Yehiel ben Yekutiel mei-ha-Anavim (mid-13th century – after 1289)
Bitter of Spirit
Bitter of spirit, I keened and I roared;
Woe, they have burned down the ark of the Lord.
The night it was done was bereft of all joy
And settling all o’er were blackness and gloom.
E’en the stars of its evening went dark,
The moon hid its face as they faded from view.
May it not hold a place in the days of the year,
May no man record
Its place in the months that were made by the Lord.
O rose of Sharon, with your sobs and with your groans,
Make your peace with it now; it shall cause you no grief;
The native and stranger and tribe have one law:
To strongly cry out and to call on our God —
Perhaps he will once again speak what is right.
Those who have wondered, strayed and explored:
Turn back and be sure in the Lord.
My friends, ask this boon from our generous God,
And knock at his gates and keep watch at his doors.
Let fall and render your choicest of flesh,
Spill and pour forth as an off’ring your blood,
For the knower of mys’tries, like pure lambs go forth,
Like well-fattened offerings, make your way toward
That place on the Mount of the Lord.
The God of all Israel, with cherubs enthroned,
Appearing at Sinai to your favored sons,
God’s law you endowed us, most lovely gazelle,
With thunder and lightning and dark cloud and flame.
And such fire you kindled through cherubs and ark,
Eyes locked, you placed them in perfect accord,
Atop the dwelling your presence was stored.
Enrobed all in grandeur the Torah you carved,
For flame issued forth, and found brambles and thorns,
For wholly the blazing one burns up the fire,
What penance could buy us the flames of this faith?
And broken of spirit, could I approach it alone?
And hearts wracked in sighs and abhorred:
Are a sacrifice fit for the Lord.
Such mercy you show when our sins incur wrath,
For is not the debt we must pay only middling?
And how can you take in our worthiest offerings,
And how could our legacy be your own Torah,
If all our iniquities cover our heads?
Remember all those you’ve restored
O God of Gods, O our Lord.
All those who recall God’s own truth and wise tomes
Shall be taken by fire, given o’er to their end,
Like those twenty-one who were burnt in the scourge;
Its sparks are of fire, a powerful blaze.
Awe-struck is my heart by this, tossed like a ship.
How in my depths you are longed for, adored,
O you my God, O you my Lord.
Please, Holy of Jacob, your wrath set aside
From the nation you made to grace your domain.
Redemption and pardon shall be what awaits
Your people, to free them from shame and disgrace,
And all those whose names are inscribed in the Book
Shall know joyful reward
In the House of the Lord.