Smoke and Ashes

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Smoke and Ashes: Tisha B'Av

I have thrown love into the flames; my heart is scorched and burning.

I gasp its smoke, my throat rattles: I cannot breathe the Breath of Life.

My work, my holy work! Gone in a flash of light and fire!

I cannot work, I cannot rest; my hands and legs, my eyes, are burning with fatigue.

My eyes are hot with watching:

Around the earth I see the burning cities.

I see the neighborhoods of those who share one language turn to rape and torture those who speak another mother-tongue.

I watch: children shriek their empty bellies, old men carry empty buckets to an empty well.

I watch: the sky has turned to smoke, the earth to ashes, the waters to a stinking oily scald.

I watch. I watch.

What can I do? What have I done?

My eyes are burning with tears I cannot shed; my tongue curls inward, hot for shame, inflamed by words of holy flame I cannot speak.

Who speaks my language, who shares my neighborhood, who warms my mother's food upon her tongue?

Who knows the fiery secrets that my family fed me?

My belly burns with swallowed words, with scalding rage.

And You! Where is the easy breathing of your Name? Where is Your Breast of cool and nurturing flow?

Have I myself torn fevered scratches of despair into my eyes and mouth? Or is it You have turned my nursing into gnawing?

Where is my gentle murmuring holy rest? Where is the playful, calming talk of wisdom?

The fever of my endless work consumes me; my body's burning is unbearable.

The fever of our endless work consumes us; our burning is unbearable.

Become for me again a pool of clear, calm water; become for us again our holy wellspring.

Our tears, my tears, our tears, an Ocean of new life.

Or -- smoke and ashes.

by Rabbi Arthur Waskow,
Director, The Shalom Center.

Jewish and Interfaith Topics: