Extempore Effusions on the Completion of Masechet Berakhot (chapters 1-3)


When may we say Shma at night?
From the time the priests take their first bite
‘Til the first nightly shift
Or ‘til midnight comes swift?
Rabban Gamliel says: ‘Til first light.

Rabban Gamliel’s sons came home late
From a party. They said, “It was great!
But I fear we forgot
To say Shema. We cannot
Do it now, can we?” “Yes! And don’t wait.”

Rabbi Yossi set out on his way
When he stopped in a ruin to pray
There Elijah was sitting
He said, “It’s not fitting
Your long prayer. We don’t have all day!”

King David would wake with the trill
Of his harp, which would sound with the chill
Of the midnight north wind
But he wasn’t chagrined
He’d jump up and learn Torah – God’s will.

Midnight’s the deadline to say
Ma’ariv. After that, you can’t pray.
So the sages ruled, lest
One come home, craving rest,
And be snatched by sleep ‘til the next day.

If you say Shema in your bed
Then the demons will not rear their heads.
If you pray to the Lord
Then a sharp two-edged sword
Will protect you (or so it is said).

If you know that your friend will say hi
You should greet him right when you espy
Him. If first he greets you
And you don’t greet him too
You’re a thief (also not a nice guy).

God gets mad for but seconds. The hen
Has the sign that will tell you just when:
Its comb turns pale white
And it trembles in fright
You should curse all your enemies then.

An Aramean said, “Please sit down
On my bed.” Papa heard this and frowned:
“First turn over that bed”
Yikes! A baby was dead
Underneath. Papa fled from their town.

When to say Shema? At first light?
From the time you can tell blue from white.
Others say: Blue from green
(Guess their eyesight is keen)
All agree: ‘Til the sunrise burns bright.

Young King David would nurse at the breast
Of his mom. (Even then, breast was best!)
He would break off and sing
Of this marvelous thing:
“Praise the Lord who put these on her chest!”

Beruria said to her spouse: “It is sin
And not sinners that we want done in.
So I pray, as one should,
For the bums in our ‘hood
Meir said: “With my wife, I can’t win.”

Hannah said, “There is no rock like God.”
But the midrash says, “This is a nod
To the Artist Divine
Who, with brushstrokes and lines,
Shapes a babe, like a pea in a pod.”

If you marry a virgin, no need
To say Shema, our religion’s great creed.
For a widow, you must
You can wait with your lust,
Pause to pray, and then go do the deed.

Balak’s blessing, intended as curse,
Is not part of the Shema. For averse
Were the sages to add
Not because he was bad
But because he was, well, not quite terse.


One was reading the Torah and got
To the point with the Shema. Was it not
His intention to pray
From the scroll on that day
It depends on his plan and his plot.

If you start the Shema, then fall asleep
Do we wake you, or make not a peep?
If you said the first line,
But no more, it is fine.
Others say: Shema sure beats counting sheep.

Don’t take care of your needs ere you pray
Prayer should mark off the start of your day.
Don’t say hi to your friend
Or set off down the bend
On a trip. We allow no delay.

If you say Shema with earplugs – ok?
But you can’t even hear what you say.
Rabbi Yossi says: No!
But the sages say: Go
On. It’s God who must hear what we pray.

The womb is like hell. Both admit
Things that come, stay a while, and sit,
Then go out. But the womb
Is a most quiet room;
Hell absorbs you with loud screaming fits.

Workers say Shma on top of a tree
Or on stones where they happen to be
In the middle of work.
It’s a small builders’ perk
To help them pray more conveniently.

On the ninth of Av, most take a break
From their work – it’s a fast, for God’s sake.
If others don’t work
Then you should also shirk
Your job. Humility is at stake!


If before you, spread out on a bed,
Is a man who is lying there dead
Then you need not fulfill
Any mitzvot, until
Burial. Shema, too, need not be said.

In a cemet’ry no one sits chilling
But if you are there, don’t wear tefillin
It is rude to the dead
Who can’t wear on their head
That same mitzvah that you are fulfillin’.

Rav Hisda’s sons sadly forgot
All the Torah they learned. This was not
Something good. They said, “Woe,
Does our dead father know?
Is he conscious, or is he just rot?”

A man on a way to a bris
Finds a dead man unburied: “What’s this?
What do sages advise:
Bury or circumsize?
With man’s honor, we can’t be remiss.

Rav Gidel would sit and observe
Naked women in mikvah. A perv?
“No,” said Gidel, “To me
They’re like geese, I just see
Skin like feathers.” (And what of their curves?)

If you walk into shul and you’re late
(Who would do that? That’s never my fate.)
Do you try to return
To the start? Well, we learn
For Kedusha you always must wait.

If you’re praying, and find you’re near poop
This could throw Kavana for a loop.
Walk four cubits away
Only then can you pray
Better yet: Pray in shul with a group.

My Tefillin were stolen! Oh dear!
By a whore who just snatched them, I fear.
Then she claimed I had paid
Her for getting me laid.
I must jump off the roof, disappear.

Please, no spitting or sneezing in shul
These are things they should teach you in school:
It is no doubt a sign
That you’re most unrefined
Would you spit with a king there, you fool?

You cannot pray near someone who’s nude
What, you think that the sages were prudes?
It would surely distract
It would therefore impact
How you daven. Besides, it’s quite lewd.

The Persians have toilets, we’ve stated,
Which were five stars, and also first-rated.
Though the person would squat
And make poop, there would not
Be a trace of it. Sophisticated!