Sleep deserts my eyes and I toss like a
ship in the sea of my yearning for You
as I imagine these things: If I were an
infant and you were my nurse, I would
suckle your beautiful breasts, and
quench my thirst. If I were a stream
and you and I sat in the shade of my
garden, I would loook after your fruit.
If I was a spear and you thrust me
into your enemies’ hearts, I would be
drunk with their blood. If I were a tent
and you dwelt in me, we would delight
ourselves with love and clothe ourselves
with joy. If I were a tongue and you
were my words, I would soothe desire’s
flame with a song. If I were a slave and
you were my lord, I would long to
serve you, I would never choose
Israel ben Moses Najara (c. 1555, Damascus – c. 1625, Gaza) (Heb. ישראל בן משה נאג’ארה Yisrael ben Moshe Najarah) was a Jewish liturgical poet, preacher, Biblical commentator, kabbalist, and rabbi of Gaza.
According to Franco (Histoire des Israélites de l’Empire Ottoman,
p. 79, Paris, 1897), there is another account which declares that
Najara was born about 1530 and that he lived for some years at Adrianople. From his secular poems, which he wrote in the meters of various Turkish, Spanish, and modern Greek songs, it is evident that he knew well several foreign languages. He travelled extensively in the Near East, had lived in Safed, where he came under the extensive influence of Lurianic Kabbalah and served as a rabbi at the Jewish community of Gaza.
As may be seen from his works, he was a versatile scholar, and he corresponded with many contemporary rabbis, among others with Bezaleel Ashkenazi, Yom-Ṭob Ẓahalon, Moses Hamon, and Menahem Ḥefeẓ. His poetic effusions were exceptionally numerous, and many of them were translated into Persian. While still young he composed many religious hymns, to Arabic and Turkish tunes, with the intention, as he says in the preface to his Zemirot Yisrael, of turning the Jewish youth from profane songs. He wrote piyyuṭim, pizmonim, seliḥot, widduyim, and dirges for all the week-days and for Sabbaths, holy days, and occasional ceremonies, these piyyuṭim being collected in his Zemirot Yisrael. Many of the piyyuṭim are in Aramaic.
For his hymns on the marriage of God and Israel, Najara was severely blamed by Menahem Lonzano (Shete Yadot, p. 142) when the latter was at Damascus. The Shibḥe Ḥayyim Wiṭal (p. 7b) contains a violent attack by Ḥayyim Vital upon a poet whose name is not mentioned, but who some take to be Israel Najara. Nevertheless, Isaac Luria, Vital’s teacher, declared that Najara’s hymns were listened to with delight in heaven. His piyyuṭim were praised also by Leon of Modena, who composed a song in his honor, which was printed at the beginning of the Olat Shabbat, the second part of the Zemirot Yisrael.
He is buried in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Gaza. His son, Moses Najara was also a poet, who succeeded his father as the chief rabbi of Gaza.