Sugya Sonnet Sequence (Yoma 38a-39a)

Nicanor Unto Whose Doors Miracles Were Wrought (Yoma 38a)

A tale is told of one named Nicanor
Who sailed to Alexandria intent
To bring back something nice, perhaps a door
–Or two–for it seems both were heaven-sent.

When sailing back, the waves began to crash
Against the ship; the crew cast out one door
But Scylla and Charybdis, still a-thrash
Cried out, “It’s not enough! There’s still one more!”

Then Nicanor wept, sad to lose his find
Until the shipped reached Akko, where, behold!
The sea belched out the door, as if a kind
Of covenant-by-sea had been foretold.

Of whales and gourds old sailors weave their lore,
But no one captivates like Nicanor.

Maaseh b’Doeg ben Yosef (Yoma 38b)

A tale is told of Worry – Joseph’s son
Whose father gave his wife a baby boy
Named Worry, who was widely doted on,
His mother’s dream-come-true; her pride and joy.

Each morning she would measure Worry’s length
In handsbreaths – counting off with just her hand.
Each morning she would gauge her baby’s strength
By how he hollered — did he know God’s plan?

She’d give his weight in gold unto the priests
A sacred off’ring at the temple mount.
When enemies arrived, those barb’rous beasts,
The starving woman had no more to count.

Eicha! She sits bereft; her harp is hung.
There are no words when mothers eat their young.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Yoma 39a)

Said Shimon Ha-Tzadik, “This year I’ll die,
My fellow Kohanim – my time has come.”
Said they to him, protesting, “Shimon, why,
Our years are God’s; how can we know their sum?”

Said he, “Each Yom Kippur I go inside
The kodesh kodashim, that holy site.
Each year, enters and exits by my side,
An old man wrapped from head to toe in white.

But this year, Kohanim,” Shimon went on,
“God sent a new sign, frightful, free of doubt:
A man in black (not white) I chanced upon
Who went with me inside (but came not out).”

They counted seven days; it seems ’twas fated;
Reports of his death — unexaggerated.

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