From the page to the stage
The Torah comes alive …
and charges off in an unexpected direction
with Melissa Carpenter
A writer with a passion for Torah, I create my Torah monologues from the point of view of characters in the Torah, imagining what they might think and feel about their lives, their families, and their god. Audience members find my dramatic readings entertaining, moving, and inspiring. The stories of my characters raise questions about our own lives and our own ways of approaching the divine … and one another.
I wrote and delivered my first Torah monologue, “Abraham’s Unbinding”, on Rosh Hashanah for my home congregation, P’nai Or of Portland, Oregon. I’m still sharing Torah monologues there, and I’ve also presented monologues at Elat Chayyim in Canaan, CT, at Bet Shira in Port Townsend, WA, at the Portland Women’s Day of Jewish Learning, and at the Cactus Kallah in Tucson, AZ.
“Each story touches the heart …”
“Melissa Carpenter has developed a unique form of modern midrash. She brings the stories of the Torah to life with profound insight, scholarship, depth and humor. When I experience her dramatic readings I feel I am in the presence of the living Torah.” Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield zt”l
“Melissa Carpenter has attuned her soul to the tradition of living midrash. She not only uncovers fascinating and enlightening insights into Torah, but she does so in a way that makes is accessible to all of us. Her midrash is brilliant and emotionally alive. Moses and The Baal Shem Tov would love her work!” Rabbi David Zaslow
“Each story touches the heart in its own way, and evokes the beauty and grief and mystery of life and the Torah. They are full of soul and wisdom and tears and humor and lessons and inspiration. To come upon these stories and to let them wash over you is to feel that all the wanderings and stumblings that led you up to that point were all worth it.” Richard Seidman, author of The Oracle of Kabbalah
Excerpt from “Jonah Learns to Swallow”
Click on the arrow to start the video (filmed by Cathy Zheutlin.)
Excerpt from “The Designated Man”
Of all the priests and Levites serving at the Temple this week, why do I have to be the Designated Man? Why do I have to lead the goat to Azazel? I know, they draw lots to decide our duties on Yom Kippur. But I’d rather be up on the platform singing, like every other year. Instead I’m standing here by the north wall, next to two hairy goats. Oh, they’ve been washed, and tethered to the wall with red ribbons, but they’re still goats. I’m a silversmith when I’m not on religious duty, and all goats look the same to me: wicked. Maybe it’s their yellow eyes, with the black pupils like slits, set sideways. It’s not natural. Besides, their horns are sharp as daggers. Really, the Designated Man ought to be some gung-ho priest who gets a kick out of animal sacrifices, and never reads the Torah.
(Inspiration for “The Designated Man”: In Acharei Mot/Leviticus 16, God tells Moses how the high priest should conduct an annual atonement ceremony, which includes sending one of two goats into the wilderness, to Azazel, by the hand of a designated man. Talmud Bavli, Tractate Yoma, describes how much this ritual had changed by the time of the Second Temple. What if, one year, the designated man had doubts about what God really wanted?)
Excerpt from “Eldad and Medad Become Prophets”
Eldad: So there you are, Medad! I’ve been looking all over the camp for you. Moses posted a list of seventy elders, and we’re on it. We’re supposed to report to the Tent of Meeting, and—Hey! What are you eating?
Medad: Cheese curds.
Eldad: God gave us manna to eat, not cheese.
Medad: Well, my goat gave me milk. Why not use it? After all, God told us to bring our livestock along into the wilderness.
Eldad: Come on, Medad, we elders have to set an example for the rest of the Israelites. and you know we’re only supposed to eat manna. Baked manna, boiled manna, fried manna. Manna in the morning, manna in the evening, manna at suppertime. Nothing but manna.
Medad: And it all tastes the same. Sweet and rich.
Eldad: Sweet is good.
Medad: I’m sick of it.
LIST OF MY TORAH MONOLOGUES
- Cain’s Mark
- Noah and the Voice
- Avram Gets Going
- Abraham’s Unbinding
- Isaac’s Binding
- Hagar and Sarah: Old Enemies
- Rebecca’s Escape
- Isaac at the Well
- Isaac Gropes for a Blessing
- Rachel’s Terafim
- Esau at the Yabbok
- Judah and the Rules
- Joseph Naked
- Judah and His Brothers
- Pharaoh’s Daughter
- Yitro’s Advice
- Standing at Sinai
- Pinchas’ Daughter
- Eldad and Medad See Feet
- Eldad and Medad Become Prophets
- The Golden Calf Worshipper
- Aaron Comes out of Silence
- The Designated Man
- Miriam’s Healing
- Caleb Waits
- Bilam’s Donkey
I Samuel/Shmuel א
- Channah’s Prayer
- Peninnah, Second Wife
- King Saul’s Daughter
- Jonah Learns to Swallow
- Job’s Wife
from the Talmud
- Shimon bar Yochai Leaves his Cave
… and I keep writing more!