The Nation Could Not Ascend

This seems to be turning into a Shavuos tradition of mine: revising and revisiting the piece I wrote on the first Shavuos I was XO.  I wrote it as a stream of consciousness with line breaks… I can’t even quite call it a poem. But every time I read it, I feel every bit of the emotion I was feeling at the time, all over again. So I know there’s something there, something worth coming back to. For now, most of my revisions were to take away the line breaks so this reads a little more smoothly. We’ll see what next year brings…


Every Shabbos I wake up thinking about how you all are in that mode of peaceandserenityandrestandholiness —

how I will be packing up my books heading to school — the library — the park, to work — to write — forbidden activity, forbidden thoughts.

I got used to that.

Strange detachment — your Shabbos table a faded image at the back of my mind — and I’m separate.

I got used to that.

And then.

You plead with me, that overused argument — I was there at Sinai, my soul was there at Sinai, I said I accept — I can’t deny it because five million witnesses — three and a half  thousand years — and no one said “my father didn’t tell me that.”

I cry. I argue. I rail. It’s not enough for me.

Fate’s a bitch — Shavuos only days later. I wake up thinking about how you all are in that mode of peaceandserenityandrestandholiness, add a dash of accepting Torah and God, with a pinch of crying because I’m not there.

The used-to-it-ness goes away.

Fate’s a real bitch.

I’ve been waiting for this for so long — now, breath stolen — the golden glowing ark as Indiana strains, lifts the badim — vestiges of awe as the line of men proceeds with the blue velvet cloth covering it — I’m back in seventh grade learning about the joy of recovering the aron with the luchos, bringing it to Shiloh, the dancing, the celebration — the dead who dared to touch the holiness

villains delighting in opening the holiness look in wonder, in crazed joy — the gold spirit emerging, swirling throughout — Indiana knows: “don’t look, Marion”

and then the spirit inside burns, melts flesh amid screams and terror and holiness

and the gold spirit ascends in a tornado of light and fury, the chest is rising — the aron, ark of the covenant, is rising, returning to god, just like he said — I feel — relief

but it’s only the cover — and it crashes back down, along with my insides — covers the ark, conceals holiness — terror

Indiana and Marion survived because they didn’t look

and I think I’ll never get used to it


The blackout page below isn’t so much of a poem on its own – this one is definitely an “art-poem,” as I’ve begun calling my creations. I’ve chosen the lines in the account of Matan Torah at Har Sinai that describe the terrifying sights and sounds accompanying the giving of the Torah. On the same page, I pasted familiar, recognizable images from children’s coloring books — images depicting joy and happiness, flowers and dancing. There’s even a space for children to paste their own faces to represent the lore that every soul was at Sinai. I filled in that face in my own way.

I can explain all my thoughts and my own interpretation of what I’ve created, but I’ve given you enough and I’ll leave the rest to you…

ויעל עשנו כעשן הכבשן
ויחרד כל ההר מאד
לא יוכל העם לעלות
וכל העם ראים את הקולת
ואת הלפידים
ואת קול השופר
ואת ההר עשן
וירא העם וינעו
ויעמדו מרחוק

And his smoke rose like the smoke of the oven
And the entire mountain trembled violently
The nation could not ascend
And the whole nation saw the thunder
and the lightning
and the sound of the shofar
and the smoking mountain
And the nation was afraid and they trembled
and they stood far away.

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