Verse > Anthologies > Joseph Friedlander, comp. > The Standard Book of Jewish Verse
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Joseph Friedlander, comp.  The Standard Book of Jewish Verse.  1917.
 
The Passing of Rabbi Assi
By Edwin Pond Parker
 
OUTWORN by studious toil and age,
The Rabbi Assi, saintly sage,
Upon his humble pallet lay,
Awaiting death, at close of day.
Silent and sad amid the gloom        5
Of that poor, pathetic room,
Some fond disciple hovered near,
Intent his parting words to hear.
The mellow light of sunset spread
A glory round his snow-white head,        10
And as, amazed, they saw the trace
Of tears upon his pallid face,
One came and knelt beside the bed,
Caressed the thin, white hand, and said:
“Dear Rabbi, wherefore weepest thou?        15
Let no sad thoughts disquiet now
The peace of thy departure hence
To heavenly rest and recompense.
Thou hast been pure in heart and mind,
Meek, modest, patient, gentle, kind,        20
Recall with gratitude and joy
Thy consecrated life’s employ.
Devoted to the sacred law,
Thou didst unselfishly withdraw
From all publicities; and when        25
With one accord thy fellow-men
Chose thee their judge, thou didst refuse
All worldly service, and didst choose
To live sequestered from all care,
For God, in study and in prayer.”        30
 
“Cease,” cried the Rabbi in distress,
“Make not my cup of bitterness
More bitter with the shame and pain
Of praise as ignorant as vain.
My soul is sorrowful, my son,        35
For public duties left undone.
I mourn the quest of truth pursued
In disregard of brotherhood;
The narrow, blind, scholastic zeal
That heeded not the common weal;        40
The subtle selfishness and pride
In which I put the world aside
And sought an individual good
In self-complacent solitude,
Withheld my aid and stayed my hand        45
From truth and justice in the land,
And weakly failed to exercise
The law in which I would be wise.
 
“Wherefore with tears, I plead with you,
Dear friends, a nobler course pursue,        50
Beware the self-indulgent mood
Of unconcern for public good.
Think not in cloistered, studious ease
Wisdom to win or God to please.
For wisdom moulders in the mind        55
That shuts itself from human kind,
And piety, with self-content,
Becomes a barren sentiment,
The bread of life is turned to stone
For him who hoards it as his own.        60
O see betimes—what late I saw—
That only love fulfills the law,
In loving kindness hear and heed
The plaintive cries of human need,
Protect the weak against the strong,        65
Uphold the right and right the wrong.
Assuage life’s miseries and pains,
Console its sorrows, cleanse its stains;
Count worthy of all toil and strife
These common interests of life        70
More precious than the richest store
Of secular or sacred lore—
Your mission and ambition be
God’s service in humanity.”
 
He paused, and, rapt in silent prayer,        75
His spirit seemed awhile elsewhere,
And at his prayer the peace was given
For which his sorrowing soul had striven;
At eventide the light had come
To guide him through the darkness home,        80
Then with a smile of sweet surprise
He woke and lifted up his eyes
And praised the Lord with trembling voice,
He bade his weeping friends rejoice,
And said, “Beloved, let me hear        85
Once more the Shepherd-psalm of cheer.”
And they repeated, soft and low,
That sweetest song that mortals know;
And then in accents calm and grave
His benison to them he gave.        90
 
“May God who comforts my sad heart
And bids me now in peace depart,
Bless, guide and keep you evermore!
Abundantly on you outpour
The riches of his truth and grace,        95
Show you the favor of His face,
Your minds and hearts with ardor fill
To know and do His holy will.
With heavenly wisdom make you wise
In service and self-sacrifice,        100
Give you rich fruits of toil and tears,
And—after long and useful years—
The blessedness of those who come
With sheaves and songs, rejoicing, home.”
 
The Rabbi’s failing strength was spent.        105
In silent sorrow o’er him bent
With bated breath the faithful few,
And heard him faintly say, “Adieu!
The night grows dark! the hour is late!
We now, dear friends, must separate.        110
A thousand-fold may God requite
Your love and care. Good-by; Good-night!
And peaceful rest till break of day!”
So Rabbi Assi passed away.
———
Fact, legend, parable of old?        115
What matters—so the truth be told—
Historic or fictitious frame?
The Rabbi’s likeness is the same.
And whosoever hath an ear
To hear his counsel, let him hear!        120
 
 
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