Liturgist and poet Alden Solovy discusses the inspiration behind These Words: Poetic Midrash on the Language of Torah, his writing process, and his hopes for the book’s impact.
What inspired These Words?
The language of Torah, its richness and nuance, begs not only for exploration, but for celebration in poetry. Throughout Jewish history, Torah has been our single greatest writing prompt for scholars, mystics, poets, musicians—all of us.
This is your fourth CCAR Press volume. How does it differ from your other works?
The previous volumes provide poetic liturgy. This book combines expository writing with poetic interpretation of Torah. I explore seventy words of Torah with deep dive essays into each word, followed by a poetic midrash inspired by that research.
What was the most challenging part of writing this volume?
Switching back and forth between left-brain Torah study and right-brain poetic interpretation was a constant challenge. What challenged me most, however, was the research. Each word is a universe, spectacular in depth and meaning. I felt compelled to keep learning and learning about each word.
How did you select the words in the book?
My selection process was more art than science. I began with a set of 120 words that interested me, supplemented by words suggested by friends. From there, the words themselves guided me to add, remove, or replace them, prompted by my explorations.
How did writing this book impact you?
Writing These Words was a profound and transcendent experience. I experienced what I can only describe as a “Torah trance” mind state. Intense. Beautiful. Challenging. Frightening. After the book was completed, I then faced my first post-writing melancholy. Later, rereading the book in print, I found an unprecedented joy and elation having written a volume of modern Torah midrash—I didn’t know that was in me.
How do you hope These Words will impact readers?
Wouldn’t it be beautiful if reading this book inspired others into their own journeys of exploring words of Torah? I hope the book will be used in Torah study, for writing sermons, as part of interfaith dialogue, and as a source of readings used in worship. Most of all, I hope the book inspires more poetry rooted directly in learning Torah.
Alden is available to visit communities for speaker events and book clubs. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alden Solovy is a liturgist based in Jerusalem. His books include This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings, This Precious Life: Encountering the Divine with Poetry and Prayer, and These Words: Poetic Midrash on the Language of Torah, all published by CCAR Press. Read more of his writing at tobendlight.com.