A Psalm of Gratitude, a poem by Ben Aronin

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A Psalm of Gratitude
on being raised from the depths of despair to joy and from darkness to light.

O God, I am amazed at Thy most awesome ways!
I cannot fathom all the wonders that have now been shown to me,
When I was a child I saw the beauty of each blade of grass
And hugged the warm earth, loving Thee

And Thou wast everywhere, —
In the voices of my parents at dawn
In the silent whiteness of the snow
In my dreams and in my waking I clung to Thee

But as I grew to youth the Tree of Knowledge beckoned
And I sought it with such eagerness
That my daily prayer to Thee became a habit
And Thy Book a friendly volume to be opened at infrequent intervals
Unless reminded by my learned father

For comfort’s harbor I sought mother;
For poetry — my father
And Thee I took for granted as one takes the landscape
With scarce half a glance.

Thus all unknowing I shut out the light,
For Thou alone art the sole source of light,
And lamps of levity are often darker than the night they would illumine
And darkness came upon me
More deadly than the plague of Egypt

I prayed to cease, — to be no more,
And in my anguish, cried:
“O God, take me hence
Lest I become a burden to my wife and children
And, by my sadness and despair, darken the lives of others!”

I did not know how much the human heart can bear.
And yet there was no reasoned cause for all the nameless fears
That filled my soul with panic
For Thou hadst heaped on me so many Blessings.

I was ashamed of my great fear and of my weakness
And stalked like an automaton about my duties
Twisting my face into a smile —
Seeking by day and night and vainly, — the oblivion of sleep or death
But stretching not my hand against my life
For then I would endorse complete surrender
To all my pupils, children, and their children

And so I lived throughout a thousand hells of my own building
With one dim spark of hope —
That just as night had came so suddenly upon my hitherto rejoicing soul
The dawn would break as suddenly
If only I would bear and struggle on.

The long long months — and still no light,
And then a morning came that sang to me “Arise!”
I stared all unbelieving at the skies
And from my heart I longed to pour
All of the Psalms of David — those and more!

The night is over and the day is radiant
Each ordinary thing glows with a holy fire
Again I work — but joyously,
Again create, — aspire.

I do not know the reason or the cause
Of all that happened to this battered soul of mine
Perhaps — to know compassion better
Perhaps to cheer another and to hearten him with the firm knowledge
That all dark plagues and fears and agony
Will end, and leave a soul reborn
More gloriously awake to life and love,
Awake to Thee!

Ben Aronin’s “Psalm of Gratitude” was shared by the loving family of Ben Aronin. The poem may have been printed elsewhere during Aronin’s lifetime (please let us know), but as far as we can tell, it has been first published here, online, through the Open Siddur Project. I have added line breaks to his psalm, separating the poem into stanzas.

Aronin’s reference to “the beauty of each blade of grass,” invoked in the first stanza, is a powerful one given that the mitsvah of bal tashḥit was once emphasized to children through stories concerning not idly plucking vegetation — blades of grass and leaves of trees. Aronin is also remembered by his secretary Mrs. Shirr, for saying “I believe God knows every leaf that falls.” That Ben received a ḥassidic appreciation for the vitality of all living creatures including vegetation seems quite plausible as Aronin’s father Simon (1877-1938), also referred to in the poem, “studied with Rabbi [Shalom DovBer] Schneerson in the Lubavitcher Yeshiva” (Jeffrey Conn. “Ben Aronin, Man, Author, and Teacher,” Masters thesis: Spertus College, 1990, p.5). The sixth rebbe of ḤaBaD (Yosef Yitshak Schneerson) recounts his father Shalom DovBer (the fifth rebbe of ḤaBaD) teaching him this very lesson. The first Lubavitch yeshivah, Tomchei Tmimim founded by Shalom DovBer, opened its doors in 1897 in the town of Lubavitch, in those days part of White Russia, Belarus.

Both Simon and his wife, Rose, came from “Dokschitz in the Vilna Region,” a town north of Minsk. Simon’s father, R’ Aryeh Loeb Aronin (1849-1931), was a student of Rabbi Yitzhok Elkanon Spector. After serving as rabbi in both Barisev and Krasnaluk, Lithuania, Aryeh Loeb emigrated first to Baltimore and then to Sheboygan, Wisconsin where Simon and Rose eventually joined them in 1902. The childhood reminiscence of Ben Aronin in this poem is of his childhood in Sheboygan, Green Bay, and Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

Undated, the poem must have been written after 1944 when Ben Aronin turned 40 years old and made a dramatic shift in his career from a criminal lawyer to a children’s educator and author. This article from the Chicago Tribune in 1944 documents his career change. Ben’s reference to blades of grass might also recall Walt Whitman’s Blades of Grass; Whitman served as the subject of Aronin’s last novel, a work of secular historical fiction, Walt Whitman’s Secret (1955).

Lawyer to Quit and Become Author (Chicago Tribune 1944)

We are indebted to the Aronin family for sharing this poem and the research materials referenced above.

Source(s)

Download Psalm-of-Gratitude-Ben-Aronin-undated.pdf (PDF, 91KB)

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