sonnets on the weekly Torah portion and the corresponding chapter of Tanya

by Esther Cameron 




Upon a world of darkness and of waste

G-d spoke the word of light, and light blazed forth.

Then between light and dark, and heaven and earth,

He set up boundaries not to be effaced.

But when to humankind His thought gave birth,

When he set His likeness as a seal

On us, that all things He had made might feel

Our sway, and we ourselves might know our worth,

Then in earth’s clay heaven’s breath He did instill,

Two souls He fashioned for us, one divine,

One beastly.  Good and less-good thus combine

In us.  But we are summoned to reveal

G-d’s presence, as our evil we refine,

And on a world of darkness flash light’s sign.






Amid the floods of time and human tears

We must endeavor still to keep afloat

Our soul’s small vessel, which, however fraught

With multifarious animal passengers

That clamor to be fed, whose roaring note

Sounds in our ears through jumbled day and night,

Is yet a spark of G-d’s Self; and the insight

To know this, is confusion’s antidote.

Wherethrough does knowledge come?  A crystal bright,

Some commentators say, with its own glow,

While others would maintain: a simple window

Is at our being’s peak, to admit the light

That filters from Above.  But, so or so,

Not knowing how we know, we know we know.







Out of the crucible of his first test

From Ur Kasdim, obeying G-d’s command,

Walked Avraham to find the Promised Land.

Wherever he went, he made G-d manifest.

The power that kept Par’oh’s lustful hand

From Sarah, and put tyrant hosts to flight,

The generosity that shed its light

Wherever his tent was pitched.  He made expand

Ripples of good to comfort the upright

And planted in this nether world the sense

Of how the most high G-d prepares and sends

Good to the world, from His recess of might,

From Wisdom’s point to the circumference

Of Intellect, and Knowledge most intense.







Avraham over time became acquainted

With G-d’s ways, as one comes to know a friend;

G-d came to visit Avraham, to mend

His hurt, to consult with him about the tainted

Cities which He was planning to upend,

And to announce the birth of Sarah’s son,

Through whom the covenant would be carried on,

Whose life, one terrible day, He seemed to demand,

But stayed the deed and counted it as done

When He had seen their utter willingness.

The screen has thickened since; nevertheless

We still recount the binding to atone,

Through the statutes and the laws we gain access

To the highest Will, and know the King’s embrace.







Beside the fountain Eliezer stopped

And there found Rivkah, willing and most kind.

He placed gold weights upon her arms to bind

Her to his master’s son.  On her was propped

The legacy of Sarah, who divined

HaShem’s intention, and who in all her deeds

Was comparable to the Torah that feeds

And clothes in heavenly will the human mind.

Grant, then, that each may feel the hand that leads

Through doubtful lands and makes the road contract,

That each may come to the mate that he has lacked

And to that Understanding which exceeds

All he might do or gain in the world of fact

And binds him to the Giver of the pact.







All is from G-d. of G-d, our sages say,

But in this world it seems the souls divide,

As Rifkah felt the twins within her side

Pulled one the one, the other the other way –

“If so, why am I thus,” our mother cried.

It is thought that Yitzchak’s soul, once offered, stood

Above all time, beheld the ultimate good

Would come of Eisav's evil; so he tried

To hope the blessing would refine his crude.

But Rifkah (she'd grown up with Lavan) knew

The blessing then would only help him do

Much worse.  So Yakov's truth must don a hood

Of guile, and this world’s darkened paths pursue,

While still weeps Eisav:  “Father, bless me too!”




Fleeing and seeking, Yakov fared alone

Forth from the tents where he had loved to dwell.

He came to a place of stones, just as night fell,

And dreamt with his head pillowed upon stone.

Later he rolled a stone from off a well

In Lavan’s land, that harsh and uncouth ground

From which to wrest his living he was bound

By his desire for the beauty of Rachel.

And Leah’s bounty, though unsought, he found,

And strength was given him to gain the sway

Over Lavan, and win his rightful pay,

And raise a crop of sons whose souls were sound;

Only Rachel made bold to bring away

Things of no good use, and was doomed that day.


Now Yakov on his journey of return

Had crossed the ford of Yabbok, and had brought

To the homeward side his goods, so dearly bought,

Only to be drawn back by the concern

For some small vessels which he had forgot

And liked not to abandon.  Thus detained

By night came Esav’s angel to contend

With him, to snare his soul in fear and doubt.

