Parshat Chukat: Black and White and Red all over

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Black and White and Red
03 Jul 2008
Arts & Media

In this unparalleled universe

Many voices talk all at once:


Master Mind talks deliberately,

Enunciating every thought-out,

Diamond-cut syllable with a rather

Unsettling flare for the grammatic;


Lady Heart talks passionately,

Every word a fragile lucidity

Straight from the glassblower’s

Furnace: beautiful to behold;

Scalding to hold.


The unparalleled universe that is man –

Many different voices, with different

Pitches, accents and languages, all

Trying to get (if not the last)

At least one word in edgewise.


Life is learning when to listen

To which voice


And when and which to ignore.


But there are times when voices,

Are at a loss for words: speechless,

Shocked, tongue-tied and twisted,

Fuddled and befuddled, dumb

And dumbfounded



It is these times, of complete joy

Or complete pain, of utter happiness

Or utter horror, that if a voice attempts

To sound wise or articulate, instead

Unleashes an insensitive barrage of

Ink more barrier than language.


There are times of such joy, and may they

Be many, when even one letter of reinforced

Steel would just melt in the heart of the sun;


There are times of such pain, and may they

Be none, when even an entire library of kind

Words would shatter in the shadow of heart-

Break –

And it is this that begs the quest:

If but no sense or sensation,

No brilliance or strength,

No voice can soothe such

Hurt, how can one ever be

Happy again?


May it never be, but if one reach

Such an impurity, a dead-end with

No more turns altogether, the heart

So used and the mind so abused that

The voice is lost and forgotten, shushed,

How can one ever find the way again, feel

Life again, touch purity again, be innocent again?


Whoever touches the corpse…


Chalky lips hymning a requiem for an ode;

Knees and ankles disjointed in a lifeless-march;

Rot and decay creep along, circling like vultures

A carcass. Death has laid its black lips upon a

A silent heart.


There are times of lifelessness:

When the truth of our spirits

Is buried by the

Shovels of selfishness

With the earths of animosity

In the graves of loneliness


Speechless, the voices no longer talk at all


A red cow complete

Which has no blemish


O, but don’t you know we are beyond, way

Beyond these things, beyond voices, beyond

Any impurity, a corpse may touch our bodies

– after all they are of the same material –

But how can it ever touch our soul, our essence?


This is the statute

Of the Torah…


A statute isn’t about what our voices say,

What our minds think or what our hearts

Feel, a statute, a chok, is engraved in our souls

For no reason other than

Because the One who

Created death also

Created something



The statute of the Torah –

The entire Torah:

No matter what falseness we may touch,

Where we may have been and what we

May have done, somewhere there is a

Red cow ready to bestow its ashes and

Purity upon us –

It may sound fantastic, I know,

But that’s only because it is.

Mendel Jacobson is a writer, poet and journalist living in Brooklyn. His weekly poetry can be seen at

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.