Tom and Rose of Sharon Joad,
the Mother Road,
and the God of Mother’s Breasts

Tom Joad got out of the old McAlester Pen
It was there that he got his parole
After four long years on a man-killing charge
Tom Joad come a’walkin’ down the road, poor boys,
Tom Joad come a’walkin’ down the road
— Woody Guthrie, Tom Joad

We know the story of Tom Joad,
and that of his sister
Rose of Sharon Joad.
We know that these are
of a family of
displaced persons
dislocated humans
driven into nomadism by
environmental catastrophe

We know this
from the famous book
by Yonasan Shteinbeck
(not a Jew, although his grandfather lived near Jaffa,
in the late Ottoman period)

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the LORD
He is trampling out the vintage where The Grapes of Wrath are stored
Julia Ward Howe, The Battle Hymn of the Republic

Who is coming from Edom (the red place)?
Why is Your clothing so red?
Your garments like one who tramples grapes?
I press out My vintage alone.
. . . My year of redemption has arrived
. . . I trample nations in My anger.
I made them drunk with My rage. — Isaiah 63:1-6

This aspect of God,
the God who tramples nations
as if God were pressing out God’s vintage,
reminds us of:
El Shaddai
from the root dai די
meaning enough

I am El Shaddai
the God Who says Enough! Chagigah 12a

El Shaddai
I am the God Who says Enough!
And Hashem said to Moses
you shall soon see
what I shall do to Pharaoh . . .
I am Hashem . . .
El Shaddai
and I have heard the groaning
of the Children of Israel — Exodus 6:1-5
I am El Shaddai
The God Who shouts Enough!
My grapes of wrath
are stored in Egypt
you, Moses, shall soon see
what I shall do to Pharaoh.
I will be trampling out My vintage.

dai די enough!

The first person in Torah
to hear the Name El Shaddai
is Avram:
I am El Shaddai
walk in front of My face
upon My surface
and be complete. — Genesis 17:1

Avram has been through a lot:
Go to yourself
go by going
go for your going
go to your going
in your going, go
go to yourself
go    —    to    —    your    —    self

to the land that I will show you — Genesis 12:1

And Avram went . . .
to the land of K’na’an — Genesis 12:4-5

They stood on a mountain and they looked to the west,
and it looked like the Promised Land:
there was a big green valley with a river running through it,
and there was work for every single hand,
(they thought there was gonna be work for every single hand)
— Woody Guthrie, Tom Joad

They thought there was gonna be . . .

And there was a famine in the land,
and Avram went down to Egypt,
to be a stranger there,
for the famine was heavy on the land. — Genesis 12:10

a stranger: a de-territorialized person
in environmental catastrophe

And a homeless hungry man,
driving the roads
with his wife beside him
and his thin children
in the back seat
— John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Chapter 19

(and the hungry little children of the jungle camp said
“we’d like to have some too, yes please,
we’d like to have some too.” — Woody Guthrie, Tom Joad)

How can you frighten a man
whose hunger is not only
in his own cramped stomach
but in the wretched bellies
of his children?
You can’t scare him —
he has known a fear
beyond every other.
— John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Chapter 19

and Avram went down to Egypt,
to be a stranger there,
for the famine was heavy on the land. — Genesis 12:10

And yes Avram has endured
even so much beyond
just this:
displaced persons
de-territorialized lives
traveling along
US 66
that road
which Steinbeck called
The Mother Road

The Mother Road

The Mother

The Mother

I begin to wonder . . .
I begin to wonder:
El Shaddai
when will God say

And I wonder
is there yet
another meaning:

El Shaddai

From the root:
shad שד breast, bosom

I am El Shaddai
a Mother nursing Her child
El Shaddai
the Mother God
El Shaddai
The Goddess of Unconditional Love
The Goddess of Shaddai: My breasts
For not on bread alone
does the human live,
but from all that emanates
from the opening of God
lives the human. — Deuteronomy 8:3
I am El Shaddai
suckle at My breast
My child
let Me nourish you
Go to My face
and be tamim
My baby
My baby
I am El Shaddai
And do we not now recall
that closing scene
among the most touching
the most human
in all letters:

Rose of Sharon Joad
her own baby
recently stillborn

and she finds a man
dying of starvation
in a hardscrabble barn:

He was about fifty,
his whiskery face gaunt,
and his open eyes were
and staring . . .

For a moment
Rose of Sharon sat still
in the whispering barn.

Then she hoisted
her tired body up
and drew the comforter about her.
She moved slowly to the corner
and stood looking down
at the wasted face,
into the wide,
frightened eyes.
Then slowly
she lay down beside him.
He shook his head slowly from side to side.
Rose of Sharon loosened one side of the blanket
and bared her breast.
“You got to,” she said.
She squirmed closer
and pulled his head close.
“There,” she said.
Her hand moved behind his head
and supported it.
Her fingers moved
gently in his hair.
She looked up
and across the barn,
and her lips came together
and smiled mysteriously.
— John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Chapter 30

I am El Shaddai
The Mother
who nourishes the hungry
at My Breast
hit’halekh l’fanai התהלך לפני
go to My face
and be full
and be healthful — Genesis 17:1

Tom Joad ran back to where his mother was a-sleepin’
and he woke her up out of bed
and he kissed goodbye to the mother that he loves
and he said what Preacher Casy said,
Tom Joad said what Preacher Casy said:

“Ever’body might be just one big soul,
well it looks that a-way to me.
So ever’where that you look in the day or the night
that’s where I’m gonna be, Ma,
that’s where I’m gonna be.

Wherever the children are hungry and cryin’
Wherever people ain’t free
Wherever men are fightin’ for their rights
that’s where I’m gonna be, Ma,
that’s where I’m gonna be.
— Woody Guthrie, Tom Joad