Finding God around the Corners of Walt Whitman’s Poetry

Perhaps the quintessentially American poet, Walt Whitman “mentions God frequently, but he is not a conventional believer,” writes Sarah Rindner. She goes on to subject the religious spirit she finds in Whitman’s best-known work, Leaves of Grass, to a Jewish reading:

I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

These verses are from the section of Leaves of Grass titled “Song of Myself.” Rindner observes:

There’s a stereotype of religious life that it is obsessed with life after death, and perhaps also the creation stories that precede both. Whitman is not interested in the beginning or end, and he is right [not to be]. For Whitman, and, I think, for us all, the correct place to focus is the present: on our obligations, our blessings, and our opportunities to grow in the here and now. As the Psalmist reminds us, and is true every day, “This is the day that the Lord made; we shall exult and rejoice in it.”

And then there is Whitman’s description of grass itself as “the handkerchief of the Lord/ A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,/ Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?”—to Rindner, “a potent encapsulation of how a religious seeker might find meaning in nature.” Reading this poem, she confesses, “I see God’s name somewhere in the corners as well.”

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Read more at Tradition

More about: American Religion, Judaism, Poetry, Psalms

 

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror