Extempore Effusions on the Completion of Masechet Ta’anit

When to start prayers for the rain?
Begin on Sukkot – or abstain?
Yehoshua says “Wait!
Could there be a worse fate
Than a storm on Sukkot — what a bane!”

We extoll God for blowing the winds
It’s a blessing He never rescinds
Though His people are scattered
To four winds, and battered,
It’s only because of our sins

Will the dew on our feet manifest,
(Wallace Stevens) It falls without rest
Every day there is dew
Though the same is not true
Of the rain, which depends if we’re blessed.

A fiery student may shout:
“Like a seed in the ground, I want out!”
If he comes to a boil
One need not recoil;
It’s Torah that’s burning to sprout!

In the days of Yoel, there was locust
The people, all starved, prayed with focus
In the antholes and cracks
Appeared food; no one lacked
God had heard and performed hocus pocus.

Shmuel met death at age fifty-two
Which was young, but, hey, what could God do?
Shmuel had to expire
Because he desired
That Saul reign. But David was due.

Like a beautiful tree, you grow tall
Bearing flowers and green leaves that fall
So in order to bless
You, I wish you no less:
May your children, like you, have it all.

It’s the rain that impregnates the earth
And enables the ground to give birth
We might like to stay “Stop!”
But we must greet each drop
As a groom greets his bride, filled with mirth.

Rav Papa knows just what is said
By those almost so lazy they’re dead.
When they open the shutter
To rain, these folks mutter:
Hey ass-riders, go back to bed!

A day of much rain is as great
As the day that the dead meet the fate
That God promised, reviving
Those no longer thriving
It’s true! Rabbis don’t overstate.

A day of much rain is first-rate.
Like Vav Sivan, the big Torah date
Some say rain’s even better
Than Torah. It’s wetter
Though thunder at Sinai was great.

Torah is an elixir of life
If learned for its own sake, it’s rife
With the power to heal
And to make someone feel
If they hold fast, they’ll never know strife.

Torah says that a man is a tree
Of the field – but can that really be?
If he learns, you can eat him
If not, chop! Delete him!
(I’m speaking arboreally.)

A scholar of Torah’s like fire
He lights up with burning desire
Won’t ignite on his own
As no stick will, alone –
To learn paired is the way man is wired.

Caesar’s daughter said, “Hey, with that mug
You should be not a Rav, but a thug.”
Yehoshua said, “Wine
As you surely will find
Spoils faster when in a gold jug.”

In the future, the beasts will all say,
To the snake, “What’s the use of your prey?
As you bite men with venom
So send to Gehennom
All gossipers; they’ve gone astray.”

A sky that’s stopped bringing forth rain:
Like a woman contracted in pain
Who, though pregnant, can’t birth
What’s her pregnancy worth?
So with storm clouds that heave, but refrain.

If a man counts his sheaves, one two three—
He may pray ere the count, but can’t be
Praying after the count
Once he knows the amount
God will not change a fait accompli.

Rabbi Yochanan said to the child
Of Reish Lakish, who’d learned for a while—
Before you rehearse
What you learn, does each verse
Have a proof text, or does it beguile?

Rav Simi asked questions so tough
That though Papa knew all of his stuff,
Papa felt most disgraced
He fell flat on his face;
Simi silenced himself, ’twas enough

Ulla tasted in Bavel a date.
It was yummy. He filled his whole plate
He said, “Why don’t they learn more
In Bavel. They earn more.”
His bowels, alas, met their fate.

Do not take strides too large on a trip
For you never know when you might slip
Don’t stay out for too long
Or you’ve done something wrong:
You must get home before the sun dips.

Do not eat too much food on your way.
What’s the reason for that, if you may?
Cuz you’d run out of food?
Or make farts, sounding rude?
Choose your reason. But do as they say.

When Israel was fighting its foe
Moses lifted his hands, saying so:
“While Israel’s in pain,
I’ll at least feel some strain.”
But did lifting avert any blows?

When a man we refer to as “late”
Comes to heaven’s great pearly white gate
The angels say “Sign
Here on this dotted line.”
Thus a person owns up to his fate.

What does this mean: “take a doze”?
It’s a concept Rav Ashi well knows:
He awakes then he sleeps
Stirs when he hears a peep
When asked questions, he’s not on his toes.

All fresh air on Nine Av turns sour
And they say it gets worse every hour.
Not just empty belly —
We also are smelly
No Temple, and hence we don’t shower.

Locusts, mosquitos, and flies
Are reasons to cry to the skies
Also scorpions, snakes
And diseases that ache
And a ship that can’t float though it tries.

On our fast days, we don’t just not eat.
For we bring out the ark to the street
We place ashes on top
And cry out ’til we drop
May God please help us back on our feet!

If a man steals a beam to extend
His own house, then decides he will mend
His ways; he’ll take apart
His house, place beam on cart
Give it back in one piece to his friend.

