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From Genesis Rabbah

October 12, 2009

by James Toupin

Across the centuries,
you hear the Catskills cadence —
Thus Rab Ezekiel,
as his son, Rabbi Judah,
recounted: “Why shall we bless
the name of God for giving
us each drop of rain?”
One. Two. Three.
Four. The pause that strums
the crowd. “Because it could
be coming down in sheets.”

Of course, rabbinic texts
do not record a rim shot,
and maybe the son forgot
his father’s way with a set-up
(sons can have tin ears),
yet like a great joke straddling
the ambiguities
the sage’s punch line sits
poised between two stools,
the one a blasphemy,
giving thanks for the absence
of God as Father of Floods,
the other sublime madness,
attempting a prayer
for each drop as it falls.

And of what would the prayer
consist? “Blessed art thou,
O Lord our God, Ruler
of the Universe,
who laughs, just this once, with us.”

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James Toupin is a government lawyer who lives in Washington. He writes, “Maybe because, as your call for submissions points out, legal instruments are by definition words of power, your theme treads on ground my poetry seems to go over and over. However, it ventures onto that ground mostly in a religious vein, reflecting a mixed Jewish and Christian heritage.”

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  1. October 13, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Oh, _yes_. As someone who believes that God sometimes displays a very dry sense of humor (so to speak), this made me smile. (And you’ve got me thinking about constructing my own counterpoint to “Dayenu”…)

  2. Alex Cigale
    January 3, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    This is a strong poem, James. Thank you. Alex

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