Day of Judgment

August 30, 2012
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The Machzor in Poetry: A Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Companion, Jeffrey M.Cohen, Gnesia Publications, £15.95

The potent sanctity of this day –
So awesome and fearful –
Let us relay.
On it Your kingship
Is universally hailed,
As is Your throne,
With our prayers
Assailed.
You judge,
You know,
You testify;
You record,
You let
Nothing slip by.
The good deeds
We ourselves forgot,
Loom large,
To create a happy lot.
Your chronicle is read,
In detail fine;
Man’s signature confirmed
On the final line.
The great shofar’s sound
Reverberates.
But it’s the thin, calm voice
That berates
Man as he stands,
Awaiting sentence
At Your hands.

An awesome moment –
Even the angels quake,
Fearful of their own mistake,
Some act of spiritual dereliction –
Some error in choral praise
Or diction.
Before You file
All men like sheep,
Following on behind;
With You, the shepherd,
Observing all -
Their deserved fate,
Assigned.

***

On Rosh Hashanah
Every deed is named.
On Yom Kippur,
Signed, sealed,
Proclaimed:
How many shall die
Or be born?
Whose premature death
Leaving many to mourn?
Who’ll die by water,
Who by war?
Who by fire,
Or the wild beast’s claw.
Who by famine,
Who by drought?
By natural disaster,
Who’ll be caught out?
Who by plague,
Who by strangulation?
Who by stoning
Or assassination?
(Who by a driver’s
Rash decision,
Causing a sudden,
Fatal collision?
Who by a drug
Overdosed,
Who by illness
Undiagnosed?
Who by the terrorist’s
Bomb or gun,
Slaying a parent,
Daughter or son?)
Who shall be calm,
And who stressed?
Who shall be harried,
And who shall have rest?
Who shall be poor –
In their own eyes –
Or brimming with confidence,
Up to the skies?
Whose wealth shall grow
Overnight?
Who shall suffer
Penury’s plight?
Which public figure
Shall fall from grace,
And which unknown shall become
A national face?

But penitence, prayer,
And being charitably aware,
Prompt God to withdraw,
The sentence raw.

***

Man’s origin
Is of the dust;
Full of envy
And of lust.
His destiny
Is to return,
To the abyss,
And the worm.
With stress
He earns
His livelihood –
The legacy
Of flesh and blood.
Man is like
A broken shard,
A withered grass –
From joy debarred -
A faded flower,
A passing shade;
A cloud disgorging –
Age-decayed.

Man blows
Hot and cold;
Through life
Staggering,
As if blindfold;
His dreams elusive,
When he’s old.

Rabbi Cohen has also published The Siddur in Poetry: A Companion to the weekday and Shabbat Services, Gnesia Publications, £12.95. Available from www.gnesia-publications.co.uk

Last updated: 4:53pm, August 30 2012