Thursday, 20 Jul 2023

Written by Eleanor Davis

A Triple Alphabet of Haikus for Shabbat Chazon,

with apologies to real poets


As a younger man, Moses was tongue-tied, fluent only in protest.

Beginnings are hard, even for a great prophet, but God persisted.

Change came with Revelation: receiving Torah unlocked Moses’s tongue.

D’varim, words, pour out: all thirty-four chapters in a burst of speech.

Egypt the starting point for a review of Israelite history.

Forty years of wandering, when eleven days should have been enough.

Gratitude is rare; grumbling, a constant.  Moses’s temper often frays.

How can he bear them alone? The question is surely rhetorical.

If in doubt, though, other leaders still have Moses as a supreme court.

Jiminy Cricket! Spying reveals a quite awesome land – with giants.

Keeping to the plan proves hard; insecurity leads to tragedy.

Letting his anger burn costs Moses dearly.  Their Promised Land, not his.

More travels, trials, tribulations to endure as they journey on.

No-one should forget the miracles wrought by God, yet memory fades.

Opening his mouth, Moses expounds the teaching: a long aide-memoire.

Persuasive, perhaps; eloquent, without a doubt.  Moses is transformed.

Quantity and yes, quality: for this message, nothing else will do.

Receiving Torah puts obligations on one: pass it on or else.

Sacred duties sound like they should come with rewards. Moses might demur.

Tragedy: anger. He forfeits the land, condemned to look, not enter;

Unless it’s better not to see failure arrive, only predict it?

Verity always: humans will slip up, or err. No-one is perfect.

Wishful thinking to imagine that Moses’s words alone are enough.

X-factor only carries a people so far: where do they go next?

Years after Moses, Fair Jerusalem would rise, then – oops! – fail and fall.

Zion, the city, personifies a people; holy yet brought low.



Alone and weeping,

Bat Zion laments alone,

Crushed, without comfort.


D’varim, such things –

Eyes streaming as she laments

For her lost people.


Gone: captive or dead.

How can it be possible?

It can’t – or should not.


Joy once tied her tongue.

Keening for all that is lost

Loosens long-locked lips.


My God, she cries out, why have you forsaken us? Outrage compels speech.


No-one can stop her

Once sorrow starts to pour out.

Pain needs expression.


Quatrains – not enough.

Rhymes struggle to contain all

Summertime sadness.


Total tragedy:

Unique – until the next time.

Violence revived.


Why do we still read

X-rated tales of past woe?

You might learn; or not.

Zoom out: see the dove hovering, softly cooing – in hope or lament?


Another year on, Tisha B’Av rolls around. Has anything changed?

Bombarding the news: war – history rhymes again – and other traumas.

Compassion fatigue threatens to dull our response.  Inevitable?

D’vorim still sting. We rely on words like bees: too sharp to ignore.

Endless posturing makes parade grounds and online the new battlefields.

Fresh propaganda tries to demoralise but resistance is strong.

Graveyards are tended while fields go unharvested; farmers turned soldiers.

How have the cities, once bustling with modern life, become new ruins?

Incendiaries make unholy sacrifices of bricks and people.

‘Jesus’ or ‘mama’ – their ultimate cries of pain must pierce the heavens.

Kneeling? On their knees in prayer not submission: bow only to God.

Love lies bleeding here, languishing but yet living. Miracles follow.

Mothers move mountains, fathers pull off great feats, all given strength by love.

No-one expected to need such heroism so close to our home.

Outrageous fate takes war off history’s pages and into our lives.

Past generations set boundaries on anguish: the bars of a rhyme;

Quelling no feeling when whole alphabets convey pain’s totality.

Restraining transcends, quivering fullness – how else would we ever stop?

Sad, at this season? Our calendar calls us to decrease joy in Av:

Tragedy is meant to permeate these Three Weeks – from a safe distance.

Ululation, no: too foreign, like Temple rites.  A lone tear, perhaps.

Vines of memory twine around our decisions, shaping our future.

Will it be trauma or Torah, the encounter that will transform us?

X-rays cannot show, only chosen words reveal, what our voice will say.

Yes to peace, to hope. Yes to joy, to holiness. Yes to love, to life.

Zephyr, Breath of Life, renew our days as of old – but for good, for peace.


Eleanor Davis LBC rabbinic student

The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.