Thursday, December 11, 2008

Jewish Mystic Prayer V: Yedid Nefesh

OK, so entry IV was not my last on mystical Jewish liturgy. There is also Yedid Nefesh, the work of 16th Century kabbalist Rabbi Elazar Azikri. By now we can recognize the thematic poetics that mark this piyyut in common with other esoteric prayers:
  • Passionate, even erotic language to characterize the relationship with God.
  • Acrostic construction. In this case, the first Hebrew letter of each of the four stanza combine to form the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God.
  • 'Light' imagery and synonyms for 'beauty' to describe the divine.
  • The occult motifs 'concealed' and 'revealed.'
Sung on the eve of Shabbat and the Seudah Shlishi (toward the end of Shabbat):

יSoul's beloved, source of compassion,
draw Your servant to your desire [1].
Your servant will run like a gazelle;
he will bow before your splendor.
Your love is sweeter [2] to him
than the dripping of honey, or all tastes.

הSplendid, Beautiful, Radiance of the Universe
My soul is sick for Your love [3].
Please, God, heal her [4]
by showing her the beauty of your radiance.
Then she will be strengthened and healed
And she will have eternal bliss.

וAncient One [5], arouse Your mercy,
and please have pity upon Your beloved child.
For how I have yearned
to swiftly see the splendor of Your strength.
These are the desires of my heart
so please have pity and do not hide Yourself.

הPlease, reveal Yourself.
beloved, spread over me the shelter of your peace [6].
Illumine the earth with Your glory,
that we may exalt and rejoice in You.
For now comes the time
grace us as in days of old [7].
[1] The Hebrew word ratzon is often translated as 'will,' but the emotional context merits a more impassioned translation of 'desire.'
[2] The root ayin-resh-bet, "sweet," also appears in the mystical poem, Shir ha-Kavod, though in a different context entirely. The sweetness [both sensuous and sensual] of divine encounter is a recurrent theme in medieval mystical writings cross-culturally, in all cases probably drawing on the language of Song of Songs.
[3] Love sickness is also an image derived from Song of Songs. Nafshi could be translated as "I am [sick for your love]," but the author is focused on the relationship between the soul of the individual and the world soul, so I translated it accordingly.
[4] The wording comes directly from Moses' prayer for Miriam's healing. Here it is applied to the 'soul sick'.
[5] A kabbalistic title for God, derived from the book of Daniel 7.9. In Zohar this refers to the Deus Agnostos, the unknowable God, either Keter or Ein Sof.
[6] Literally "...the 'sukkah' of your peace." Though the wording is borrowed from non-mystical liturgy (Hashkivenu), mystics assign extra meaning to this phrase, for they envision the sukkah as a kind of cosmic womb.
[7] The Hebrew syntax is a little awkward. There may be a meaning I am oblivious to.

Zal G'mor: To learn more, consult the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism - http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050


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