But Yakov, fighting back, found power to bend

That strength to bless him at the close of night,

So that the strong arm was not raised to smite

The weak and lame by day.  And in time's end

Esav is bound to acknowledge Yakov’s right,

Raw force contained and harnessed to G-d’s light.






The image and quintessence of his sire,

Yosef, perhaps the purest spirit sown

Into this world so rankly overgrown,

Was destined to provoke the ignorant ire

Of those less highly favored, and be thrown

Into a pit with scorpion and snake

And a false-beauteous form that strove to break

His righteousness, his oneness with the One.

The vision of his father came to wake

And warn him as he wavered on the verge

Of yielding to soul’s numbness and the urge

That stirs by night.  Yet all was for the sake

Of G-d’s will that from Egypt’s turbid surge

The victory of Israel would emerge.







Yosef had to spend two more years in prison

For asking succor of ungrateful man

Instead of just relying on G-d’s plan;

But when through Providence from thence he’d risen,

And his illustrious career began,

The lesson had sunk in.  His soul had shed

Its prison-clothes of mortal hope and dread

And being joined to G-d was sovereign

Over the greatest of that realm whose bread,

Grown in a soil unwashed by heaven’s rain,

He gathered and converted from profane

To sacred use, when Yakov’s sons were led

To bow before the giver of the grain

And understand he had not dreamed in vain.






The anger that had counseled them to lift

Their hands against a brother, long ago,

Must have been chastened by their father’s woe,

Which they could not assuage.  A further shift

Began when Yosef’s harshness made them know

The terror they’d inflicted, the black shade

Of prison walls across their future laid.

Then dimly in their minds began to glow

The thought of Heaven’s justice, which, though stayed,

Cannot be cheated.  When Yehuda cast

Himself away for Binyamin, the past’s

Weight was lightened -- yet not quite defrayed

The charge of anger on their souls amassed,

Till the Ten Martyrs scoured it off at last.


[Note:  Chapter 11 deals with the “wicked” -- those who are mastered by their animal souls.  The Alter Rebbe alludes to Rabbi Ishmael’s statement that the most serious sins are only wiped out by suffering.  Rabbi Ishmael (or perhaps a namesake) was one of the Ten Martyrs who accepted their execution by the Romans as retribution for the brothers’ transgression in selling Yosef.  The present interpretation takes Yosef’s parting admonition to the brothers – “Do not quarrel on the way” -- as an indication that despite their repentance, atonement at that point was not complete.   I should acknowledge the Chassidic interpretation which holds that the brothers acted from righteous though mistaken motives; I could not use this interpretation because of the subject matter of Chapter 11.  (Or perhaps the verb "counseled" in line 1 is meant to suggest that they thought their motives were righteous,)]






Yakov knew Yosef’s soul and did not fear

Lest, after death had shuttered his old eyes,

That strength would shed its charitable disguise

And to the brothers show itself severe.

The brothers feared, for they could not surmise

How far it was from Yosef to resent

A turn of Providence, or its instrument --

Not in that heart could anger’s drumbeat rise.

But, pardoned, they began to guess G-d meant

To teach them that those urges which still breed

In hearts not wholly righteous, do not need

To issue in ill acts.  This lesson sent

Down the long centuries, has been a seed

Of merit, and much wrong may yet impede.




Exiled from exile, on the holy mount

Till then unmarked, Moshe saw the bush blaze

Yet not burn up, and turned aside to gaze

And see what cause might for this thing account.

The flame sent forth a voice that shook the daze

Of this world’s destiny -- called him to call

The others forth to break the Egyptian thrall

And meet G-d there.  And still that vision stays

With us: a sign of the perpetual

Ordeal in which our people still endure,

And symbol, too, for some, of the obscure

Contest in which the merely animal

Spirit is not consumed yet by the pure

Soul that relies on Him who shields the poor.





Unknown to Egypt, G-d made Moshe lord

Over Par'oh, that serpent of the Nile,

Caused Ahron's staff to swallow up the vile

Charms into which the conjurors had poured

Their craft.  But Par'oh hardened in the trial

Of strength.  Even as his stream was turned to blood,

As croaking frogs hopped up from river-mud

To throne, he still stood stubborn in denial.

