Let My People Know

"You cannot write poetry just with numbers"

With all the differences, and there are lots of differences among the various traditions, what is astonishing are the similarities. 

Someone once asked, “What’s the difference between a poet and a mathematician?” 

A poet calls one thing by a thousand names, a mathematician calls a thousand things by one name.

I was trained toward mathematics.

 I used to be a teacher of mathematics: Two men are working, digging a ditch. 

Possibly you had the same problem in your high school, teachers of mathematics are not very full of imagination.

So they are digging a ditch. 

Now, if the writer is more creative, he’ll say one man was called Jack and the other was called John. 

One was taller and dressed in blue, and so on. 

If you’re a mathematician, you ignore their names; they’re not important. 

You ignore their dress, that’s not important. 

You come to the essentials, to the numbers. 

And it’s a simple question. 

It can be asked about three animals running in the jungle. A very different story, but the same formula. 

Have you been in India?  You will be shocked. 

Or Tibetan art.  That can sometimes be shocking. 

There are pictures that are surely not fit for small children. 

In a temple. 

Now, you may say that in a church you don’t see the same pictures. 

But if you go to a Catholic church, you possibly might find it the same. 

Now, is there a big difference between the veneration of Mary and images in the Tibetan caves? 

Religious expression can have a strong erotic element. 

Now, if you write poetry, you cannot write poetry just with numbers. 

I have been in a very, very strict Protestant church that didn’t have in it a single image. 


Just a whitewashed wall. 

No cross, no symbol. 

But they were singing, and the songs were of a different kind. 

You cannot sing about whitewashed walls constantly, so you have to sing about something inside. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From an interview with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in Parabola, Dec.2009