Extempore Effusions on the Completion of Masechet Shevuot (chapters 1 and 2)

שבועות שתים :Chapter One

The Torah lists laws one and two
But a person who knows what to do
Keeps four. It’s the case
With oaths made to save face:
Bad, good, claiming you didn’t, did too.

You’re accountable for what you know;
Every school teaches that you can’t go
In the Temple when not
In a pure state. Forgot?
Bring a sacrifice as quid pro quo.

Not each blemish is equally white
Skin discolored is more or less bright
We will tell if you show:
It’s like plaster, wool, snow
Or like egg gook that gleams in the light.

(8a, with Rashi)
A woman who gives birth must bring
A sin offering. That’s a strange thing.
We assume that she swore
“Ouch! I won’t any more
Have these kids!” She atones for that zing.

Reish Lakish says the Rosh Chodesh goat
Is for sins of which just God takes note.
It’s Himself He impugns
For He lessened the moon
Cry the sages: That’s not what He wrote!

Ketoret leftovers can’t be
Disposed of indiscriminately.
We use them to pay
Artisans, so they stay
In the Temple to work dutifully.

A red heifer may not be fated
For worship, although designated.
You might find one that’s redder
Or one that looks better
(Of wives, too, this also was stated.)

Rabi lists sins for which people must
Do pre-Yom Kippur Teshuva or bust:
Keeping foreskins intact,
Casting God off your back,
Quoting Torah in tones of disgust.

ידיעות הטומאה: Chapter Two

The Temple courtyard renovation
Requires full participation
By prophet and king
And sanhedrin – and sing-
Ing by Israel, who join in elation.

If you’re impure, you shouldn’t go in
To the Mikdash, for that is a sin.
And likewise they state
You should not penetrate
Your dear wife when she’s bleeding within.

A Babylonian, who lives far away
Comes to Israel at last one fine day
He gets lost when impure
In the Mikdash, immured–
Is he blamed for not keeping away?

Yehoshua ben Levi would say
Torah verses, at close of the day
And then fall asleep
So that Torah would keep
Him from harm. But that’s not quite okay.

If you’re caught in the Mikdash, you must
Get out of there quickly or bust
Take the shortest way out
Don’t go running about
But with women, stay put, lest you lust.

If your wife becomes Nidah while you
Are inside her, what are you to do?
Dig your fingernails deep
In the floorboards, and keep
Them there‘til you are past it. Say “phew!”

When Havdalah with wine cup is said,
You’ll have sons with your wife in your bed.
But sleep with your spouse
When in Nidah – your house
Will be full of sons, but they’ll drop dead.