Lice, beasts, murrain, boils, hail his heart withstood.

But for His people, spared though not yet free,

G-d spelled it out, that they might clearly see

How every thing the Egyptians count as good

Can turn to filth and horror suddenly,

That from this world's morass the soul may flee.



Through days and nights of horror, pain and dread --

Of locust clouds that blotted out the sun,

Of dawnless dark that every sense did stun,

Till the soundless midnight stroke that left its dead

In every house -- G-d set distinction

Between the Egyptian throngs and Israel:

Though from all ranks of Egypt many fell,

Of the true Israelites the plagues culled none,

But set them free, to serve G-d and to tell

This tale. And ever since, at soul's midnight,

Each one must ask (even if he has gained height

In the ranks of souls) what part the Egyptian spell

Still holds in him, and what he has to fight

To free his spirit and serve G-d aright.



Just for an hour at the sea they saw

So plain and clear, that each could point and say

"This is my G-d" -- that eminent display

Whose impress is the source of love and awe

And willingness to follow in G-d's way

Which, upon Sinai, all made manifest --

But in the Red Sea's rapture, who'd have guessed

How soon that mark could seem to fade away,

So that the people did not pass the test

Of thirst. And now, to each one on their own

Struggling to serve, the heart can seem a stone

With awe and love imprisoned unexpressed;

Yet still that understanding which was sown

Remains, to lift our service toward the ONE.




This world of difference and separation

That sunders seen from heard, and soul from soul,

And heaven from earth, ever since the serpent stole

That sweetness that was keynote of creation,

Ceased, at the word "Anokhi,"* to unroll.

The universe was all one eye-and-ear.

Nothing there was that did not love-and-fear

The Lord, Maker and Knower of the whole,

And promise to His statutes to adhere.

And though the shell has thickened and grown back

Around that core commitment, and most lack

Some fervor, still enough shines through to steer

Observance, save in those who've lost the track,

Whose hearts, to admit the light again, must crack.



The apparition of the Infinite

Gives way to laws and regulations made

For every circumstance, a table laid

Before the intellect, that it may fit

Sense to command, even as the elders laid

Eyes on the Almighty, on His throne of cause --

So might the exposition of the laws

Make us forget to love and be afraid

Were it not for the central point that draws

Heart and mind in again: it is the vow

To do, uttered while still the why and how

Were veiled. Before all structure and all flaws

That pregnant promise stood, and stands even now,

Heart with strength, mind with clearness to endow.




Of gold, silver and copper, and of wool

And linen, and acacia boards so fine

And skins of goat and tachash, was the shrine

G-d ordered to be built, giving in full

The holy specifications of design,

Dimensions of each object and each space

And quantities required, and where to place

The altars, where the candlestick must shine.

And all this was a vessel and a base

And sconce, whereon G-d's presence could alight,

That fills the earth, yet here shone forth most bright,

Where Israel's soul, still longing to retrace

Its path to the origin, was held in flight,

Stayed in the world, yet merged with infinite Light.




The confines of that G-d projected shrine

Aharon himself in world-guise dared not tread

But must be brought close to the fountainhead

Of wisdom, and wear clothes of such design

As fit the place, or pain of death must dread.

Ephod and breastplate, breeches, sash and cloak,

Tunic and turban, each to his limbs spoke

Its admonition; and a sky-blue thread

Upon his brow a golden plate did yoke

With legend that proclaimed him dedicate

To the One who earth and man did meditate

And draw from nothing; if He should revoke

The word that breathes them, they would vanish straight,

While of His Oneness they no whit abate.





Where nothing is save in its Origin

For forty days Moshe stood, burning free

From straits of need, that hearing he might see

Those word-things that were meant to gather in

The course of human life from history

To the recognizance of holy Will,

And Heaven's aid would take hold of human skill

To execute the intention faithfully.

But he was soon to know how soon can spill

From fragile cup the fiery plenitude,

Or how with our imagination's rude

Scrawlings the screen of Nothingness can fill.

From the height he was pulled valeward by the lewd

Idol-shout -- and more history ensued.




