The Song of the Soul

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She is ever filled with fierce longings, singing her songs of love, suffused with yearning and desire.

She ceaselessly hungers and thirsts for God, for the living God, and pours forth her utterances in rhyme, in inner song.

The following text is taken from a lengthy lyrical essay by Hillel Zeitlin titled “Heavenly Beauty — Poetic Compositions from the Aggada and Kabbalah”. Published in 1908 in the literary journal Safrut, the essay comprises eight chapters portraying, in Zeitlin’s unique pathos-laden prose, the creation of the world, the Garden of Eden, Kabbalistic cosmology, the revelation at Mount Sinai, a study of the soul, the nature of women, and the Messianic era. As indicated by the title, Zeitlin draws heavily from the Aggada, the non-legalistic sections of the Talmud, as well as later Kabbalistic teachings.

“Heavenly Beauty” was written during a particularly productive period of Zeitlin’s literary career. Over the course of 1908 and 1909, he published “Shekhina”, “Heavenly Beauty”, and “The Thirst”, all in Safrut. These three essays are noteworthy for their exemplary poetic quality, as well as the powerful religious longings they express. Indeed, in an autobiographical essay published in 1928, Zeitlin marked the writing of these three essays as a turning point in his religious life, as he furthered his return to traditional Jewish observance.

While the full piece is deserving of translation, due to time constraints I have decided to translate this particular section and share it with a broader audiene, as it is a fine example of the beauty of Zeitlin’s writing.

The original Hebrew essay may be accessed here.

For more about Hillel Zeitlin and his life, click here.


The Song of the Soul

By Hillel Zeitlin

Translated by Sam Glauber

The first appearance of God is marked by cloud and gloom, by thunder and lightning, by flame and a fiery torch. Subsequently, a small thin voice will be heard as the world is filled with a dew that revives the dead, with fragrant rains and divine repose.

Thus does God appear in the lives of mankind, in the lives of each and every nation. Thus does God appear in the life of the individual, if they are of those who make their way as strangers through this world of futility and madness…

They are as strangers here, they are visitors upon the earth. They are ever longing for other worlds, those that already were or have yet to be, or those that transcend this world in which they live.

A cloud conceals the soul as she is filled with a deep sorrow and pain which cannot be healed.

Full of abrasions, she cries out to the God who lowered her from the heavenly heights down to the depths of the abyss.

She cries out powerfully to her god, praying and beseeching, demanding and revolting, angering and erupting.

She is ever filled with fierce longings, singing her songs of love, suffused with yearning and desire.

She ceaselessly hungers and thirsts for God, for the living God, and pours forth her utterances in rhyme, in inner song.

Perhaps, then, the wondrous moment shall come to pass, the moment of fusion and unity, the moment of true union, as spirit clings to spirit and soul to soul.

The soul is filled with a repose not of this world, a respite one would find in the One who lives forever.

The soul comes close to expiration, as though she is borne above the pinions of death, illumined by the light of the Infinite.

It is only through great strength that a person restores their soul to their body, as they run forth and return.

The person returns to their world, to life on the earth, bearing with them a gift from on high and a kiss from the mouth of God.

And in their daily life, in their mundane life, as they make their way through the barren wilderness, they draw comfort and divine spirit from those wondrous moments, the moments of revelation, the moments of union and wondrous joy.

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