Joe Black serves as Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Denver, CO. He also is an author of children’s books and a guitarist/singer-songwriter of original Jewish music. His newest book, There Once Was a Man From Canaan: The Five Books of Limerick, is now available. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.
To some people, the idea of writing limericks for every Torah portion seems a bit unorthodox….and they are correct. The challenge of creating a short, concise and (hopefully) funny parasha poem began as a dare, then became a discipline and eventually evolved into something of an obsession.
You see, six years ago, as I approached my 50th birthday, I began to think about my legacy. What could I do – as a congregational rabbi and sometimes musician – that no one else had already done? I had already written, recorded and performed my original music around the country – but there was nothing unique about that. Singing rabbis are a dime a dozen. As a member of the clergy, I had been privileged to lead a wonderful congregation and share in the simchas and sorrows of my congregants. I had written sermons, eulogies, commentaries and countless bulletin articles which served vital functions for my community, and yet, there was nothing original or unique about them. And then, a dear colleague challenged me to write parasha Limericks.
I wrote one, posted it on Facebook, and soon other people began to write their limericks in response. Each week, I tried to distill the message of the parasha into two sets of rhyming couplets with a closing zinger that rhymed with the first two lines and I found myself getting hooked. I started publishing them in a blog and soon people began asking if I would be publishing them in a book. After a while, I decided to give it a try.
Some of my limericks tell a story. For example, for Bereshit (Genesis 1:1-6:8), I wrote:
Just take a bite, said the snake
Who cares if a rule you might break?
The fruit that you'll eat
Is so juicy and sweet
Think of the pies you could bake!
Others, are more philosophical. Here’s Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25):
When you’ve tasted the fruits of the land
It’s important that you understand
That though you’ve plowed and you’ve tilled
And your stomach’s been filled
It really all came from God’s hand
Others stem from Talmudic sources. Here’s Ki Tetze (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19):
If you have a rebellious child
Who won’t listen, gets drunk and is wild
We’re taught to disown him
So the elders can stone him
(But not once was a case like this filed)
I have been very pleased with the response to the book. People from all walks of life have shared with me how much they enjoy reading my Limericks. I had hoped that, by publishing this book, my obsession with writing these snarky snippets of Torah would be quenched. That was not to be the case.
So thank you for reading this post
Take heed, if you’re ever engrossed
With biblical rhyming
And limerick timing
It’s clear that your future is toast