BELTSY, 1942
Listen to poem read by co-translator Dale Hobson.
A stranger once dared Rabbi Hillel
to explain the heart of the Torah
while the stranger balanced on one foot.
He said, "Don't do to your neighbor
what you don't want done to you.
The rest is just footnotes.
Go study!"

Tradition doesn't say
whether the stranger really
balanced on one foot
while hearing the reply,
or whether he went on to the footnotes
or if he learned.

Rabbi Schlomo ben Yehudah
lived sixty-five years,
fifty of them balanced on one foot
leaning on crutches.
He quipped, "If I had asked
Rabbi Hillel the same question
as the stranger,
the sage would have been able
to elaborate in greater detail.
No matter--there never is enough time."

While balanced on one foot
leaning on his crutches
up against the wall
awaiting execution,
he probably remembered Hillel's saying
and his own footnote to it.

© 1996 Boris Khersonsky. All rights reserved.
Translation by Ruth Kreuzer and Dale Hobson.