I haven’t posted in about a week. That’s an unusually long time for me. The reason? My attention was absorbed in preparing for a talk I’ll be giving on Abraham Joshua Heschel’s poems later in May.

The choice of six poems (out of about 66) was only part of it. Rather than xeroxing, I wanted to type the English and Yiddish into a Word file that could be emailed. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be. It took me several tries until I found a format that worked. Then, each poem took about an hour to type in. For the Yiddish, I set my typing to a Hebrew font (you can choose different languages/alphabets in “Word” and “Paint”). I used the “Paint” accessory, because it allowed me to add some of the Hebrew/Yiddish vowel markings and other “points” (dageshim) as needed, which the “Word” format wouldn’t allow. I set the “Word” document to “landscape” (11″ wide x 8 1/2″ high) and arranged for two columns. I typed the English in on the left column, then copied the Yiddish — one line at a time — from “Paint” and pasted it into the right column. Doing it line by line allowed me to get the Yiddish and English lines to correspond as much as possible. In the course of doing this, my Hebrew/Yiddish typing speed certainly improved! What’s more, I thought it was pretty cool that I got much better at proof-reading the Yiddish.

I also worked on an introduction. I’ve long felt that both Heschel and Buber are better understood after some familiarity with Hasidic teaching is gained. Here’s my plan:

The particular room where I’ll be speaking has large windows that look out on a lovely forested area. I’m going to comment how beautiful it is, and say the brachah for seeing trees:

I’ll then mention that it might appear to us that G-d first created trees, then let “nature” perpetuate them.
Hasidut, instead, teaches that G-d’s creativeness is continuous and perpetual. I’ll demonstrate this by a quotation from the HaBaD text, Tanya:

“…The Activating Force of the Creator must continuously be in the thing created to give it life and existence…” [1]

As I’ll be giving this talk at a Reform synagogue, I’ll then provide a similar quote from Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein, who was ordained at Hebrew Union College (the Reform seminary), and was a life-long member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (the Reform rabbinic organization):

“Not only is the Divine Mind creative, He is constantly creative…” [2]

In addition to creating everything perpetually, Hasidut teaches that G-d remains in the things created, as the Tanya says:

“…with the withdrawal of the power of the Creator from the thing created…it would revert to…complete non-existence.” [3]

I’ll then again corroborate this with a quotation from Rabbi Lichtenstein:

“…if His Presence were withdrawn today, all existence would come to an end…” [4]

The Rambam (Maimonides) says the same thing in a number of places. He says that the existence of the world is from the existence of G-d; there’s no other “existence.” Spinoza calls G-d the “substance” of creation (just as water is the “substance” of both the ocean and the wave). But I want to keep the introduction brief, so I won’t do more than mention the Rambam, if even that.

The “logical” conclusion of these two concepts should be that the universe must be inseparable from G-d to exist at all; Therefore, G-d is always present with and in us, filling us and everything we experience.

But I realize that reaching that conclusion takes far more time than I’ll have. So, I’ll just introduce the inseparability of the world and ourselves from G-d as descriptive of Heschel’s own underlying thinking.

We’ll see together how this idea plays out in each poem. Just focusing on the ideas in this way becomes a kind of “hitbonenut” — contemplation of ideas, as in jnana yoga. But it doesn’t have to be done formally and self-consciously.

I’ll point out features of the Yiddish — the use of free verse or rhyme, as appropriate; the use of borrowed words; the non-standardized spelling of Yiddish; the variety of dialects and pronunciations, etc. — as I proceed.

I’ll present each poem by a responsive reading, to indicate how it could be included in a service. “Responsive readings” can be done by the leader (in this case, me) reading the line or verse in Yiddish, then having the audience reading the corresponding English. Since the seating will be divided by an aisle down the middle, I could also read the Yiddish, then alternate which side of the room reads the English. If there’s someone who reads Yiddish well enough, I might even have them read it to the audience, who then respond.

I’m thinking of setting a verse or two to a short melody that I’ll sing at the conclusion of the talk.  It doesn’t have to be the “fanciest” thing in the world. Just the introduction of a melody, after so much talking and reading, should be a nice change, that I think the audience will appreciate.

I have some clear ideas about what I want to say, but between now and the talk, I’ll be going over in my mind exactly what I want to say and when. I’ll also be using “Bloom’s Taxonomy” as a guide to what questions I might introduce.

Do I seem to be over-preparing?

I’ve learned from experience how important it is to look well-prepared when giving talks, even though I can improvise fairly easily.


[1] Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady (HaBaD); Tanya; pt. II, ch. 2
[2] Lichtenstein, Rabbi Morris (CCAR); Jewish Science and Health; p. 16
[3] Tanya; pt. II, ch. 2
[4] Jewish Science and Health; p. 14