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Tackling the “Sticky” Torah Portions in Limerick Form

Thursday, May 14, 2015 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Joe Black wrote about how he came to write a book of limericks for every Torah portion. His newest book, There Once Was a Man From Canaan: The Five Books of Limerick, is now available. He has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

Our tradition teaches that each chapter, verse and even letter of the Torah has great power and significance. And yet, from a homiletic and pedagogic perspective, some parashot are easier to digest and teach than others. We recently had a shabbaton at our synagogue for families who had children that were entering into the process of becoming B’nai Mitzvah. At this particular event, each upcoming Bar Mitzvah boy and Bat Mitzvah girl were assigned the Torah portion for their particular Shabbat. Once they received their date and parasha, each family was given an opportunity to glance over the chapters of Torah that would be read at their service. They were then given an assignment to share with the rest of the families and students a few key points of their parasha.

Those who were assigned narratives from Genesis and Exodus had no problem understanding their Torah portions. The student who received parashat Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27) for example – where God tells Abram to leave all that he knows and travel to a new land that God would show him – had an easy time explaining their text. Others, however, found it more difficult. The child who received Tazria Metzora (Leviticus 12:1-15:33) – which deals with leprosy, skin afflictions and sexual organ malfunctions – had a more restrained level of excitement.

Here’s where a good Torah Limerick can come in handy:

When studying Parshat Metzora
You learn to never ignore… a
Peculiar emission
Or painful condition
That’s explained in detail in the Torah.

Some portions are simply drier than others. For example, Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-8:36) contains myriad details about the Ordination of Aaron and his sons and how the Priests who officiated in the Temple service must dress. Once again – a Torah Limerick to the rescue:

Aaron and sons are ordained
Their job is carefully explained
It’s oily and bloody
Messy and muddy
No wonder their robes get all stained!

There’s no reason that studying Torah can’t be both fun and meaningful. Torah Limericks are one more way to inspire and engage everyone.

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. For more information about Rabbi Black, go to www.emanueldenver.org/, www.rabbijoeblack.com or www.the5booksofLimerick.com

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“Torah Limericks?” “Really?” “Why?”

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 | Permalink

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

For more information about Rabbi Black, go to www.emanueldenver.org/, www.rabbijoeblack.com or www.the5booksofLimerick.com

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