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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892). The Poetical Works in Four Volumes. 1892.

Narrative and Legendary Poems

Rabbi Ishmael

  • “Rabbi Ishmael Ben Elisha said, Once, I entered into the Holy of Holies [as High Priest] to burn incense, when I saw Aktriel [the Divine Crown] Jah, Lord of Hosts, sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, who said unto me, ‘Ishmael, my son, bless me.’ I answered, ‘May it please Thee to make Thy compassion prevail over Thine anger; may it be revealed above Thy other attributes; mayest Thou deal with Thy children according to it, and not according to the strict measure of judgment.’ It seemed to me that He bowed His head, as though to answer Amen to my blessing.”—Talmud (Berachôth, i. f. 6. b.)

  • THE RABBI ISHMAEL, with the woe and sin

    Of the world heavy upon him, entering in

    The Holy of Holies, saw an awful Face

    With terrible splendor filling all the place.

    “O Ishmael Ben Elisha!” said a voice,

    “What seekest thou? What blessing is thy choice?”

    And, knowing that he stood before the Lord,

    Within the shadow of the cherubim,

    Wide-winged between the blinding light and him,

    He bowed himself, and uttered not a word,

    But in the silence of his soul was prayer:

    “O Thou Eternal! I am one of all,

    And nothing ask that others may not share.

    Thou art almighty; we are weak and small,

    And yet Thy children: let Thy mercy spare!”

    Trembling, he raised his eyes, and in the place

    Of the insufferable glory, lo! a face

    Of more than mortal tenderness, that bent

    Graciously down in token of assent,

    And, smiling, vanished! With strange joy elate,

    The wondering Rabbi sought the temple’s gate.

    Radiant as Moses from the Mount, he stood

    And cried aloud unto the multitude:

    “O Israel, hear! The Lord our God is good!

    Mine eyes have seen his glory and his grace;

    Beyond his judgments shall his love endure;

    The mercy of the All Merciful is sure?”