Descending from the high mount once again,

Moshe had brought the tablets of the Law

Upon the day, since held in highest awe,

That brings atonement.  And now not in vain

He summoned them to gather and to draw

Upon their stores of various stuff and skill

To make a meeting-tent that would fulfill

G-d's plan, and show Creation without flaw,

Healed of its severance from the primal Will:

A form of many forms, yet merged in one,

All at Divine command, yet freely done,

And naught omitted, save those husks of ill

That throng the World of Separation,

Where prideful souls proclaim themselves alone.




We reckon now the silver and the gold,

The copper and the gemstones raised and spent

To rear and furnish forth the holy tent

Of meeting and of witness, framed to hold

The tokens of G-d innermost intent.

This counting is remembrance of our zeal

That helped the heavenly vision become real

In this dense world.  And for this we were lent

A visible presence, shining to reveal

G-d's self, and our next step along G-d's way.

And though we see the Tent no more today,

Yet as in line with His commands we deal,

We give Him shape; and as we scan the array

Of Law, we sense His inmost will's pure ray.




Within the tent constructed to atone

There issued, mighty yet contained, a voice

Which through Moshe appointed sacrifice,

What must be offered, and what acts be done

Whenever Israel gathered to rejoice

And to give satisfaction to their King,

Or if mistake or wrong occurred, what thing

-- Bull, ram, goat, bird, meal -- as his error's price

Priest, prince or common man would have to bring.

Yet ought the scale of price and penalty

Not make us think that there is ultimately

Much to choose between ways of wavering,

Since any sin impairs our fealty

To the One who calls us from idolatry.






Upon the altar in the inner court

There burned a flame that might not be allowed,

Whatever the circumstance, to flicker out:

Not even impurity could stand athwart

The path of this command, nor exile’s cloud

Obscure that glow.  We know that it is there,

Its heat is in our mitsvos and our prayer,

As G-d’s command stands beyond time and doubt

And as within our souls, deep down we bear

The knowledge of our G-d, a holy fire

Which no stress of this world can make expire,

So that at any moment we can tear

The fetters of our sins, and from the mire

Arise and cleave to our commanding Sire.






Upon the altar, and the appointed hour,

Aharon offered up each offering

He and the people had been told to bring,

And with Moshe called forth G-d’s holy power.

But two of Aharon’s sons, imagining

A service of their own, brought foreign fire,

Perhaps in overflow of their desire

For the Holy One – who, far from favoring

Their zeal’s initiative, sent forth a dire

Thread of flame that licked their lives away,

And Aharon dared not show his grief’s dismay

To keep the sanctuary’s joy entire.

– And we, whose offering is contrition, may

Offer it only at set times of day.




Which living things are pure, and which impure,

G-d had instructed Israel, and began

To tell the laws of purity in man,

Who is Creation's seal and signature

And yet its blemish, since his choices can

Sink him below the gnat, which cannot swerve

From doing Heaven's will, but still must serve,

Nor through bad words incur the leper's ban,

Nor in itself the tendency observe

To wicked thoughts and wishes, which annoy

Us who have not yet managed to destroy

Or numb within ourselves the evil nerve,

Yet know our natures suffer this alloy

That in our wrestlings Heaven may have joy.




This edifice G-d made, and made for good,

Was at one northern edge not finished quite,

And through that corner various death and blight

May enter, and uncleannesses intrude:

Some in our bodily natures claim their right,

The monthly fall of blood, release of seed,

While others come because we fail to heed

The guards of speech, or else some wordly sight

Draws eye and heart, till even where no misdeed

Has blotched the record, evil thoughts betray

Our prayers, and give the imnost soul dismay.

Yet with such thoughts we neither treat nor plead;

We fix our minds upon the illumined way

By which completion will arrive someday.






That Aharon might come into the dread

Place where G-d's silent Name aloud could sound

And then return into his earthly round,

A ritual pattern he was told to tread,

That soul from body might not come unbound

And be annulled in the eternal Source,

Toward which it ever strained throughout time's course,

And G-d's work in this world remain uncrowned.

How otherwise with souls round which the coarse

Rind of concealment and exile has grown,

So that to find the spark within heart's stone

We need contrition's hammer, anger's force,

Until, knocked free of what had weighed it down,

The soul ascends where it has always shone.





Formed of earth's common clay, yet we are bidden

Ourselves to set apart and sanctify,

That nature's seeming laws we may defy

And show the light that in the world is hidden.

