Parshat Matot: Stick Figures

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Stick Figures
23 Jul 2008
Arts & Media

It is nearing the end –


(In fact,

Many years this is the end –)


Of the desert journey.


We have come far

(Not so much in miles as

In consciousness)


We have come close

(Not so much to a place as

To ourselves)


It is nearing the end of the fourth book:

The Holy Land on the horizon;

A sun and dream dawning –

Brilliant rays turning the dark

Shadows of night into the

Radiant smiles of day…


O, how near we are.


But, even as these inks dry, blood

And tears flow down its cheeks

And streets, pooling in pockmarks

And potholes, reflecting bitterness

And scar-struck skins; black smokes

Of chimneys once skylights bellow

An acrid testament – destroyed is all

That which was constructive; broken

That which was complete – trapped

Between the confines is the vagabond

Prince living in a cardboard box, lips

Suckling a paper bag, his crown long

Pawned at a shop under the tracks.


The journey has taken us from Egypt

To the Mountain to the threshold of

The Promised Land; but look again

And we have long been exiled from

Our Land, back to Egypt – only now

It’s worse –


You see, today we think we’re free.


Moshe spoke to the

Heads of the tribes

Of the Children of Israel


A sticky situation;

A metaphor:


A tree grows on high:

Let us call it the Source.


It reaches out. Branches



The freshly cut are weaker:

Green and moist, the life source

Still runs through them and they

Haven’t adapted an existence

All their own; one would never

Use these to build anything.

They don’t even really burn.


Then there are the seasoned

Wooden sticks, once supple

Now totally dry, independent

They don’t bend, never yielding

To another force but standing

Strong and proud (if a bit hard-

Headed and insensitive); sticking

To their guns, these logs and sticks

Would build a sound structure.


The Source, the tree on high, is

Heaven from which we come;

The branches, the sticks are we

The sons of heaven and the men

Of earth.


Moshe spoke to… the tribes


In English, the word Tribe is simple.

In the Holy Tongue, Tribe comes in

Two versions:

Shevet and mateh:


Shevet: a fresh twig still running with the

Life of its source.


Mateh: a stick whose life source

Is completely removed.


When we are tribes (matot) hard and removed from our source,

With destruction and dried woods all around us, if we reach

Deep inside we will find the deepest strength; at these times

We can build the strongest, greatest things. We may seem like

Different, hardened tribes – sticks – that are disconnected but

In truth we all come from the same tree, and when we build with

That, our life source never fades.


We can be sticks in the mud or

We can stick together


It is nearing the end –

The end of the desert

And the beginning of

The Promised Land

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.