A Multi-Media Poetic Commentary on the Torah
"An untraditional approach to an ancient tradition"
It all started on a remarkably quiet Shabat afternoon. I perused my bookshelves, wondering what to read. There stood the classic 'sepharim' with their gold lettering and burghundy binding. Each sefer its own sphere of seering insight into the Torah. Illuminating, imposing. But that Shabat, I needed something more gentle than those fiery Hebrew ridddles. I wanted the ease and tease of good poetic word plays. I wanted the freshness that only a poem holds, the crisp rhyme, the well-kept time, the startling twist of the last line. And so I turned to my bookshelves' sundry tomes of Dickinson, Rumi, Ginsburg...
But where was the Torah in all those thousand pages of posey?
I wanted them both. Both the flowing letter-alchemy of poetry, and the sharp-tongued Torah insights. The Jew in me and the poet in me wanted their worlds melded, melted, seamlessly assimilated. Natural, not imposed...something more than prose. Where poetry meets Torah meets me meeting the bookshelf on a Shabbat afternoon. But I couldn't find it, so I decided to attempt to write it. And thus began a consuming project of writing weekly parsha poetry.
As the project progressed, I realized that adding another book to the already overstuffed “Jewish bookshelf” was only half the story. After all, we live in an era of ipods and laptops. The new fangled appendage of the computer has wildly revolutionized our ability to generate and share new perspectives on Torah. We have access to a new revelation where, like at Sinai, we can truly “see the voices” and “hear the visions”.
So, my goal became to add a commentary not to the bookshelf but to the ear and eye....and to the Jewish experience. I added spoken word and evocative images to the poetry, creating elegant 5-minute Torah-art videos. The idea was to generate a holistic 'experience' of Torah for the viewer – with parshanut to engage the mind, poetry to evoke the emotions and spirit, and a caleidoscope of images to stir the senses. The goal – to enliven Torah in the eyes and ears of a new generation of spirit-seeking Jews.
Why poetry? One of the great gifts that poetry brings to bear on the endeavor of Torah commentary is the way that it accesses a truly “living Torah”. Poetry points, so poignantly, to the poet's most intimate life experience. My best poems happen at the intersection between my life and the Torah text – where my life becomes a commentary on the text and the text a commentary on my life. I don't shy away from transparency in my writing - I aim for it. It is what brings the Torah to life. For instance, one of my poems is Avraham's letter to his father explaining his need to leave home. Of course, the poem is in essence a letter to my own father explaining my personal lech lecha to Israel. The poem was born at the emotion-laden intersection of Torah and my life.
What's more, because of my background as a psychotherapist, the commentaries have a strong psycho-spiritual bent to them. I often look at Torah through the prism of self-development, healing, family dynamics, creativity, spiritual growth.1 And then there's the essential fact that I'm a woman. Many of the poems I share give voice to female characters who don't have much of a voice in the text. Example: a poem portraying Sarah's protest against the binding of her only son, Isaac, on the altar. Or Shifra and Puah, midwives speaking out as freedom fighters, agitating for inner-liberation from within the home. This poetic approach allows the female characters to speak out in an aptly feminine style of non-linear, rhythmic, imagistic lyricism. One of my highest hopes is that these poems will appeal to women who might feel alienated from Torah because of the lack of an overt feminine perspective in our tradition.
In short, I aspire to a commentary that is highly personal, feminine, psychological, spiritual and creatively expressive. A commentary that reflects an exploration of living Torah, expressed through multi-media forms of poetry and images. It's no surprise that I am doing this work here in Nachlaot. One of my greatest points of inspiration is that astounding and yet so mundane fact that I am writing in Yerushalayim. In Nachlaot, no less, the artistic heart of this sacred metropolis. This neighborhood, with its maze of alleyways and shuk-side charm, is such a melding of Torah, kedusha and the creative spirit. What better place to base an expressive exploration of the melding of Torah and the arts.
Chaya Lester is a Jewish-educator, writer and psychotherapist. She teaches a unique and electrifying form of Torah classes using experiential exercises, psychological tools and expressive arts. She also leads weekly women's groups focused on self-growth in a sacred supportive environment. Chaya lives in Nachlaot with her husband Hillel and their three children.
Please note: Chaya offers affordable and penetrating holistic psychotherapy – right here in Nachlaot.
Let her know that you saw this piece and get 50% discount on your first sessions! Call: 054-691-8226
Visit www.havayah.com to read about her counseling services and see more of these unique videos.