G-d's Sabbath we must keep, to testify

That the world was and is but by His will,

And bid those voices in our hearts be still

Which would our mutual boundenness deny.

Nor may we rest content if we fulfill

Outright command, and yet do not refrain

Where we might but need not, and do not strain

For learning, or the ardor that should fill

Our souls, when His approval we would gain

Who says, "I am holy; be not you profane."




From accidents and blemishes that mar

Mortality, the priest must keep aloof:

He may not step beneath a dead man's roof

Save for close kindred; bodily defects bar

His service; nor may an imperfect hoof

Be offered in the sanctuary, whose rite

Is testament to the enduring Light

Which against all vicissitude is proof.

And we who now must dwell amid the blight

Of exile, and upon whom failings weigh

Which altar fires no longer purge away,

Must mourn, and yet must strive to keep in sight

That life in us which death cannot betray --

The soul, the eternal Sun's immortal ray.




Upon the holy mount it was decreed

That the land have its Sabbaths, even as we,

That on the seventh year it should go free,

Its owners neither harvest nor plant seed,

But share with all earth's creatures equally

What the land of its own accord shall give,

And G-d will bless them then, that they may live,

And dwell upon the land perpetually;

And in that year all debts we must forgive,

And after seven seven-years unbind

Even the ear-pierced slave; and fields long signed

Away revert to the lines that did receive

Their charter in the original light G-d shined

On a people then to all divisions blind.





While Israel shall learn so as to heed

G-d's laws (since only he who understands

Knows what to do to honor those commands),

The One will answer them in every need;

But should they think the world like random sands

Shifts merely, and accordingly grow slack,

Then what the One provides they soon will lack,

Their meager bread will crumble in their hands,

And they will flee their foes upon the track

By which their foes before them used to flee.

Then let them glad themselves in the unity

Of Him whose kindness never has turned back,

Whose will it is That causes all to be,

And they will keep His laws implicitly.





Assembled now the Tent of Meeting stood.

Now G-d commanded Ahron and Moshe

His treasured ones to count and to array

By tribes and families, under leaders good,

And every tribe was bidden to display

Its ensign, while as neighbors to the Tent

The Levites were disposed, for the management

Of holy things on every march and stay.

That sight can never fade, though time's event

Dispersed those things and scattered us as well,

And cramped G-d's service into the four-ell

Cell of halakha.  Yet the monument

Of each hour's study is a citadel

Vast as the stars, which no siege can dispel.




When Judah's prince brought in the silver bowl,

The sprinkling-jug of silver, and the gold-

en spoon, and prize beasts of his field and fold,

He thought of David's line and history's goal --

Solomon's sea, and all earth's seas that rolled

Beneath the banner of Mashiach's sway.

Yissachar's heir came with a like array

Of gifts, yet different tales to him they told

Who through the hall of study sought his way --

The bowl and jug held Torah's bread and wine.

Each of twelve in his own peculiar sign

Brought objects which we name the same that day,

Evincing one devotion.  So the Divine

Sun's ray through many colored panes will shine.





After the dedication of the tent

Moshe was taught to lesson Aharon

On how to light the lamps so that they shone

In toward the center, though their light was sent

Throughout the world.  The Levites too were shown

As given to G-d, that they the priests might aid,

And to convey G-d's signals there were made

Two silver trumpets.  How then rose this moan

For garlic, fish and leeks, which so dismayed

Moshe that he scarce knew how he could bear

A people so weighed down by this world where

Gross forces range and spirit seems betrayed?

Yet just in this, Creation's lowest layer,

From our mitsvot the brightest light can flare.




Sustained by desert manna and Torah,

Ten of the twelve sent out to scout the land

Where grew great fruits that need the laboring hand

To make them flourish, knew not what they saw,

Lacking desire.  They did not understand

That not alone our learning, but our deed

Must work the germination of the seed

Of light and the redemption G-d has planned.

Thinking of their own souls, and not the need

Of Earth those souls were sent down to supply,

They failed to aim, and therefore saw awry,

And griefs, which on the Ninth of Av we read,

Flow from the tears they made the people cry.

But on G-d's blue thread we must keep our eye.





