Artwork by Daniel Kabakoff
Upon the altar, and the appointed hour,
Aharon offered up each offering
He and the people had been told to bring,
And with Moshe called forth G-d’s holy power.
But two of Aharon’s sons, imagining
A service of their own, brought foreign fire,
Perhaps in overflow of their desire
For the Holy One – who, far from favoring
Their zeal’s initiative, sent forth a dire
Thread of flame that licked their lives away,
And Aharon dared not show his grief’s dismay
To keep the sanctuary’s joy entire.
– And we, whose offering is contrition, may
Offer it only at set times of day.
Which living things are pure, and which impure,
G-d had instructed Israel, and began
To tell the laws of purity in man,
Who is Creation’s seal and signature
And yet its blemish, since his choices can
Sink him below the gnat, which cannot swerve
From doing Heaven’s will, but still must serve,
Nor through bad words incur the leper’s ban,
Nor in itself the tendency observe
To wicked thoughts and wishes, which annoy
Us who have not yet managed to destroy
Or numb within ourselves the evil nerve,
Yet know our natures suffer this alloy
That in our wrestlings Heaven may have joy.