Issue 196, Spring 2011
From The Sky to The Heavens’ Heavens
Yannai, Byzantine Palestine, 6th c.
From the sky to the heavens’ heavens
From the heavens’ heavens to the darkness on high
From the darkness on high to the upper dwelling
From the upper dwelling to the heavenly halls
From the heavenly halls to the doors of heaven
From the doors of heaven to the highest heaven
From the highest heaven up to the throne
And from the throne to the chariot
Who could imagine You
Who could compare You
Who has seen
Who has been
Who would hold his head high, or raise an eye
Who would insist
Who would persist
Who would dare
Who would consider
Who would be so coarse and proud
Who would plot and build
When You ride a cherub
And glide on the wind
And wander through thunder
And move within storms
Making Your way through the waters
And sending Yourself through flames
A thousand thousands and tens of thousands
and becoming women
and becoming spirits
and becoming demons,
becoming every likeness
and carrying every mission out
With reverence and awe, trembling in fear,
shivering and shaking,
they open their mouths extolling
Your holy name, and as it is written, calling:
Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord of hosts—
The world is filled with His glory.
To Rise on High
Anonymous, Palestine, circa 2nd–8th c.
To rise on high
and descend below,
to ride the chariot’s wheels
and explore in the world,
to wander on earth
and contemplate splendor,
to draw on the crown
and sound Glory,
to utter praises
and link letters,
to utter names
and behold what is
above and below,
to know the meaning
of the living
and see the vision
of the dead.
To ford rivers of fire
and know lightning.
From ‘The Book of Creation’
Palestine or Babylonia, circa 3rd–9th c.
Twenty-two letters to start with.
He engraved, quarried, and weighed,
exchanged and combined—
and with them formed all of creation
and all that He was destined to fashion.
carved through voice,
quarried in air,
and fixed in the mouth
in five positions;
certain sounds in the throat,
certain sounds on the lips,
certain sounds against the palate,
and certain sounds behind the teeth
and others along the tongue.
Twenty-two letters fixed
in a wheel like a wall
with two hundred and thirty-one doors—
the wheel whirs
back and forth
and the sign bearing its witness is:
No good is greater than oneg (pleasure);
no evil greater than neg’a (plague).
How did He
and exchange them?
Aleph in all
and all in Aleph;
Bet in all
and all in Bet.
Over and over and on again,
through two hundred and thirty-one gates—
with every creature
and also speech
issuing from a single Name.
He created substance from Nothing—
from isn’t making what there is—
He hewed tremendous columns
out of air that can’t be grasped.
He combined, exchanged,
all of creation
and every locution
within a single Name,
and the sign
bearing its witness is:
twenty-two longed-for things
in a single body bound.
. . . .
From here on in consider
what a mouth can’t utter
and what the ear can’t hear . . .
From ‘The Tanya’
Shneur Zalman, Belorussia, 18th c.
All before Him is as nothing:
The soul stirs and burns
for the precious glory of His greatness,
to behold the light of the King
like coals of the fierce flame rising.
To be freed from the wick
or the wood to which it clings.