Shekhinah: Alenu (Our Duty)

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Shekhinah: the Presence
Shekhinah: the Presence

Section 8 of “Shekhinah: The Presence” by Joseph Zitt
This is an unedited scan of the text, courtesy of Josh Ronsen
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no time

dark in




can’t sense

I am wood

my clothing
  my lining
  velvet panels
  shreds of memory
fall away
fade away


stained by the tears of Rachel
blackened, streaked
  by the soot of the Eternal Flame
    that burns above its doors
  echoing the shards of God
    that burn,
    buried, hidden
    in husks of darkness
    in the crevices of our souls.

the many worlds
in which we simultaneously live
are blending, blurring, running,
realities washed away
in a slurry of promises
and minimal fulfillments,

  if I forget --
  already the stones of the Wall
  have receded from memory
  blurring with the dull grey penciled letters
  of the wishes pressed between them.

The world to come
  (which has come?
  which was already here?
  Suddenly sequence shatters,
    lies in fragments,
    caught in cracked obeisance
    to the whims of omniscience
    of omnipotence
    of eternity)
  has drawn away,
  and its waters
          which had flowed with life,
    richer than blood,
    sweeter, more nourishing,
    than earthly milk or honey,
  seem no longer to be the mother flow
    of rivers that ran
    at the heart of Eden,
  but are now a barrier,
    the rush of the currents
    now a distant clash
    of hurtling rocks
    and suspended fire.

This prayer hall,
        this room sanctified
  by the sacred Presence
  now seems to be --
  a room,
  and the people here are fading
  and their prayers
          sound muffled,
    behind a wall
            of wood and velvet
      silk and leather.

The scroll,
which had filled our senses
with its love and passion,
  its touch,
  its writing,
  and the sound of its words,
is now


a scroll,
a careful but material assemblage
  of skins,
  bindings and coverings,
  of tailored cloth
  and etched and hammered metals

The doors are closed;
the majesty, the magic
has faded.
The people outside
  this cabinet
  this casket I have become
cannot see the scroll,
cannot feel it
(in this chill of silent solitude
  I cannot even think of it
  as "her").
Without the blessings the observers
  grant to the observed
it is---

a scroll

inert weight
pressing down on my shoulders,
  bending my back,
  pushing on my arms.

This temporary flesh
is weaker still
than that of those
  who are always mortal.

We who came here,
  beckoned by song,
  summoned by prayer,
we who guided
  the Ark of the Presence
  by the waters of the world of dreams --

I want to go back.
I have no portion here.

In the distance,
  I can hear the people chant:
"A redeemer will come to Zion,
  and to those of Jacob
  who turn from willful sin."

will come to Zion,
again summoned to
this world of flesh and stone 

but only when ready
  when the redeemer is ready
  when the people are ready 

  at the time
  the one time
  that all times will become.

Further away the people spin
  as webs form, fray, fall
  from the congregants
       to the leader
       to the scroll
       to me

"Holy, holy, holy..."
(the words dim and echo
as the leader drifts away)

" the Lord, Master of Legions..."

and as the murmur of the congregants
grows quiet
their words spread, blur, expand
into larger images,
into stranger tongues:

"Holy in the most exalted heavens,
  the abode of his Presence;
Holy on earth,
  product of his strength;
Holy forever, to all eternity,
     is the Lord, Master of Legions."

The heavens -- abode of his Presence?

She lives here,
  was just here,
  belongs among us.

The leader, almost gone,
  almost disappeared,
  speaks again,
  in a voice of faded vapor:

"Blessed be the Lord from his place."

Again, the maddening recursiveness,
        again, the leader blesses the Blessed,
  again I wonder
        why the cycle?
        the reinforcement?

And again the response of the
  barely present congregants,
  in voices softer than the silence:

"Blessed be
the honor of the Lord
from the abode of his Presence."

And as dreams feed on dreams,
doubt feeds on doubt
and darkness feeds on darkness

and I am alone

and the Presence hides,

and I look outside myself
  and I see only darkness
and I look around myself
  and everyone is gone
and I look within myself

within this temporary shell

and farther in,
within my soul.

I know that what I sense
  is not darkness,
    not an absence of light,
    but chaos
    the murk that preceded creation,
  not silence,
    but how sound sounds
    before it is sounded,
  not vacuum,
    but the feeling, the lack of feeling
    in the lungs
    between breaths
    as the animal mind decides
            whether the next breath
      is to go in or out.

And in this suspension
  this time beyond time
  this shadow of eternity
  that is all times that
    time has failed
    that is --
    no time



have no framework of continuity
  no fabric to lead me
    along its weave
  no signposts

but the prayer.

If I can tell time
  by the liturgy,
tell time
  not to stand still...

