Ps. 8: A Poetic Meditation

Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld became President of Hebrew College in 2018. She served previously as Dean of the College’s Rabbinical School from 2006-2017.
 

Ps. 8: A Poetic Meditation

For the leader, on the gittith. A Psalm of David.

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name throughout the earth, 

You who have covered the heavens with Your splendor! 

 

I am standing on top of a mountain

Before an expanse so vast that it frightens me.

Some people feel their spirits soar at the summit

I feel aware

of how far there is to fall.

It is not entirely pleasant 

or unpleasant.

That is not really the point.

The point is how small I am

Which is to say how big You are.

 

I have never understood people who won’t admit that awe 

is part fear.

 

I can bear to look out at the horizon 

only briefly

Before I need to sit down

on a sun-drenched rock 

eat a sandwich

smell you sweating next to me.

Maybe argue a little

or feel your head in my lap.

Either way.

Just to know we are on solid ground.

***

From the mouths of infants and sucklings 

You have founded strength on account of Your foes, to put an end to enemy and avenger. 

Wait.

If we are going to

speak of my children

and Your enemies

in one breath

I must tell You:

Please don't ask me to choose between my child and You.

I will always choose my child.

 

After more than two decades

(I know that is nothing to You)

I can still remember 

holding each of them close 

for a time

looking down 

at the little fingers

on my breast

and the mouth born knowing

what to do.

 

I need to know what You mean.

I think I heard You say

There is strength

from the mouth of the suckling infant

that protects You

from Your enemies.

 

My heart is pounding.

Which is how I know

I have been told 

a beautiful 

or terrible 

truth.

 

I ache for the children

for all of us

sucking, seeking comfort

carrying the burden of protecting You

whether we know it or not.

 

God help us.

***

When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, 

the moon and stars that You set in place

 

It’s time to look up again now.

Be quiet.

 

I understand.

The work of Your fingers

is everywhere.

Behold.

 

Once on a cool desert evening

I went running alone

and saw the moon hanging low and orange in the sky. 

Behold.

 

Once on a warm summer night

I lay with my back on wet grass

and watched for shooting stars with a friend. 

Behold.

 

I swear these things really happened.

Your moon. Your stars. 

My life.

 

I know I am not the only witness.

***

What is man that You have been mindful of him, mortal man that You have taken note of him

that You have made him little less than divine and adorned him with glory and majesty; 

 

A teacher once told me

that to bend the knee

to feel small

is to know how blessed 

we really are.

 

And I wept.

 

I was angry, if you must know.

You talk about feeling small, I thought.

No.

Feeling small is one thing I know more about than you.

If anything, it keeps me from knowing

How blessed I really am.

 

The next day

I went into the desert.

I stood on a hilltop

I felt very small

and I thought

oh I see

Here I am.

 

And I laughed.

 

I felt blessed, if you must know.

I thought about each of us

On our own hilltop

Foolishly imagining

ourselves

bigger or smaller

than anyone else.

 

Here we are.

All of us

Knees bent

Beloved

Little less than divine.

***

You have made him master over Your handiwork, laying the world at his feet,

sheep and oxen, all of them, and wild beasts, too;

the birds of the heavens, the fish of the sea, whatever travels the paths of the seas.

 

But!

I wanted to protest.

I have never felt master

Over any living thing.

 

Is that so

I heard You say.

 

Be careful of the power you pretend not to have.

***

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name throughout the earth!

 

A teacher once sent me into the forest

and said build an altar

with what you find there.

But first, he said

you must ask permission.

Ask permission of every leaf every flower every branch every stone

 

From every yes and every no

I made my offering to You.

 

Amen.

 

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