“For My Next Trick I’ll Need a Volunteer” by Warren Zevon: It’s Lonely Up Here, You Cannot Do It Alone

April 21, 2011 at 11:47 pm, by

A few months ago, I found myself overwhelmed by the sense that a Minyan (prayer community) I had organized was entirely in my hands. A few good friends had been telling me for some time already that there were all sorts of tasks that I could easily delegate. Although I figured that they were probably right, I still was determined to do everything on my own until I heard the same advice come from a source I did not expect.

One Saturday morning, while attending services at Kehilat Romemu, Rabbi David Ingber noted that in the Torah reading that morning, the phrase “lo tov” (“not good”) appears—the second of the two only times it appears in the Torah.

In Genesis 2:18, right before making Eve alongside Adam, God says that it is lo tov for a human to be alone. Then, in Exodus 18:17 Yitro (a.k.a. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law) tells Moses, who has been working day and night as an intermediary between humans and the Divine, that this thing that Moses has been doing is Lo tov. Yitro says, “Navol tibbol gam attah gam ha’am hazzeh asher immakh ki khaved mimmekha haddavar; lo tukhal asohu levaddekha” (“You will wear yourself out, as well as this nation who is with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone”). Yitro very sternly lectures Moses at this point about how he must appoint some people to help him out. When you’re working day and night, when you’re wearing yourself out, you can’t do it alone.

I don’t know why this keeps happening (probably because of Oholiav though): I keep encountering these pieces of pop culture that reflect the pieces of Torah I find most meaningful. It was not more than a few days later when I decided to have my iPod play through the complete Warren Zevon discography.

Of all these songs, one song just completely resonated with me. A bit of a silly song, but also a profoundly serious song. “For My Next Trick I’ll Need A Volunteer” is the story of a magician whose tricks are no longer working so well (“I can saw a woman in two/But you won’t wanna look in the box when I’m through…”). The chorus, “I can make love / Disappear/For my next trick / I’ll need a volunteer,” is both sad and biting since it’s not clear if there should be an “and” between the words “love” and “disappear.”

Making love is a few different things: aside from a sexual union, making love can be a magic trick, and making love could also be when we offer our own loving good will, when we volunteer. Zevon says that he can make love—and it doesn’t matter whether its his love that will disappear or if it is he that will disappear, for it is all the same in the end. Whatever happens, he’ll need some loving assistance.

Whether we think of ourselves as the magician of exhausted talents or the worker worn out by too much time, we have to remember that being alone is lo tov. If we’re going to move forward, we’re going to need some love, some helping hands, some volunteers. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the Book.

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