I call up the pages within my mind,
Turn to the next prayer
I can remember.

We must stand

but I cannot feel my body,
  cannot find my feet,
    my balance,
    my will,

just the writing on the waves
  of the current of words
  that begins to travel
  through my parched soul:

"It is our duty to praise
  the Master of all..."

again blessing the Blessed,
  who can never be seen,
  whose Presence I now cannot sense

" give greatness to
  the Shaper of Creation..."

again the paradox
  as I now begin
  to flow with the words

"...for he has not made us
  like the nations of the world,
and not planted us
  like the families of the earth..."

Not just the earth, no;
  there is a bright time, too,
  dressed as eternity,
that time which is space
  which is the energy
  which is all that matters

"...for he has not designed our destiny
  to be like theirs
nor our lot
  to be like the multitudes..."

and we will find that time
  in that future beyond the future
  far from the past
  within the Presence.

"...We bend our knees
  and bow
  and acknowledge our thanks..."

I cannot bow
  cannot bend my knees

  for I am silent

Still I try
still I try and bow
still I try and

I am falling


away from heaven
down toward the earth
  Its solid warming
  Its cool dark loam


and I am of the lowest of creatures
of the creatures that crawl
  on the face of the earth.
I have arms but do not reach
I have legs but do not walk

I must crawl
crawl forward
wherever forward leads.
I must continue.
I know that I can crawl


but in this darkness
this void
I have no words of my own.

Still I must continue.

And the words of the liturgy
  still flow on
proceeding through my mind
  my soul
like beckoning candles
leading me forward
  if not to a destination
  at least to a future time

And my heart reaches forward
and grasps onto the flow of words
and pulls my mind, my soul, my life
onward in their path

and I imagine God
  and imagine the Presence
and praise them
  who blessed me
  who cursed me
  who brought me here
  who planted me in temporary flesh

  then subtracted the world

  and whose images
    though they may or may not exist
  pull me through this mire
    of the absence of night

and I speak
  in desperation
  in pleading
  in proclamation
  in prayer

"...the King who reigns over kings,
the Holy One, who is blessed,
who stretched out the heavens,
and founded the earth,
whose seat of glory is in the heavens above,
and whose powerful Presence
  is in the loftiest heights..."

and I crawl onward, forward

and the darkness is no longer
  quite so deep
and the silence is no longer
  quite so deafening
and the Presence seems no longer
  quite so far away

and I continue to bless the Blessed one
  that his love may yet reappear
and I pray for the touch of the Presence

and I continue

blessing the Blessed

and I crawl on
  crawl under
  crawl through

  the heart of the paradox


blessing the Blessed

and I enter the circuit
  the path of the process
  the oscillations
    between Creator and Created

and I pray
as if I am the last person left in this world
  who knows how to pray
  who cares to pray
as if my prayer is the last strand
  binding me to our people
    our people to the Presence
    the Presence to the Lord,
      the Blessed One,
      who is Blessed
as words of ancient incantations
  spring back up into my soul

"for the sake of the unification
  of the Holy One, who is Blessed,
  and his Presence,
in fear and love,
to unify the Name
  in perfect unity
  in the name of all Israel"

and I reach forward,
  my arms becoming arms again,
  my legs becoming legs,
  my heart beginning once again
    to beat in human rhythms
    to join the pulse, the meter
    of the overtones of the heart of God

and I grasp onto the words,
the words that form a healing chain
a never-ending ring of blessing

and they draw me upward
  that I might stand
  and fulfill my mission
  here in this prison
    this sudden uniform
    this celebrant solidity
    this human flesh
  and that I may return
  to the land where I belong
  that I might wait
  in that time beyond time.

And in the silence
  that is now merely silence
in the darkness
  that promises the light
the still voices return
  the congregants
    infinitely distant
    yet still here
  the leader
    voice transmuted
    to tones purer than music
  the Presence
    still unseen, still unsensed
    yet comforting, warming
      as if she and I were nestled
      in each other’s hearts
      in each other’s arms

and the silence whispers:
"Do not fear the sudden terror
  or the storm that strikes the wicked...
  For God is with us.
Through your old age, I will remain the same;
  when you turn grey, I will endure.
I created you, and I will carry you;
  I will sustain you and save you."

And I stand

I stand

and speak the ancient words of praise
  the words of prayer
    that brought us to this world
  the mystic words
    in a near-forgotten language

in the voice of our teachers
in the voice of our leaders
in the voice of our martyrs
in the voice of our mourners
in the voice of those
  who may or may not believe
    but yet,
      if they can speak no other prayer,
      have somehow learned
        to say these words

blessing the Blessed
who (in the mystery of wisdom
if not the law of logic)
is, indeed, to be blessed.

(return to Shekhinah: the Presence)