A Dream of Your Footprints
Translated by Haim O. Rechnitzer)
I sought you but found you not.
I sought you, enveloped in a cloud.
I filled my soul with honey from your mouth,
I saw a dream of your footprints in the garden.
I knew that you fled far from us.
Commanded us to die perplexed.
You planted a world – our world is as a
Your dream rises within it like a floral scent.
But who are you? Who? In what image are your
And what is their number in the infinite
Reveal your face to me, to the wanderer in the
gloomiest kingdom of life.
I am your beloved, if you are not the same as
and I shall not hate you, if sorrow [and
weariness] are thee.
See: our daylight is impoverished sunlight.
Feel: our nights are clouds of darkness.
And empty is the space — (our window is open
to see, how empty the space is).
I sought you at night and in wind,
I sought you in heat waves
And in the dew.
The title “A Dream of Your Footprints” sets the stage for the nature of
the encounter between the speaker in the poem and God. The poet
addresses God directly, using the second person, creating an impres-
sion of intimate dialogue. Yet the poet does not see his interlocutor.
He can only account for “a dream,” and this dream is not even of the
image of God but merely of God’s footprints. Thus, the title suggests
a sense of obscurity, conveying in a few words (two words in Hebrew –
the dialectic between intimacy and distance. The
poet situates the drama of the poem between worlds, bridging between
the here and now, and a mystical vision that captures a glimpse of
God’s presence in the Garden. Chalfi’s poem situates the poet and
the “us” of the text in the midst of the Garden and presents a radical
change in the mystical drama of the ascent to the Garden.
See Dr. Rechnitzer’s article “To See God in His Beauty: Avraham Chalfi and
the Mystical Quest for the Evasive God,” in
The Journal of Modern Jewish
January 2012, at
s there a specific Israeli Jewish theology and if there is, where
is it? During many years of learning, research, and an existential
re-examination of Judaism, I have grown increasingly frustrated
by the reduction of Zionism to political Zionism, and the margin-
alizing of its spiritual facets. I have been underwhelmed by the
spiritual impact of the university and scholarship on the renewal
of Israeli-Jewish life. These concerns are coupled with the fact that
a potential source of inspiration for new Jewish theology – Liberal
Judaism – offered mainly ideas of a sociological nature, yet proved
to be less capable of articulating substantive theological models.
More so, its community-based practices stand to gain from a
specifically Israeli-Hebrew theology.
Theology is the product of a critical-philosophical dialogue between
the Muse of religious insight, sacred texts, traditions of inter-
pretation, and science. One of the unique aspects of the Zionist
revolution is the renewal of the Hebrew language and especially
the pivotal role of the New Hebrew literature. Israeli Hebrew poets
are a link in a long tradition that perceives poetry as part of the
prophetic tradition. Indeed, within the Israeli cultural elite, poets
have occupied that space since the early years of the
pre-state Israeli society). Poets like Hayyim Nahman Bialik,
Uri Zvi Greenberg, Avraham Shlonsky, and Avraham Chalfi actively
constructed literary, political, and existential forms of dialogue with
Jewish, theological, and philosophical sources. They opened up
new horizons for a Hebrew-Jewish-Israeli theology that bridges
the divide between the secular and religious realms.
While this poetry is commonly discussed within the disciplines
of literary criticism and Zionist history, its theological potential
was ignored or, at least, under-developed. Their literary inheritance
stands before us as a wellspring for a creation of new theological
perspectives that bridge the divide between the old and the new
and the secular and religious realms. Recently, scholars have dedicated
more attention to the theological potential of Hebrew poetry.
However, a comprehensive contextualization of this poetry with the
Jewish tradition and theological systems is yet to be accomplished.
In my own research, I seek to reconstruct theological models out
of Modern Hebrew poetry. For example, the poet Chalfi called
God out on his shortcomings and provided us with a unique con-
cept of mysticism that combines Heikhlot and Kabbalah teachings.
Shlonsky presented a forceful critique of the Zionist
Its radicalism lies within the subversive interpretation of the Hasidic
mystical traditions, offering both a vital and painful dialogue with
God and a harsh criticism of the Zionist approach to redemption.
T. Carmi tells the story of the heretic who enlists every religious
image in order to glorify and sanctify the profane.
It is my hope that this new enterprise will inspire us to imagine
innovative paths for engagement with the Jewish tradition and
original theological models.
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Hebrew Poetry as a Wellspring
for Theological Renewal
Rabbi Haim O. Rechnitzer ‘03, Ph.D.,
of Modern Jewish Thought, HUC-JIR/Cincinnati
tmn, ihtn vnfjvu
vbhc ouen vz htu
But where can wisdom be found;
where is the source of understanding?
From top: Hayyim Nahman Bialik, Uri Zvi Greenberg,
Avraham Shlonsky, Avraham Chalfi, and T. Carmi