The Ballad of the Podolyer Rabbi
by Itzik Manger
The old Rabbi from Podolay
wrinkled his forehead and had this to say:
“Night draws near from all directions,
How then Jew, did you spend your day?”
With quiet hands he lights candles
that illuminate his tired face,
and with every movement of his hands
shadows tremble on the walls:
“worshiped, worried and complained
of life in strange lands, and recited psalms.”
And woe – his heart grows heavy, pained
that with suffering he has shamed the holy day.
He puts on his silken robe
and special “shtreiml” shabbes hat
and starts to walk with measured steps.
He sees the sky is strewn with stars
like silver poppy seeds – “a miracle afar
praised be his name who has not been shamed
with my sadness this whole night and day.”
He sees a lantern tremble in wind
and plays with itself as do dogs
before night with their shadows.
He sees a drayman tending his horse
near the dark well. He sees and hears
the evening song of a swallow that’s blue
fluttering from roof to roof.
The old Rabbi of Podolay
wrinkled his forehead and said these words
“How blessed am I that I walk and step
as if in a prayer over the earth.”
He walks and his beard flutters in the wind.
Here sits on a doorstep a forgotten child –
Amazed he wonders…until his eyes
go blind, what has gone wrong?
And his heart for a moment lightens
as feeling his way with his cane he goes further
for holy are all the nights and days.
Now he feels the field and now hears the river.
His feet dance for the Creator of shabbes
around the trees that stand near the shore
and care for and guard the beautiful road.
Fierce and fervent he dances
until he feels his strength leave.
Exhausted and weak he falls, and folds
as if a scythe has cut down a stalk of gold.
Midnight approached, quiet in thought
and leans its head down to the Jew on the earth
“What are you stammering Jew?”
“You don’t hear – I sing”
“Your face is so pale.”
“But my heart’s a light thing.”
“Your body is feverish” – “I am blessed:
God has touched my forehead with his breath.”
“Say your confession”-“No, no I can’t say.
for confession is sadness and sadness is tears
and tears fall on the earth and spoil the day
which robs the beauty of wonder away.”
The old rabbi of Podolay
answered the night in his way
and died. The night turned red
passed through, smiled quietly and said:
“For all whom I love, I wish such a death”.