Leopard in the Synagogue!

The Leopard Roars,

The Liturgy Awakens,

All Breath Enlivens

One of my favorite moments of 20th century Torah is a two-line short story by, of all people, Franz Kafka:

One day a leopard came stalking into the synagogue, roaring and lashing its tail.

Three weeks later, it had become part of the liturgy.

 The story tells the tragic tale – the lashing, roaring tale – of all organized religion, not just Judaism.

 Powerful moments of breakthrough to The ONE get encoded into a text, a practice, a tale - – how else can we make sure the moment is never forgotten?

 And then we read it, recite it, practice it, not by “by heart”  but by rote.  The leopard is locked into the cage of liturgy.

 I hear my calling in the world as letting the leopard out of the cage. In every generation, every year, every day – every breath!  -- we must let the leopard out of the cage. 

Frightening, that roar, that  tail, that tale.

And full of life.

For me, in this generation one line of llturgy that has the leopard caged – a leopard we need to live with in all its roar of passion – is this:

Nishmat kol chai tivarekh et-shimcha YAHHHH elohenu! ---- The Breath of all life  praises Your Name, YyyyHhhhhWwwwHhhh (pronounce the Great Name by just breathing] OUR God.

Of course the Breath of all Life praises this name of God – for this Name is the Breathing we all do!

I am writing you about this today because last week I heard this verse sung in a haunting new melody created by Joey Weisenberg.  Haunting not because it whispers the ghosts of the dead but because it chants the spirits of all who live now and are still to come.

At the end of this letter to you, I will share the link to hear Joey’s chant sung by the group Hadar. But first, let me share the roar of the leopard that I heard emerging from his gentle, haunting melody.

What I heard:

Find a tree, breathe into it and let it breathe into you -- each of us, the tree and you, the tree and me, by our breath praising OUR God, Who breathes all life.

OUR God: not merely the God of the Jewish people, not merely the God of the human species -- the God we share with all life. When the tree breathes the Name, as it does in every moment, it is among the “we” who are celebrating “our” God.

Those human cultures that grew up into their many forms of holiness without the Bible, without the Holy Quran, without a “personal” God, even against a “personal” God -– are nevertheless breathing in what the trees and grasses breathe out, are breathing out what the trees and grasses breathe in.

Beneath all the Holy Names in all the different languages, beneath all the celebrations of birdsong and whalesong, of leopards’ roar and the rustle of the leaves, is the Breath.

The still small Voice that the Prophet Elijah heard when God was not present in the earthquake or the thunderstorm was simply Breath. In the Breath was God.

In the Ten Utterances at Sinai we are taught: “Do not take My Name in an empty-hearted, empty-headed way.”  Remember: each breath you take is my Name. Breathe each breath mindfully, heartfully, soulfully. Be conscious that every breath You breathe in is the breath a tree, a field of grasses, has breathed out.  You must not choke this Breath to death!

Why do I think that in our generation even more than in all others, this particular leopard in this particular line of liturgy  is so important to free from the cage?

 Because the constant Interbreath of oxygen and carbon dioxide is the Life-Breath of this planet. Yet the human species has learned to pour more CO2 into the air of Mother Earth than the trees and grasses can transmute into oxyg en. The CO2 is heating the planet, scorching Earth. Those who insist on burning fossil fuels to spew it out are committing arson, choking us all to death. 

What we call  the climate crisis is a crisis in the Name of God.

How do we open the cage that for so many years has caged this leopard’s teaching of the prayerbook into mere liturgy?

Nishmat kol chai tivarekh et-shimcha YAHHHH elohenu! ---- The Breath of all life praises Your Name, YyyyHhhhhWwwwHhhh (pronounce the Great Name by just breathing] OUR God.

Three ways:

By learning and sharing the fullness of its meaning.

By learning and sharing the haunting new melody created by Joey Weisenberg for this verse. Chanting into fuller life the spirits of all who live now and are still to come.

In the chanting I am about to offer you, the group Hadar of which Joey is a member substitutes “HaShem, HaShem  -- The Name” for the Breathing. I understand why, following traditional practice, they do this.  They want to protect It from misuse and overuse. I want to protect It from being forgotten — never really breathed at all. So I invite you to name the true Name, simply to Breathe, in that place.

Hush’sh’sh’sh and Sh'sh'sh'sh'ma, listen to all life Breathing, and learn:

<https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=WT1Vt9ESZ18>                                                                                                                                                                

And by making this prayer “subversive,” as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught: Carrying its message into the streets and the polling-booth, into the US Capitol and the Exxon offices.

 Challenging the Carbon Pharaohs of our generation: We will not let you choke to death the Sacred Name of God and our sacred Mother Earth.

 Shalom, salaam, shantih, Earth!  --  Arthur

 P.S.  --  I welcome comments. You can post them below.Please share this essay with your friends.  And if you can, please contribute to the work of The Shalom Center by clicking on the Donate button to the left  --  AW

 

Universal: 

Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

1 Comment

Breath of Life

Thank you for your words of wisdom .. this message resonates with me with Truth as I have been shown .. may all sentient beings Know the Wisdom of the Breath .. Love..Light .. Shalom .. Peace .. from Katie, your Convinced Universalist Quaker Friend

Add new comment