That harmony is molded of degrees

And intervals, not uniform but true,

This the conveyer of the Torah knew,

As between heaven and earth sprang grass and trees.

But there are always Korach and his crew,

Who cannot see another's elevation

But in equality seek vindication

And the world's variousness with strife imbue.

Could they but grasp how beneath all gradation,

From highest human soul to mutest stone,

G-d's power pulses like a hidden sun,

They would forget to grudge Moshe his station,

Gazing up through their teachers to the One,

Merged with Creation, every rank their own.




When Miriam's soul, that as a wandering well

Had slaked the people’s thirst through desert years,

Was taken up, then on her brothers' ears

Beat clamor as of those who would rebel.

Then from the leader's heart burst forth the arrears

Of anger, so that he did not relay

The Almighty's reassurance on that day,

And Ahron's doom became a source of tears,

And sentence was pronounced upon Moshe.

By such decrees our utmost faith is tried,

Even as the Heifer's statute has defied

Solomon's understanding; yet we may

Be sure that those most righteous souls reside

Beyond the angels, where G-d's highest counsels hide.


Even in this world, where husks appear to reign,
There is no thing that does not spring from light,
Though some be fallen beyond hope of flight --
Such was Bil'am, who tried for sordid gain
To turn 'gainst Israel the spirit's might
Until he saw G-d would not have them cursed.
Yet it was just from him the blessing burst,
And it was just through his unseeing sight
That the star of Mashiach shone forth first,
Whose ray will reach all dark things and severe
And make their luminous origin appear;
Until then Israel, come best or worst,
Sends up from meeting-place and home the clear
Voice of our learning, winged with love and fear



                  [Note: some identify Pinchas with the prophet Elijah.]

Pinchas had gone and done a bloody deed,
Yet it was not from cruelty of heart:
He had beheld foul sin that wrenched apart
The people and their G-d. And so with speed
He acted, not employing any art
To justify what no court would condone,
Without consideration for his own
Body or soul, if only he could thwart
The assault, at which the wisest could but groan,
On covenant and all souls of Israel.
G-d told Moshe that Pinchas had done well
And let his stroke for Zimri's breach atone.
O Eliyahu! rise again and tell
How the world may be freed from Pe'or's spell!



If anyone should give a solemn vow,
Then what is promised surely shall be paid
(Unless by good authority gainsaid),
That faithfulness may rhyme the Then and Now
And link them to the Truth which does not fade.
Moshe, the faithful shepherd, on the eve
Of his last war with the forces that deceive,
This message to the heads of tribes conveyed.
He did not wait, though told that he must leave
This life when it was done, to make the foe
Regret that they were G-d's and Israel's woe;
And it is from Moshe we still receive
The holy spark that teaches us to know
And fear G-d, and pride's force to overthrow.



Almost upon the threshold of the Land,
Moshe set down the journeys we had gone
From Ramses, to Sukkot, Eitam, and on.
In each place we were helped to understand
The consequence that needed to be drawn
From Torah, here and now, so as to free
A spark of truth from its captivity
In circumstance; and in this way we won
The Law -- once given, mastered gradually --
And our souls were enabled to ascend,
Through love and fear our limits to transcend,
Increasing both in truest liberty
And boundenness to our eternal Friend
Whose Land we enter at our journey's end.



The words which in his last eleven days
Moshe made Israel hear on Moab's plain
Were of rebuke; yet not to cause them pain
He spoke, but that they might perceive G-d's ways
And not go making such mistakes again
While he in desert ground must lie alone.
Nor did he voice ideas of his own:
So perfectly he loved his Sovereign
That through his mind G-d's meaning was made known.
And this too was his gift to those who stood
Gathered to hear him; afterwards they would
Recall the love for G-d which he had shown.
Still in their children's souls that love would brood
And ever again would stir them to the good.


Five hundred fifteen prayers Moshe did pray
That G-d might let him come into the land
Toward which he long had led the wandering band,
Not charge him for the times they'd gone astray
And shown themselves rebellious to command.
But it was G-d's desire that he should bide
Interred there in the alien earth outside
With all the generation G-d had banned
To comfort them with the presence of their guide
Until the resurrection.  Such indeed
Is the compassion which we exiles need
To have on our own souls and on G-d's bride,
The congregation, that our word and deed
For their deliverance (O soon!) may plead.



