Henry Rasof

In Issue 6 on April 1, 2011 at 11:02 am

Wheel of Fortune

In a scene in the Ramayana Sita stands on a mountain and shouts into a rainbow. At Angkor Wat Rama rides his chariot on a wall, and over the rainbow, rainforest trees extend their roots over the centuries until one day the temples will be sand. Then too the land mines will be dust.

Ezekiel saw this chariot in a realm of pure symbol. The Talmud says of four rabbis who entered the other world—prds, the orchard—one emerged intact, one went mad, one became an apostate, and one died. Rabbi Akiva, the intact one, had cryptically warned the others not to say “water, water” when they saw a place of pure marble. Although they had neither chariot to ride, nor rainbow, their experience of water was akin to the experience of Lakshmi and his devotion to Sita. The wheels were the wheels of samsara, birth and death.

I climb an old trail that disappears into the high mountains above Glacier Gorge in Colorado. Below, the water weaves through the canyon, while above, tourists snap photos of the gushing falls. Are there connections? The Baal Shem Tov—the Master of the Good Name and the founder of the Hasidic movement—said imagination is the truest part of existence.

Have you had the experience of being with someone and the figure/ground morphs into a radiance of perception and things dissolve into pure colors and shapes in a spongy textured application of painted existence? The wheels turn, recycling desires to a future life or perhaps a past one.

We walk along the wall, overwhelmed and awed by the detail, yet elsewhere detail is scarce. Here there was time for such delicacy and completeness. Just outside the temple gates poor children line up selling large bunches of bananas for one dollah, suh. Is this what Ezekiel had in mind, or the rabbi who penetrated the two-waters mystery and in so doing exited the orchard with his marbles intact?

Water, water. Around the wheel goes water, grinding the grain of our lives until, worn down, it spreads like the future sands of Angkor Wat across the planet before being blown beyond the earth’s atmosphere and becoming the interstellar particles.

Could this be why the philosophers said God does not interfere in the individual moments of our lives? Or is this not true, since if it were, Ezekiel would have had no vision, or Moses, his? No, the wheel turns, whether on the wall or in the dream of Ezekiel, dividing the water. It is simple—water below, water above. The water of the sea of reeds as it divided during the Exodus. Water, water. To enter the orchard you need to leave behind all attachments, like the attachments that separated Sita from Rama and caused her to be so hard to regain. Like Rabbi Akiva, the only rabbi who left the orchard with his life and mind intact.

The two halves, that’s it. Water, water; Rama, Sita. Wheels and chariots. Male and female, divine and earthly, past and future. All fruits in the orchard, waiting to be imagined, pursued, then conquered, as Rama eventually conquered the demons who had stolen Sita. This, Ezekiel saw in his vision—hypnagogic, only real. Yes, the story is real, and the myriad details carved on the medieval walls by hundreds or thousands of carvers. Holding all together are those wheels, drawing the water that then divided, saving earlier the Israelites and later the seekers of the work of creation in the heavenly halls.

And what is this work? None other than swimmers narrating the two waters, divided on one level and though appearing divided on another in actuality one: There was only one water, one water only. Imagination is what was—and is—required and what informed—and continues to inform—these stories, however real or unreal they may sound.


Henry Rasof has degrees in music, creative writing, and Jewish studies; worked in book publishing for over thirty years; and teaches Jewish creative writing at the Boulder Jewish Day School and creative nonfiction at the University of Denver.

His poems have appeared most recently in Empty Vessel, In Stereo, Jewish Currents, Monkey Puzzle, Numinous, Pinstripe Fedora, Poetica, and Slow Trains.

Among the holy places he visited in 2010 on a trip to India were the tomb of Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti, in Ajmer, near Pushkar; the Dakshineswar Kali Temple north of Kolkata, where Ramakrishna had his great vision of the universality of all religions; the Sarada Devi and Vivekananda temples at Belur Math, across the Ganges from the Kali temple; Sarnath, near Varanasi, where Buddha preached his first sermon after reaching enlightenment; and of course Varanasi (formerly Benares), the most exotic, fascinating, memorable city he ever couldn’t wait to leave.

He lives in Louisville, Colorado.

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