One repents, then re-sins once again
Now how should we compare these bad men?
To one wise as a wizard
Who dips with a lizard
In hand; what good has he done then?

A kohen awaiting his turn
To serve in the Temple may yearn
To wash down some wine
But that would not be fine
Some say “never” and some: “that’s too stern.”

(18a cf. RH19a)
The end of Adar brought good news
Though the Romans had said we must lose
Out on Torah, we went
To a matron who sent
Us to protest, and that saved the Jews.

The Greek Nicanor was hell-bent
On destroying the Jews (his intent).
But the Jews sealed his fate
When they hung at their gate
This man’s arms, legs, and mouth. (He was spent.)

Rome’s man Turyanus wanted to kill
Two nice Jews, and he said, “Now I will.”
But then when he was done
Came the end of his fun
He was stabbed in the brain. He was nil.

The rain that does not fall in time?
Like a master who won’t pay a dime
To his workers ’til late
So they can’t fill their plates
Before Shabbos. They starve. What a crime!

Nakdimon made a deal with a lord
“Lend me water of your own accord.
And I’ll pay you back soon.”
Not ‘til just before moon-
Light was seen was he saved by the Lord.

The sun does not stop in the sky
Very often (we do not ask me why.)
But for Nicanor, Josh-
Ua Moses, My gosh!
It just stood there, unmoving. Oh my!

Elazar was astride on his ass
When the ugliest man tried to pass
He said “Ugly!” The man
Said, “Tell Him by Whose hand
I was made.” Elazar was abashed.

Rav and Shmuel did not like to ramble
Near an unsteady wall. Ada ambled
‘Neath that same creaky wall
Without fretting at all.
He said, “God will protect me, I gamble.”

Oh the virtues of Huna were many
Every Friday he spent his last penny.
Buying up grapes of wrath
Oh! The sad aftermath
For the poor man who hasn’t got any.

Rabbi Yochanan loved to be learning
As did Eelfa, his partner discerning.
When they needed to work
Rabbi Yochanan shirked
His own duty, and sent Eelfa earning.

Nachum Ish Gam Zu never expressed
Any sign of despair or distress.
Though he suffered a lot
He said “All of this rot
Is from God. And it’s all for the best.”

Although Rav was a great man and master
(In Talmud class, no one learned faster.)
Still the one to admire
Is she who lent fire
‘Twas she who averted disaster.

Letting blood was (back then) quite an art
Aba Umana took this to heart.With each woman he’d treat
He was highly discreet
Therefore he tops the righteousness chart.

There’s a wild beast out on the prowl!
Can you hear it? It makes the wolves howl.
Tell the village “Amass!”
And decree a big fast
For it’s sure to eat someone. How foul!

Will some wolves eat a baby? Well, sure.
Heck, it’s not like all wolves are demure.
Once they ate a small kid
Chomped right on him, they did.
Ruled the rabbis: His bones are still pure.

May we pray for the rain to subside?
Or must we go along for the ride?
When an Arab looks small
As a worm, though he’s tall –
You can pray that God hold back the tide.

Honi planted a tree, then conked out.
‘Til his grandson came walking about.
‘Told you so!” Honi said
(It had gone to his head.)
But you’ve got to admit: He had clout!

Chanan Hidden would wear a long gown
When no rain came, they’d send from the town
A small kid who could plead
For the rain they would need
Then Chanan would pray, “Don’t let him down!”

Elazar gave tzedakah – too much
Even those who collected thought such.
When just few coins remained
He bought one stalk of grain
And it multiplied! (God’s magic touch.)

Chananya ben Dosa was sad
For his daughter was feeling quite bad
That she lit the wrong candle
Said he, “God can handle
It.” Shabbos was bright. She was glad.

Do not have a feast then a fast
For your stomach will not have a blast.
It is better to wait
A few days, once you ate.
Before fasting, have one small repast.

Though we cannot give sacrifice now
We can alter the altar. And how?
Every prayer (if not rote)
Counts for God as one goat
“Prayer’s OK,” God says. “Don’t have a cow.”

To the Temple, the Jews must bring wood.
But what happens when nobody could?
Though the Romans may struggle
To stop us, we’ll smuggle
The trees under dates. All is good.

A man who has only one shirt
May go rinse in the river its dirt
Although Av is the season
To mourn, that’s no reason
For friends, fleeing stench, to desert.

(30b — Tosafot)
How to mourn that the Temple is dead?
Jews for centuries turned over their beds.
Why don’t we? You may wonder
‘Cause ghosts who live under
The mattress may then rear their heads!

On the fifteenth of Av, every maiden
Would take a white gown, do a trade-in,
And dance before men
Who would snatch them up then
Tell me – was it those gowns they got laid in?

Said Isaiah: ”One day God will make
Song and dance for the righteous man’s sake.”
As we say the Hadran
And the storm clouds move on
Let more Torah rain down in their wake!