Talmud this Shabbat: Two Poems Written in the Ambiguous Space Between Terror and Hope

One poem was written after the insurrection and before the inauguration. That was Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb.” She had to confront terrifying events in a realistic way without succumbing to despair; indeed, to confront an assault on our democracy that happened two weeks and one day ago and, standing in the same place where the assault had happened, somehow remain hopeful. There is not a market for pessimistic poets. But how to forge legitimate optimism in the face of the deep problems our nation now confronts?

What was it about her words, her presence, and her presentation that answered that question in ways that drew universal rave reviews?

The other poem was written after the Israelites were very nearly wiped out by the Egyptians. They offered their poem just after their salvation, but still very much feeling their vulnerability. The Shira is a mixture of gratitude, relief, and terror at what might have been.

What is so powerful about this poem that we recite it not once a year in next week’s portion, but literally every single day, 365 days a year, times forever, in our morning prayers?

Tomorrow in Talmud we will look at Amanda Gorman’s words after the insurrection and before the inauguration, and the poetry of Exodus 15 after our ancestors’ salvation from the ferocity of the Egyptian army in hot pursuit—beleaguered, weary ex slaves with a long, long way to go.

What do these two poems teach us about how to wrest salvation from our own vulnerability?