Poem of the Week

So Who Exactly Is God?

Admiel Kosman imagines a congenial jack-of-all-trades constantly fixing our transgressions.

Wikipedia

The Central God

Admiel Kosman

The central god is passing through our neighborhood now.
He’ll heal everyone, fix everything. And he has plenty of time, no one
will be squeezed out. Yesterday, today, tomorrow, he’s smiling.
He’s the central god in the role of a glazier now.

A glazier, a new glazier for repairs, and from every porch
all the families and neighbors watch him now,
so tall and slim, almost transparent, passing by,
he repairs everything in complete serenity, oh
you’ve nothing to worry about, ma’am, everything’s shining
now, the windows and the lights, sparkling
like new, this is how life is now
as my central god passes through
our neighborhood in the role of a glazier now.

He is the central god, supreme, the one on high, and he’s passing by
our neighborhood as a gardener now, with a rake and a ploughshare and a broken bucket. He weeds, and hoes, spreading eternal stardust on the lawn of the neighbor on the left
and on the fires of the future and the past, nothing to be afraid of
here, he’s smiling
on the elderly, it’s never
too late to give me
counsel and understanding,
forgiveness and wisdom and again
god returns and smiles, the central god
of dignity, of darkness, the angels and divinity,
of my people, so tired, in the neighborhood,
yesterday, today, tomorrow.

Admiel Kosman
Noam Rosenthal

He is the central god, supreme, the one on high, lofty,
passing by our neighborhood with a wheelbarrow now. God
the professional, the plasterer, excellent builder and provider of
abundant whitewash, the plaster tablets of knowledge and choice
tottering in the wheelbarrow among the cylinders and tiles,
while this god, so slim, the central
Mr. Fixit, who established this pure and clean
universe many years ago, sits
with cherubs now, a pure hero, Lord, creator and speaker
of the plain truth, wrapped in a filmy robe of light, this god
is passing by our neighborhood in complete serenity now,
making good repairs and fixing
every transgression.

From Arba'im Shirei Ahava Ve-Shnei Shirei Ahava Nosafim Le-Elohim (Forty Love Poems and Two Additional Love Poems to God, Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2003).  Translated from Hebrew by Lisa Katz. Read more translations of Kosman by Lisa Katz and Shlomit Naim-Naor in “Approaching You in English,” Zephyr Press, 2011.

As questions go, God’s identity is a biggie that has engendered dissension, bloodshed and art. God himself, we are told, encouraged ambiguity early on: In Exodus 3, Moses, who received a polytheistic education in Pharaoh’s home, asks the voice in the burning bush for a name to tell the children of Israel. The reply: "I am that I am."

This is interesting and revolutionary but too abstract for literal-minded monotheists. Down the road at Mount Sinai, God, competing with various visible gods and goddesses, prohibits graven images: he forbids giving the sole real deity a physical appearance.

Judaism has adhered to this in the visual arts but there is no law against verbal descriptions, as in a hymn sung this week during Simhat Torah, the holiday of Rejoicing in the Law: “Mighty and resplendent clothed in righteousness” (from “Siddur Sim Shalom,” The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, 1998). Indeed, Judaism has no problem imagining God concretely in words as father, king or humble shepherd.

Muslims, with some exceptions - Islam (barring Persians, Mughals and Ottomans) - went further and refrained from visual depictions of any living creatures. For a millennium and more, Christianity abided by the prohibition on visual images of God but by the Renaissance, churches were displaying very human depictions, usually with a crown, a long beard or both.

Admiel Kosman, a professor of Jewish Studies in Berlin with nine books of poetry to his credit who splits his time between Germany and Jerusalem, imagines God as a congenial master of all trades: glazier, healer, gardener, plasterer, builder and purveyor of knowledge and wisdom who fixes everything, physically and spiritually. He has a kind word for everyone, even women -- “oh, / you’ve nothing to worry about, ma’am” -- and is friendlier than the biblical God who doesn’t speak to just anybody but only to selected individuals and often through agents -- angels or prophets. This god is accessible, handy and in the neighborhood but also on high, the lofty creator and speaker of the plain truth, central but not necessarily with official kosher certification from the Chief Rabbinate; rejoicing in his law could be a great party.

*Musing: Is it possible to take offense at this poem?

*Bonus: Rejoicing in the Law.