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Breakthrough and Interiorization

by Rabbi David Zaslow

In poetry, when an innovation in the use of metaphor or rhythm is first discovered, it is called the breakthrough. After a breakthrough there will others who will do the work of interiorization. For instance, in the late nineteenth-century, the British Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins made a breakthrough in the use of alliteration and rhythm. Yet it wasn’t until the mid-twentieth century that Dylan Thomas was able to interiorize the breakthrough made a century before. Until Dylan Thomas, Hopkins was treated as a kind of novelty poet since his brand of alliteration uses consonance and assonance in an aggressive manner – it and takes some getting used to. Here’s how the process of breakthrough and interiorization works.

In the poem called Inversnaid Hopkins wrote: “This darksome burn/ horseback brown/ His rollrock highroad roaring down/ In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam/ Flutes and low to the lake falls home.” Put the poem’s meaning aside for a moment – what a stunning and original use of sound! In Hopkins’ famous The Windhover he wrote “I caught this morning morning’s minion/ kingdom of daylight’s dauphindapple-dawn-drawn Falcon/ in his riding/ of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding ….” Along comes Welch poet Dylan Thomas who imitates and develops the novel style that Hopkins created. In his classic A Child’s Christmas in Wales Dylan Thomas writes: “All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.” Beautiful, yes? Can you hear the alliterative connection between these poets? One built upon the work of the other!

The same principle of innovation and emulation is true in religion. In the eighteenth century the Baal Shem Tov made a breakthrough in the Jewish approach to prayer that is still being interiorized today. In the 1960’s Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi made two breakthroughs that continue to transform the Jewish world. The first had to do with the full empowerment of women. The second had to do with an innovative approach to the relationship between Judaism and other religions. Reb Zalman’s breakthroughs are being interiorized, imitated, and developed in Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Orthodox synagogues throughout the world. Sadly, Reb Zalman and the Jewish Renewal sometimes don’t not get proper attribution, credit, or financial support for the courageous work that is being done on behalf of Judaism. Our shuls tend to be financially poorer because we have chosen the path of creativity, experimentation, and innovation.

Reb Zalman calls Renewal “the research and development department of Judaism.” From explorations in prayer, chanting, drumming, and liturgy you can see the impact of Reb Zalman’s lifetime work in synagogues everywhere. The Havurah is honored to carry on the breakthrough work of Reb Zalman, especially in the areas of joyful services, education, egalitarianism, and ecumenism. In one of his most popular song lyrics, Steve Allen wrote, “This could be the start of something big.” When it comes to Judaism, you really are part of something big!