Yitro 2: A poem “We All Stood Together”

This is one of my favorite poems about Parashat Yitro, standing at Sinai together (Ex. 19-20). It’s by Merle Feld.

My brother and I were at Sinai

He kept a journal

of what he saw,

of what he haerd,

of what it all meant to him.


I wish I had such a record

of what happened to me there


It seems like every time I want to write

I can’t—

I’m always holding a baby,

one of my own,

or one for a friend,

always holding a baby

so my hands are never free

to write things down


And then

as time passes,

the particulars,

the hard data,

the who what when where why,

slip away from me,

and all I’m left with is

the feeling.


But feelings are just sounds

the vowel barking of a mute.


My brother is so sure of what he heard-

after all he’s got a record of it-

consonant after consonant after consonant.


If we remembered it together

we could recreate holy time

sparks flying.

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1 Response to Yitro 2: A poem “We All Stood Together”

  1. david says:

    The myth of all of us being together at Sinai is a good one and provides a collective touchstone. But it also must be accompanied by openness, because it can connote tribalness. For instance as Merle Feld poeticizes, not only did the men receive the revelation at Sinai but women, too. Not only did the Israelites but all who were with them did, too. There weren’t only Jews at Sinai. Others came out from Egypt with the Israelites. There are textual references to other peoples like the Midianites where Yitro comes from, like the Cushite woman that Moses marries later. It was an intercultural blend. The name of this parasha is not Sinai, but “Yitro” demonstrating that blend.

    So the word listening “Shmah” occurs many times in the text. It connotes being open — to the past, to the present, to the future and to all peoples who accept a covenant or a relationship that is rooted in freedom. Every time you see the word “listen,” which is embedded many times in the text, you can substitute “be open.” Yitro says to Moses, Ex. 18:19. “Now listen (shmah) to me.” Ex 19:5. “And now, if you obey (shmoa) Me and keep (t’shm’u b’koli) My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth.” Ex. 19:8-9. And all the people replied in unison and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we shall do!” and Moses took the words of the people back to the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, I am coming to you in the thickness of the cloud, in order that the people hear (y’shmah) when I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever.’ And Moses relayed the words of the people to the Lord.” Then there are sounds that they listen to — of the ram’s horn, God’s voice, etc. All in need of listening and openness — past, present, future to all who hear, because sounds and listening have a hard time discriminating.

    And then the Revelation occurs through their listening and their listening becomes so intense and revelatory that it becomes vision. Ex. 20:15-16 “And all the people saw the voices and the torches, the sound of the shofar, and the smoking mountain, and the people saw and trembled; so they stood from afar. They said to Moses, ‘You speak with us, and we will hear (v’n’shmaah), but let God not speak with us lest we die.’”

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