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Thursday, March 3, 2011


ממקומך מלכנו תופיע, כי מחכים אנחנו לך
. מתי תמלוך בציון, בקרוב בימינו לעולם ועד תשכון
"From Your place in Heaven, come appear to us,
for we are waiting for You. 
When will You rule over Zion? 
Soon, in our own day, come dwell with us forever!" 
Shabbat and Holiday morning service, kedushah.

I love this holiday prayer.  But I'm not sure how I feel about its glorification of waiting.

Dr. Seuss's last book, Oh the Places You'll Go, describes my more usual feeling about waiting:
"a most useless place, The Waiting Place -- for people just waiting."

Millenia before Dr. Seuss, Devorah the Prophet wrote in her victory song:
בעד החלון נשקפה ותיבב אם סיסרא בעד האשנב מדוע בשש רכבו לבא מדוע אחרו פעמי מרכבותיו
"She peered through the window and groaned, the mother of Sisera at the lattice work.  Why is his chariot late in coming? Why are the hoofbeats of his chariot late?"  Judges 5:28
Devorah is taunting the mother of her enemy, Sisera, waiting for a son who will never arrive.  Because Sisera is lying outside the tent of Yael, a tent pin driven through his skull. 

Even if the waiting ends in happy reunion, those minutes spent watching the clock ticking are no less excruciating.  Chaim Potok's novel My Name is Asher Lev climaxes when the hero, a talented young artist from an Orthodox Jewish home, can find only one symbol to depict the torment of his mother throughout his childhood, as she would sit by the window waiting for his father to return home.  That symbol is a crucifix.

But in a dvar torah delivered to the Shira Hadasha community this past Shabbat, Avigayil Anter drew my attention to another type of waiting -- that of Penelope in Homer's Odyssey.  While Penelope waits for her husband Odysseus during his long years of travel, she weaves a shroud, and then undoes it and weaves it again, over and over.   Avigayil imagines the movement of Penelope's hands, the back-and-forth of the loom, bringing a meditative calm to Penelope.  Unlike the mother of Sisera or the mother of Asher Lev, the wife of Odysseus is heroic for having waited.

The waiting we claim in our prayers is more like Avigayil's interpretation of Penelope: a waiting filled with preparation of ourselves and of the world around us.  Not staring out the window, measuring the minutes -- but humming a song as we set the table.  And if She tarries, there will be time to arrange the flowers or take a shower.

What greater glory can there be than this:  to gently open this world to the Presence that comes?


  1. Penelope is fending off the suitors who want her hand, presuming Odysseus to be dead. She unweaves stealthily so that the suitors can be kept waiting until Odysseus returns. meanwhile the suitors torment her son, Telemachus. This is very fraught for her, neither meditative nor constructive. Maybe someone else would be a better example.

  2. Michael --
    Thanks for your comment! It's a fair point. Actually, that is exactly why I was careful to refer to "Avigayil's interpretation of Penelope", rather than just referring to "Penelope". I knew it could easily be argued that Penelope was not at all calm while she waited. Still, don't you think the weaving of the shroud may have served some purpose beyond distracting her suitors? Perhaps she chose that method of distraction also for the impact it had on her own self.
    Ilana G-G
    At any rate, I am a little amused to be employing a midrash, of sorts, on a Greek myth in my blog entitled "Torah thoughts".