Deep calls to deep
    at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
    have gone over me.

– Psalm 42:7

New Revised Standard Version


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Set me as a seal upon your heart,
            as a seal on your arm.
for love is strong as death,
            passion fierce as the grave;
its flashes are flashes of fire,
            a raging flame.
– Song of Solomon 8:6


If there’s justice—let it come now!
But if it should come after I’ve been
blotted out beneath the sky,
let its throne be cast down.
Let the heavens rot in evil everlasting,
and you, with your cruelty,
go in your iniquity
and live and bathe in your blood.

And cursed be he who cries out: Revenge!
Vengeance like this, for the blood of a child,
Satan has yet to devise.
Let the blood fill the abyss!
Let it pierce the blackest depths
and devour the darkness
and eat away and reach
the rotting foundations of the earth.

– Hayim Nahman Bialik. excerpt from On the Slaughter

translated by Peter Cole


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And when you sit this way by the
and its gold plays over your inclined
   chestnut head,
the light drizzles through your fingers,
and in the mirror of your black silk
the flame’s splendour dances.
Apples on your table glow in the
a wealth of golden grapes overflows
   the basket,
and blessing gives off its ripe scent.
The forest thunders and roars
and sweet is its song
from within the stillness
of your precious corner.

– Avraham Ben Yitzhak. excerpt from I Scarcely Knew Myself

translated by Robert Alter


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Blessed are they who sow and do not reap —
they shall wander in extremity.

Blessed are the generous
whose glory in youth has enhanced the extravagant
             brightness of days —
who shed their accoutrements at the crossroads.

Blessed are the proud whose pride overflows
               the banks of their souls                              
to become the modesty of whiteness
in the wake of a rainbow’s ascent through a cloud.        

Blessed are they who know                    
their hearts will cry out from the wilderness                           
               and that quiet will blossom from their lips.                    

Blessed are these
for they will be gathered to the heart of the world,
               wrapped in the mantle of oblivion  
— their destiny’s offering unuttered to the end. 

– Avraham Ben Yitzhak. Blessed are They Who Sow and Do Not Reap

translated by Peter Cole


Spirit splits in its asking,

soul in its wanting is balked—

and the body, fattened, is vital
      and full,

   its previous being uneasy. …

So the modest man
      walks on earth,
   his thoughts drawn toward sky.

What good is the pulse of man’s flesh
      and its favors
   when the mind is in pain?

And the friends who fray me,
   their fine physiques
      and slender thinking,
   thinking it’s ease or gain
      that drives me,
   pitching from place to place,
      my hair wild, my eyes,
         charcoaled with night—
   and not a one speaks wisely,
      their souls blunted, or blurred,
         goat-footed thinkers.

Should someone unguilty
                   hold back from
longing toward heights like the moon?
      Should he wait,
   binding its wings to his waist—
like a man winding his sash about him—
till he acts and they hear of his action,
   as he adds and then adds like the sea
                   to his fame?

By God and God’s faithful—
          and I keep my oaths—
   I’ll climb cliffs
and descend to the innermost pit,
   and sew the edge of desert to desert,
      and split the sea,
            and every gorge,
         and sail in mountainous ascent,

until the word “forever” makes sense to me,

and my enemies fear me,
   and my friends in that fear
         find solace;

then free men will turn
   their faces toward mine,
      as I face theirs,

and soul will save us,
   as it trips our obstructors.

The beds of our friendship are rich with it,
   planted by the river of affection,
      and fixed like a seal in wax,
         like graven gold
   in the windowed dome of the Temple.

May YAH be with you as you love,
   and your soul which He loves be delivered,

   and the God who sends salvation shield you

      till the sun and the moon are no more.

– Shmu’el HaNagid

translated by Peter Cole *