For this week’s portion Lekh L’khah, I had originally planned to write about wandering, about exile and about place. It’s a subject I’ve thought and written about before. There are the usual conditions of exile, but then, there is exile from the exile. There is modern exile, and the condition of never having had a place to be in exile from. On the flip side, any exile implies home: A real or an imagined home of the past, or a promised home to come. Finally, there is the ubiquitous experience of otherness, of being a stranger in one’s one home. This exile has been called the native condition of the poet.
Besides the fact that it would be hard to write about all that, three things stopped me from using Lekh L’khah to talk about exile. First, Avrom’s leaving Babylonia, and the story of his moving around with his entourage is NOT the story of an exile. He left willingly, apparently with no second thoughts or nostalgia, and is traveling towards something. He is beginning, through his personal narrative and his political and military dealings, to carve a place for his people. Second, no Yiddish words were sticking themselves to me this week. Third, there was my ambivalence about Avrom himself. Finally, I decided to leave a fuller exploration of the topics of home and exile for another day, and give myself a break. I would focus on that ambivalent character Avrom and express myself in my more native tongue: Poetry. Sometimes poems change in the process of writing them. To invoke a Leader implies followers, as figure implies ground.
Who would lead his people to the wilderness?
Wherever he stopped, a pile of stones,
fire in the night, the deed to a tomb, a well
where blood will never cease to flow.
Who would be the father of multitudes
who does His Will,
whose children will be plentiful
as dust, and also know the taste of dust?
Who the canny businessman
who came to Egypt hungry, sold his wife to Pharoah
and then left, keeping his flock
and his wife, intact?
Jealous his wife of his child’s expectant mother,
jealous his nephew’s servants of his herds.
Those who bless him will be blessed,
but only partition would keep the peace.
Who brought sacrifice to our living flesh
originator of the Jewish Man
who’ll surrender to history, meditate
on tenderness, and on the power of a brand?
You must leave the land of your father and his house,
the city of your birth is wicked,
for it knows Me not. Follow the path
of his Promises. Don’t look back.
Moments after I posted this, someone shared a link with me to some Yiddish resources out of the University of Haifa. As it happens, among the literary works shared on this website in both Yiddish text and audio, are some Itsik Manger poems from the series “Medresh Itsik”. These are his poetic commentary on Torah. Several concern Abraham, including the poem Avrom un Soreh. For those whose Yiddish is already a little more advanced, here are the pdf of the Yiddish text, and an audio recording, read by Sara Blacher-Retter.