Knowing that he could not be with his flock

When they would come to their inheritance,
The faithful shepherd spelled G-d's ordinance
To them once more, that in it they might walk
Securely, and find comfort in the sense
That its commands, strict though they might appear,
Stem from no impulse at its Source severe,
But from G-d's will to give them preference,
As if a king should hold a poor man dear
And to his humble dwelling condescend
To fill its walls with blessings without end --
Surely the soul of that poor man must mirror
The eternal love, as a friend to his friend,
And joyfully to all his Sovereign's wishes tend.



He told us of the blessing and the curse --
The first, if G-d's commandment we obey
And keep ourselves steadfast within the way
That led from Egypt; the second if, perverse,
We leave that road of safety, drawn away
By foreign custom or by faithless friend,
Forsaking the Eternal for a trend.
He bade us see, today and every day,
The Temple, toward which thoughts and steps must tend,
The vantage of Creation, whence we view
All earthly matters in a light that's true,
And where we bring our offerings, wrongs to mend --
This way prayer opens every day anew
To show G-d's infinite love for me and you.




This world is parsed in many ranks and bounds,
With many gates where justice should reside
Discreetly, with enforcement at its side,
Against the surge of impulse that still pounds
Against all wise restriction like a tide;
Hence the admonition against bribery
And the cities -- three, one day another three --
Where accidental sinners must abide.
And it is promised that in time there'll be
One place where we by offerings may atone,
A king installed upon a righteous throne
Who'll keep by him and read continually
The book wherein my neighbor's boundary stone
Shines with the hidden radiance of the One.



Moshe then spoke of diverse laws that fence
The yearnings of our natures: the restraint
Of man's desire toward one who bears the taint
Of captive mourning; that no preference
For one or the other wife should render faint
The mark of birthright; that a parapet
Must ring our roofs; that we may not forget
To give lost objects back, nor use distraint
Upon the widow's cloak; that we must set
Four tassels on our garments, and guard well
Our tongues, lest we incur the blight that fell
On Miriam.  In such coin we pay our debt
Towards G-d, Whose heavens contracted to this shell,
That in our earth good may the bad dispel.



When all the land is ours and each is given
His own share, then the first-fruits will be due,
We shall recite the trials we've been through
And praise G-d's care, that has preserved us living.
But at the Jordan's crossing we must do
The rite of blessing and of curse: must rear
Stones on the mount, and write upon them clear
The whole Torah, and promise to be true
Once more.  The consequences we must fear
If we should fail our bond, wil be spelled out,
Yet this shall not put love and joy to rout,
For truest love finds joy in the severe
Fires of Understanding, that burn out
All will to sin, all shadow of a doubt.



Now all are gathered here whom love must bind
Into one covenant, beneath one law --
Judges and teachers and the ones who draw
The water, chop the wood, the roles assigned
To souls in an arrangement without flaw,
Could we but see, as in those higher spheres
Where more unveiled the light of G-d appears;
Yet nowhere is the Source of love and awe
More present than where base desires and fears
Would cramp our vision to this darkened plane,
Subdue our spirit to some idol's reign;
The least of us has in him that which steers
And seeks not on the welkin nor the main,
But in the heart, the script which G-d has written plain.


To make G-d's highest meaning manifest,
As at the limit of this world he stood,
Moshe his plea for life and for the good
Now in the majesty of measure dressed,
That the eternal Voice which is the food
And fount of all the worlds, might resonate
Above, beneath the noise of time and fate,
Though masked, yet with unbroken amplitude,
To draw each soul out of its narrow strait
Into the open space where it can see
The landscape of all human destiny,
So that we may both work for and await
The great return that calls us all home free
And pays for all the pangs of history.


At last Moshe the shepherd became filled
With the very love of G-d for Israel,
And, as the man of G-d, began to tell
What for each tribe their Father wished and willed. 
For each of them a separate strength did well,
That all might bear their parts and help to frame
A place on earth where the Supernal Name
With unabated radiance might dwell.
Through this to our inheritance we came
And milk and honey of the Land did taste,
And 'mid the knocks of exile still were braced
So that our Torah-patterned acts became
Foundation for that House whence, uneffaced,
G-d's plan shall yet (soon!) shine upon the world of waste.