From The Sky to The Heavens’ Heavens

        Yannai, Byzantine Palestine, 6th c.        

 From the sky to the heavens’ heavens                                
 From the heavens’ heavens to the darkness on high                
     From the darkness on high to the upper dwelling                
       From the upper dwelling to the heavenly halls
           From the heavenly halls to the doors of heaven        
             From the doors of heaven to the highest heaven                                          
                 From the highest heaven up to the throne                        
                   And from the throne to the chariot                         

Who could imagine You
 Who could compare You
     Who has seen
       Who has been
           Who would hold his head high, or raise an eye
             Who would insist                                            
                 Who would persist                                              
                   Who would dare
                       Who would consider
                         Who would be so coarse and proud
                             Who would plot and build                    

When You ride a cherub                                                
 And glide on the wind                                        
     And wander through thunder                                        
       And move within storms
           Making Your way through the waters                        
             And sending Yourself through flames
                 A thousand thousands and tens of thousands                
                   becoming men                                        
                       and becoming women
                         and becoming spirits
                             and becoming demons,
                               becoming every likeness                        
                                   and carrying every mission out                

With reverence and awe, trembling in fear,                                
 shivering and shaking,
     they open their mouths extolling                              
       Your holy name, and as it is written, calling:
           Holy, holy, holy
             is the Lord of hosts—
                 The world is filled with His glory.


To Rise on High
Anonymous, Palestine, circa 2nd–8th c.

To rise on high
and descend below,
to ride the chariot’s wheels                                        
and explore in the world,
to wander on earth                                        
and contemplate splendor,
to draw on the crown                                        
and sound Glory,                                        
to utter praises                                                
and link letters,                                 
to utter names
and behold what is
above and below,
to know the meaning
of the living
and see the vision
of the dead.                                            
To ford rivers of fire                            
and know lightning.


From ‘The Book of Creation’ 

Palestine or Babylonia, circa 3rd–9th c.

Twenty-two letters to start with.
He engraved, quarried, and weighed,
        exchanged and combined—
and with them formed all of creation
and all that He was destined to fashion.

Twenty-two letters
carved through voice,                                                
quarried in air,                                                        
and fixed in the mouth
        in five positions;                                                
certain sounds in the throat,
certain sounds on the lips,
certain sounds against the palate,
and certain sounds behind the teeth
and others along the tongue.

Twenty-two letters fixed
in a wheel like a wall
with two hundred and thirty-one doors—                                
        the wheel whirs
        back and forth
        and the sign bearing its witness is:                                
No good is greater than oneg (pleasure);                                
no evil greater than neg’a (plague).                                                
How did He 
combine, weigh,
and exchange them?
Aleph in all                                                        
and all in Aleph;
Bet in all
and all in Bet.
Over and over and on again,
through two hundred and thirty-one gates—
with every creature                                                
and also speech
issuing from a single Name.

He created substance from Nothing—
from isn’t making what there is
He hewed tremendous columns
out of air that can’t be grasped.
He combined, exchanged,
and fashioned
all of creation
and every locution                                                
within a single Name,
and the sign
bearing its witness is:
twenty-two longed-for things
in a single body bound.                                

. . . .

From here on in consider
what a mouth can’t utter
and what the ear can’t hear . . .


From ‘The Tanya’ 

Shneur Zalman, Belorussia, 18th c.

All before Him is as nothing:
The soul stirs and burns
for the precious glory of His greatness,                                
to behold the light of the King                                        
like coals of the fierce flame rising.                                
To be freed from the wick                                
or the wood to which it clings.