Talking Truth – Second Sight

magic wand“We need to talk,” she said.

Oy, I thought. It’s that tone.

“About what?” I asked warily.

“About that stick you have in your hand.”

“What stick?”

“That thing you keep twirling about.”

“Oh,” I said nonchalantly, “I’m just practicing. Once I can twirl this real good, I’ll try juggling. Five balls in the air! Could be part of the show, right?”

“Someone is going to get hurt if you let it fly.”

“What are we really talking about?” I asked. But I put the stick down. “It’s not this, is it?”

“You want an honest answer?”

“You are a stickler for the truth…”

She smiled. “Very cute. Your ego,” she added softly. “We are talking about your Self.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Have you thought about the real shtick – the one that is made of all the stuff in your head? It will all come tumbling out of your mouth if you go on like this. It won’t be good.”

“What do you think I should do? Give up the job?”

“You are not seeing clearly,” she said firmly. “Your ego is leading you on.”

(Heads up: An annoying revelation is coming at you with the word “truth” written on it. In 22 font. Bodoni, no less.)

I didn’t like the ick in my stomach. I resisted.

“Where is God in all this?” she asked quietly.

“You’re mocking me, right?” I parried. “God,” I added dryly, “has apparently not made up the divine mind. Sometimes I get absolutely nothing. Sometimes I get a warning. Sometimes it seems YHVH is just fine no matter what I do.” I paused. “At least the officiating fee is fantastic. Makes for a nice change.”

“How do you feel about it?”

I could tell I didn’t like the question.

“Okay, I shouldn’t have taken this gig in the first place,” I admitted. “Something doesn’t feel right.”

“Yup,” she said. “I thought so.”

We both went quiet.

I like when the job is a fit. The visioning is invariably incredible, powerful beyond words. I love that flow going right through my fingertips into the sacred, sweet earth. I rejoice when the right words come in exactly the right moment. I don’t know what they will be before they arrive. But I always know when heavenly magic is happening: The blessing, the truth comes from beyond me, from above me. It is goodness and sweetness and eternity all rolled into one.

It’s a gift, and it always, always makes me grateful.

But I’m human. I’m susceptible, like anyone else. After all, even spiritual work needs to be paid for. It’s not like it didn’t take years to learn the craft. Sure, the negotiating, the interaction can take me into a different place.

It’s probably a sign when I get impatient to go, when my body gets me up too early in the morning. That usually means I just want to get the job done and get back home.

I’m off the divine grid. I teeter on the edge of the path, crowded and hemmed in.

“Look,” she said, “I’ve known you for so long.”

I put my head in my arms.

“You can press the reset button,” she said gently. “You can make your intentions holy. You can do it. Just let go and ask. Everything will turn out all right.”

It was a nice idea. Maybe, if I could slow down, I’d hear better. See better.

“I stand on your shoulders,” I said. “I’ve been doing that for years, now.”

“No,” she laughed. “You ride on them. Now, let’s go.”

“That would be good,” I said.  donkey

“And how,” she said.

It was finally my turn to smile. “Ma tovu…”

This post is in honor of Rabbi Hanna Tiferet Siegel, who knows how to talk to all sorts of magical beings.

Share

Bring Back the Magic: The Book of Esther

Prim costume 2Esther is the Bible’s book of bawdy. God plays no part in outrageous proceedings: A 180-day party is followed by another…. party. Haman is hanged on a gallows considerably higher than Solomon’s own Temple. Jews manage to kill 75,810 Persians without themselves taking a scratch in the battle, much less a single death.

Still, the rabbis acknowledge it: The Book of Esther is pure magic.

Esther is permeated by wondrous reversals, calendrical and astrological associations, and references to divination. It describes a well-attested magical ritual of the Ancient Near East – the casting of lots. In the ancient world, such knowledge was essential. At the behest of kings, prophets and priests threw (literally) fate into the air, foretold auspicious days and dangerous ones, and regulated the calendar by consulting the skies.

The Book of Esther is obsessed with chronology and dates. The text is a literary treasure trove for depicting the magical regulation of time. Haman casts lots for the exact day Jews are to be destroyed; Esther uses her own calendrical methods to avert doom and save her people. An unlucky day becomes the lucky one. Magic and astrology were partners for the rabbis; medieval rabbinic texts explore the Book of Esther in just such astrological terms, from Ibn Ezra to Bahya ben Asher.

King Ahasueras’ wise men were astrologers, according to the former, who also asserted that Adar was chosen for exterminating the Jews because the stars were in the correct conjunction for enacting Israel’s downfall. Esther herself – so the rabbis – was named after the planet Venus (Istahar) and was served by seven maids (Megilla 13a). Can anyone miss the reference to the Pleiades, otherwise known as the “seven sisters”?  For the rabbis, Esther is star stuff.

You find that when the moon is not visible in the sky at night, the darkness in the world is such that a man cannot [see to] walk about even in the city. But once the moon appears in the sky, all rejoice and are able to walk about. So, too, in the days of Ahasuerus, when it was decreed that Israel should be destroyed, slain, and exterminated. But then Esther appeared and gave light to Israel, as is said, “The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor” (Exod. R. 15:6.).

The rabbis say that all the miracles of scripture end with Esther (Yoma 29a). They read between the lines to add to the textual list: Mordecai wanders about Shushan looking for a wet nurse to suckle Esther (Gen. R. 30:8). Unable to find one among the Jews of the city, he simply, magically begins to breastfeed the infant himself. Hey, presto!

The book is a treasure trove of enchanted events. God is not present, but sorcery is. The story is composed of a series of abracadabras, uttered on the thresholds of earthly existence. Words, like characters, mirror their opposites and conjure power over them. The fourfold depiction of joy with abstract terms (light, gladness, joy, and honor) in 8: 16 reverses the four nouns that signal gloom in 4:3 (mourning, fasting, weeping, and lamenting). Kings become buffoons and nobodies become royalty. Haman, the insider and best buddy to the king, is actually an Amelkite outsider. Mordecai, who sits at the threshold outside the palace will not bow to the king – but he will, eventually, rule over him. Transformation is par for the course.

How to bring back the magic of metamorphosis back?

We could read the book, and take it seriously. It is a roadmap for navigating liminal spaces and dangerous places. We could read the book, and laugh at the absurdity. The hen-pecked king issues an edict to secure male privilege? Virgins are dipped in oil for half a year and perfume for yet another six months? Oy.

And then, try this: Read the book and find yourself. Anyone can become as self-absorbed as Ahasuerus. One day, you might find yourself calling on the kind of calm courage that Mordecai models. Like Esther, we all will – at some moment during our lives – face our most primal fears just as we are being called to tasks that will transform us.

The Book of Esther lends itself to reinscription, rediscovery, to an abracadabra of the soul. That is its power.

Look for yourself in it. You will bring that magic back back.

Share