Oct 142012
 

A poem by the most prominent Jewish mystic after, I suppose, Shimon bar Yoḥai himself. If you’ve ever heard of Lurianic Kabbalah or poked around the tomb or synagogue of the Arizal in Tzfat, this poem is by that Luria (or that Arizal).

The word I’ve translated as “desire” for the sake of meter is yetzer, generally translated as “inclination,” which refers to the Jewish concept of two competing impulses, one good and one evil, wrestling in each man’s soul over his conduct. Luria here is complaining to his evil inclination.

Yitzḥak Luria (1534 – 1572)
What About You, My Desire

What about you, my desire, makes you always pursue me?
As a constant foe you always perceive me –
Day after day, you freely lay traps
Until in the pit of my snares you catch me!
You’ve been an enemy and foe since the days of my youth
You gnash your teeth against me and hate me
Yet my soul once considered to walk after you
As if the shadow of your hand would protect me
And yet by first watch my eyes awoke crying
For you, concealed by cloud, pursued me
If ever I imagined you might prove a help
That on a sorrowful day, I’d cry out and you’d tell me:
“The pleasant words of your mouth are like nectar to me!” –
Surely with a hook unto ruin you’d drag me!

יצחק לוריא
מה לך יצרי

 
מַה לְּךָ יִצְרִי תָּמִיד תִּרְדְּפֵנִי
וּלְאוֹיֵב לָךְ כָּל יוֹם תַחְשְׁבֵנִי
יוֹם לְיֹום תִּטְמֹן חִנָּם פַּח יְקוּשִׁים
עַד אֲשֶׁר תּוֹךְ פַּח מוֹקְשַׁי תִּלְכְּדֵנִי
צַר וְאוֹיֵב לִי אַתָּה מִנְּעוּרַי
תַּחֲרֹק עָלַי שֵׁן וַתִּשְׂטְמֵנִי
חָשְׁבָה נַפְשִׁי לִנְטוֹת אַחֲרֶיךָ
כִּי בְּצֵל יָדָךְ מִצַּר תִּצְּרֵנִי
קִדְּמוּ עֵינַי לִבְכּוֹת בָּאשְׁמוּרוֹת
כִּי בְעָב סַכּוּתָ וַתִּרְדְּפֵנִי
אִם אֲדַמֶּה כִּי תִּהְיֶה לִּי לְעֶזְרָה
וּבְיוֹם צָרָה אֶקְרָא וּתְעֲנֵנִי
צוּף דְּבַשׁ אִמְרֵי נֹעַם חִכְּךָ לִי
הֵן בְּחַכָּה עַד דַּכָּא תִּמְשְׁכֵנִי
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Mah lekhá yitzrí tamíd tirdeféini
U-le-‘oyéiv lakh kol yom taḥshevéini
Yom le-yóm titmón ḥinám paḥ yekushím
ʕad ‘ashér tokh paḥ mokshái tilkedéini
Tzar ve-‘oyéiv li ‘atáh mi-neʕurái
Taḥarók ʕalái shein va-tisteméini
Ḥashváh nafshí lintót ‘aḥarékha
Ki be-tzéil yadákh mi-tzár titzréini
Kidmú ʕeinái livkót bashmurót
Ki ve-ʕáv sakúta va-tirdeféini
‘Im ‘adaméh ki tihyéh li le-ʕezráh
U-ve-yóm tzaráh ‘ekrá u-teʕanéini
Tzuf devásh ‘imréi nóʕam ḥikekhá li
Hein be-ḥakáh ʕad daká timshekhéini

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