Talmudic Poems

“He Stood to Praise”

He stood to praise the minor miracle
To seek blessing at the
Coming of the new moon

When dusty from the road came upon them
Rav, the son of Shava,
Rabbi with few students

Not impressed with dust or paltry learning
Nor his lateness for prayer
Ravina did not greet

Surely a day of only small wonder
He could have said “Shalom”
Or smiled at Shava’s son

But to interrupt his words needed more
Required a better man
Someone he could respect                   


“Seven Days Without a Dream”

Seven days without a dream
Without a trace of fire in the night
Without a visit from the heavens
I’ve been left far behind
Forgotten in the rear
While others have been
Led to safety

Seven days without a dream
Yet I’ve done the hardest studying
I’ve read ’til candles burned themselves out
My eyes teared with madness
Sated as best I could
But still my sick sleep
Has been empty.

Now what evil will befall
When God has turned His back so fully
When Divine concern has run its course
Never to return to
One who’s waited always
Burdened by fear and
Challenged for love?


“The Beginning of a Prayer”

So what is the beginning of a prayer
When one is bound to carry through?

If I enter Your house
Is there no retreat
Until I fast repeat
Those certain words of truth?

So where is the beginning of a prayer
That we are bound to carry through?

If we need not come in
What forces us to stay?
When must we continue
Or else say “never mind”?

So when is the beginning of a prayer
That I am bound to carry through?

If I say “Dear God, please …”
And then forget the rest
Or stumble with my thoughts
Have I sinned or floated free?


“On His Way”

On his way to pray he saw there ahead
A scaffolding swaying in the strong wind

He could cross four busy lanes of traffic
Or could walk under and hope it withstood

The force of God’s breath

Either way, the obituary would
List his name, accomplishments, and mourners

He dare not think if a prayer might spare him
He could just quickly voice his last Sh’ma

Ready for judgment


“The Grave”

I have rubbed the dirt of my father’s grave
Deeply into weary lines of my hands
Required to wield the long heaving spade
That spilled Your earth over the plain pine box
Enfolding Your creation forever

Now I am exempt from obligation
The last act of love for him replacing
The words of my daily recitation


“A New Day”

 When the hot water strikes its cleansing claws
Against the sleep spoiled pores of my body
And I am most vulnerable and bare
So that the least stray thought sprays
Into a fountain to be seen forever

And when I try to wash in purity
To begin a new day knowing that a rooster
Knows better about when to rise, and when
I say Hear O Israel silently
Reciting so as not to wake my wife

And forgo the donning of Tefillin,
Is it truly that I lie to myself?
What can be a more complete connection
To the Ultimate than to accept It
Every morning in all Its scalding force?




4 Responses to Talmudic Poems

  1. Sylvia says:

    Love these poems, Bruce. Thank you for reminding me of the call to His purpose and love, daily. Meditations on our struggle with ourselves and with our connection to God.

    • brucejberger says:

      I suppose it’s been about two years since last attended Talmud class at my synagogue. I always had a lot of trouble with translating, let alone following all the logic. One of these days I’m going to start up again — “when I have time” — as soon as my other hobbies relent and make space.

  2. Sylvia says:

    I hear that. The opportunity to attend an 18-month spiritual director program based on the Ignatian spiritual exercises recently presented itself. I humbly declined because I a) feel I need to devote myself to completing the first draft of my Otto novel and b) realized that I could use more immediate discipline in my meditation and prayer routine first. I signed up for a weekly contemplation group that meets at my church.First things first. But your work inspires me to explore the daily spiritual in poetry. Thanks.

  3. brucejberger says:

    I will have to figure out what the Ignatian spiritual exercises are. My current novel, working title The Closet, very much involves spirituality and prayer. Have you read my story “Kal Ganis of Kavala”? Whether or not you have, the novel focuses on a nun in a Greek Orthodox monastery whose origins are a mystery, Kal Covo — the ex-pianist, now devoutly Jewish in a Chabad community — and the man who ties them together, Nikki, a confirmed and ardent atheist.

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