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​.emanuelden​ver​.org/, www​.rab​bi​joe​black​.com or www​.the5​book​sofLim​er​ick​.com

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