it as one of the most profound and also open to metaphor of all the daily obligations. I think of them sometimes as trellis - either my body as the trellis and tefillin as the plant, or the tefillin as the trellis and my body as the plant. My chaver Scott teaches a terrific lesson on tefillin as compass. And I love the various gemaras on tefillin - today's just happens to bring up this gem:

Shabbat 49a

Rabbi Yannai said: Tefillin demand a pure body, like Elisha, the man of wings. What does this mean?-Abaye said: That one must not pass wind while wearing them; Raba said: That one must not sleep in them. And why is he called the man of wings’? Because the wicked Roman government once proclaimed a decree against Israel that whoever donned tefillin should have his brains pierced through; yet Elisha put them on and went out into the streets. [When] a quaestor saw him, he fled before him, whereupon he gave pursuit. As he overtook him he [Elisha] removed them from his head and held them in his hand. ‘What is that in your hand?’ he demanded. ‘The wings of a dove,’ was his reply. He stretched out his hand and lo! they were the wings of a dove. Therefore he is called ‘Elisha the man of the wings’. And why the wings of a dove rather than that of other birds? Because the Congregation of Israel is likened to a dove, as it is said, as the wings of a dove covered with silver: just as a dove is protected by its wings, so is Israel protected by the precepts.

And here is my attempt as tefilin midrash:


A leather vine of tefillin trellises up my arm
Every morning, like Jonah’s gourd grown up overnight
Into shade, fruiting a pomegranate box:
At the forehead a crown,
At its wrist, a blossom.

Then into the morning of the parched earth
The vine unwraps, the fruit falls.
I imagine it breaking open (Split by the hot sun,
As though the rays were a knife blade,
Or ripeness a spoon)
Into four sections inside of ivory paper
Watercolored with wine stains
And crowded with seed rows of garnet script letters
Ink wet and shining as though just dipped
Off the quill.

Each morning the vine regrows
The gourd, shade from the sun
Unmerited, unrequested grace
The chance to learn forgiveness.

The taste of each word falls on my tongue
Like raindrops wrapped in parchment
Briefly resisting the bite,
And then bursting sweetness with an underlying musk
The seed kernel left caught in the teeth:
(C. 2001)


Rachel said...

I love laying tefillin, too. But I'd never thought of them as a vine (especially Jonah's vine) -- what an incredibly cool metaphor!

And I'd love to hear the lesson on tefillin as compass, someday. That sounds fascinating.

clickbank said...

Great post, I enjoyed reading it.

Adding you to favorites, Ill have to come back and read it again later.