By Rabbi Samuel Barth | Senior Lecturer in Liturgy and Worship
posted on March 6, 2013 / 24 Adar 5773
Last week we took a brief look at the balance between the majestic theological description of God with which Adon Olam opens, and the more intimate, even tender recounting of the poet’s relationship with God in the final stanzas. These final verses begin with two short words that articulate a quite extraordinary claim: “Vehu Eli” (For He is my God).
The three opening stanzas are theologically majestic and poetically lyrical, but they are also dispassionate. Written in the third person, they describe rather than affirm. It is ultimately with the words “Vehu Eli” that we move from reflecting about the unity and eternity of God to claiming that God is in unique relationship with each of us. There is powerful intimacy when we say of another human being that he is my father, she is my mother, this is my friend, this is my beloved. We claim connection; we proclaim relationship; it is the living relationship that creates the confidence that we can call on God in times of trouble, and entrust ourselves to God even in the dark hours of the night.
I do not imagine that this trust and this relationship necessarily come easily or naturally. Statements of theology can be intellectually complex, but are often spiritually easy. They demand nothing more than the application of the mind. Relationships are not born from the mind; they are born from connection, from care, from desire and yearning. There is no “bridge text” in Adon Olam that connects the opening and closing sections; the poet seems to recognize that there can be none.
These words, “For He is my God,” challenge us each morning to move beyond an exercise of the intellect and commit ourselves to faith. Perhaps the commitment is fleeting; lasting only a day at a time, to be renewed (like Creation) each day. No one can compel us to believe, no one can bring irrefutable proof upon which we might base our embrace of the living God as our own. But the absence of proof does not mean there is no support, no assistance, and no fellow traveler on the journey toward faith. In every one of our synagogues there are companions in the challenging journey to find personal connection to God.
Let these words, “Vehu Eli,” serve as a source of recurring invitation and challenge to embrace the Living God in our hearts, our minds, and our souls.
This setting by the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir of a melody attributed to David de Sola captures some of the lyric emotion of the poem Adon Olam:
As always, I am interested to hear comments and reflections on these thoughts about prayer and liturgy. You may reach me at email@example.com.
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