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On the Following Inscription Fronting the [Aron haḲodesh of the] New Synagogue.
“Know Before Whom Thou Standest.” (Berakhot 28b.7)
A voice of power from the elder time
A voice that homage from the Earth commandeth,
On Israel calls with energy sublime,
To know in whose dread presence he here standeth.
It bids him at the portal put away
His sandal sullied o’er with sordid dust;
In godliness his spirit to array
Or ere he seeks the merciful and just.
Passions profane ye mortals cast afar,
And let your hearts to holy love expand,
Ere ye the sanctuary’s gates unbar
Or dare before Omnipotence to stand.
In vain would ye some worldly idol hide
Within the temple of the spirit shrined,
Some golden monster blindly deified
To which immortal hope has been resigned.
No fibre in the meshes of temptation
By the all-seeing eye has been unscanned;
No lure that leads thy soul from its salvation
Evade the Searcher before whom ye stand.
If wrath towards thy fellow man remain
In thy frail bosom an abiding guest,
Seek not the altar, like the vengeful Cain
With malice ‘gainst thy brethren in thy breast.
E’en at the threshold the dark feeling cast,
Whose shadow dwelt upon the brow too long,
Thou stand’st before the present, future, past!
The judge supreme of every human wrong.
Enter not lightly then the house of prayer,
Nor hymn with lip of guile the praise of God;
Balm will be found for meek contrition there
For contumacy, an impeding rod.
Behold yon testimonial tablets traced
By Judah’s providence with outstretched hand
List to the voice that thunders from the waste
“Know ye, before whose majesty ye stand!”
“On the Following Inscription Fronting the New Synagogue: ‘Know Before Whom Thou Standest'” was published in Secular and Religious Works of Penina Moïse, With Brief Sketch of Her Life (Council of Jewish Women, Charleston Section, 1911), pp. 275-276. The poem is undated in the aforementioned collection, but the reference to the “New Synagogue” whose dedication occurred in 1840 (after the previous building was destroyed by fire in 1838). ‘Know Before Whom Thou Standest’ is the inscription as it appears above the Aron haḲodesh. The inscription above the outer doors of the synagogue is the verse of the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4.
““Know Before Whom Thou Standest,” a poem on the inscription above the Aron haḲodesh by Penina Moïse (Ḳ.Ḳ. Beth Elohim, Charleston, ca. 1840)” is shared through the Open Siddur Project with a Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication 1.0 Universal license.
Works of related interest:
מַה־טֹּבוּ | Priêre en entrant dans le Temple, a paraliturgical Mah Tovu by Rabbi Arnaud Aron & Jonas Ennery (1848)
מַה־טֹּבוּ | Mah Tovu: Prayer upon Entering the Synagogue (Romanian trans. Avraham Shlomo Gold, ca. 1903)
Gebet beim Eintritt in das Gotteshaus | Prayer upon entering the house of God, by Dr. Meïr Letteris (1846)
Gebet beim Eintritt in das Gotteshaus | Prayer on Entering the House of God, by Dr. Meïr Letteris (1846)