November 18, 2018

Twelve Lines about the Burning Bush – a poem from the Yiddish writer Melech Ravitch

“What’s going to be the end for both of us—God?

Are you really going to let me die like this

And really not tell me the big secret?

Must I really become dust, gray dust, and ash, black ash,

While the secret, which is closer than my shirt, than my skin,

Still remains secret, though it’s deeper in me than my own heart?

And was it really in vain that I hoped by day and waited by night?

And will you, until the very last moment, remain godlike-cruel and hard?

Your face deaf like dumb stone, like cement, blind-stubborn?

Not for nothing is one of your thousand names—thorn you thorn in my spirit and flesh and bone,

Piercing me—I can’t tear you out; burning me—I can’t stamp you out,

Moment I can’t forget, eternity I can’t comprehend.”

Melech Ravitch (translated from the Yiddish by Ruth Whitman), based on Exodus 3:1-15, appears in Modern Poems on the Bible: an Anthology, Edited with an Introduction by David Curzon, JPS, 1994, p. 161.

Melech Ravitch is the pseudonym of Zekharye-Khone Bergner (1893–1976), a Yiddish poet, essayist, playwright, and cultural activist. Born in Radymno, eastern Galicia, into a home where the main spoken languages were Polish and German, Ravitch received a secular general education, including business school, and a limited traditional Jewish education. In 1921, he settled in Warsaw, and from the 1930s on, Ravitch lived in Australia, Argentina, and Mexico, until finally settling in Montreal. His main works include a comprehensive anthology Di lider fun mayne lider (The Poems of My Poems; 1954) and his two volume series Mayn leksikon (My Lexicon; 1945–1947) offer intimate portraits of Yiddish writers in Poland. His memoirs, Dos mayse-bukh fun mayn lebn (The Storybook of My Life; 3 vols., 1962–1975), describe his life in Galicia, Vienna, and Warsaw. These biographical notes are from the Yivo Encyclopedia of Jews of Eastern Europe.