Sackcloth: A Poem for Tisha b’Av

As Jacob responded to the news of Joseph’s death, 
As Mordechai learned of Haman’s decree,
As the king of Ninevah proclaimed a fast that extended even to the cattle,
So she, too, wrapped herself in the harsh embrace of sackcloth.
Arms raised to the heavens,
she fasted,
tore her hair and rent her garment,
beat her breast.
Tides of anxiety, violence and despair 
engulfed her world.
Strapping on her sandals,
invisible in the mass of weeping exiles,
she searched through columns of cedar
broken as her people
found a forgotten ember,
breathed it into memory, a dream.
Struggling from the rubble,
her presence undimmed but hidden as the new moon,
she stepped onto the road leading to all the worlds, 
joined with the mourning women 
and raised a wailing heard in every generation. 
How can our eyes not run down with tears
our eyelids not flow with water
as we, Shekhinah in our midst,
journey from destruction to destruction?

Notes: Jacob (Genesis 37:34) rends his garments and dons sackcloth in mourning the loss of his son Joseph; Mordechai (Esther 4:1) learns of Haman’s decree to annihilate the Jews; and the king of Ninevah (Jonah 3:6–8) puts on sackcloth and ashes and commands his subjects to do so, including on their cattle.


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