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Joseph Friedlander, comp. The Standard Book of Jewish Verse. 1917.

By Edwin Pond Parker

The Passing of Rabbi Assi

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

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,

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?

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,

Recall with gratitude and joy

Thy consecrated life’s employ.

Devoted to the sacred law,

Thou didst unselfishly withdraw

From all publicities; and when

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.”

“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,

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;

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

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,

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

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.

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,

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

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,

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,

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

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.

“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,

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,

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.

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.

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?

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!