Wednesday, September 2, 2009

אדון הסליחות - Adon Haselichot & Parashat Ki Tavo: Because we should always serve God with Joy!

Probably the most extraordinary feature of this week's parasha of Ki Tavo, though not necessarily the most positive, is the listing of curses at the conclusion known as the tokhekha, or admonition. Chapter 28 begins with fourteen verses of blessings that will take effect if the people of Israel follow God's commandments when they enter the land of Israel. This relatively brief description of blessing is followed by a detailed, disturbing, fifty four verse long section of curses. Because of their R-rated nature, a number of special customs have grown up around the reading, including reading the section in at a fast pace and in an undertone, giving the aliyah to the Torah reader or communal leader (so as not to make it look like one is putting a curse on a member of the community), and even changing two words, in verses 27 (from ובעפלים to ובטחורים) and 29 (from ישגלנה to ישכבנה), because the words in the Torah are considered too sever to read in public.
Beginning in verse 46, we are told of the reasons that we are punished. The first is expected, "for you did not heed the voice of God to to keep and do His statutes and commandments." The second may seem a bit odd at first -- "because you did not serve God with joy and gladness of heart, on account of the abundance that you were given." One might think that while being joyful is a nice idea, it is albeit merely an enhancement to the need to perform mitzvot to the letter of the law. But this is not the case, as it is written here, as well as in may other places, such as regarding the upcoming Holiday of Sukkot (Deuteronomy 16:13). The idea of enjoying ourselves and being glad is not a new, 21st century practice, but has been part of Judaism from the very beginning. In fact, even less obviously joyful occasions, like Selichot and Yom Kippur, can be enhanced when we express our joy that God has given us the opportunity to be forgiven and start anew each year.

This idea is expressed in both the words and music of one of the most popular Sefardi selichot, אדון הסליחות, which is sadly absent from the Ashkenazi tradition. Below you will find the text, my translation and commentary, and two different ways that singers and hazzanim have joyously performed this piyyut:

אֲדון הַסְּלִיחות.
בּוחֵן לְבָבות.
גּולֶה עֲמוּקות.
דּובֵר צְדָקות.
חָטָאנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ רַחֵם עָלֵינוּ:
הָדוּר בְּנִפְלָאות.
וָתִיק בְּנֶחָמות.
זוכֵר בְּרִית אָבות.
חוקֵר כְּלָיות:
חָטָאנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ רַחֵם עָלֵינוּ:
טוב וּמֵטִיב לַבְּרִיּות.
יודֵעַ כָּל נִסְתָּרות.
כּובֵשׁ עֲונות.
לובֵשׁ צְדָקות:
חָטָאנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ רַחֵם עָלֵינוּ:
מָלֵא זַכִּיּוּת.
נורָא תְהִלּות.
סולֵחַ עֲונות.
עונֶה בְּעֵת צָרות:
חָטָאנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ רַחֵם עָלֵינוּ:
פּועֵל יְשׁוּעות.
צופֶה עֲתִידות.
קורֵא הַדּורות.
רוכֵב עֲרָבות.
שׁומֵעַ תְּפִלּות.
תְּמִים דֵּעות:
חָטָאנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ רַחֵם עָלֵינוּ:
Ruler of forgiveness
[who] examines our hearts
Revealer of depths
Speaker of justice.
>>We have sinned before you; have mercy upon us.

Majestic with wonders
From times of old, comforting us
Remembering the covenant with our ancestors
Weighing our insides.
>>We have sinned before you; have mercy upon us.

Good and beneficent to His creations
Knower of all that is hidden
Conquering sin
Clothed in righteousness.
>>We have sinned before you; have mercy upon us.

Filled with giving merit
Raised with praises
Forgiving for those filled with sin
Answering when we call.
>>We have sinned before you; have mercy upon us.

Actualizing salvation
Seeing into the future
Calling upon the generations
Riding upon the heavens
Hearing our prayer
Perfect in words.
>>We have sinned before you; have mercy upon us.

While we are pouring out our hearts regarding our shortcomings during Selichot, this piyyut reminds us that while God is filled with Justice, He is at the same time filled with love and compassion for us. We are grateful, and even joyful that we are given the gift of being able to return and start over again each year. Thus, in both renditions below, the chorus, beginning חטאנו לפניך - We have sinned before you in recited in a joyful stride, for although we are ashamed of our sins, we come with love for God because of the love He has for us.

The first rendition uses probably the most common Sefardi melody for the piyyut, but does so with a techno beat. It is definitely full of confidence in our relationship with God, and ecstatic joy.

The second rendition was composed by Israeli artist Yonatan Razael. It has a very different tune and mode, much slower and more contemplative. However, it is clearly not mournful, and is still sung in a major key.

Adon Haselichot - Yonatan Razael

Shabbat Shalom, and best wishes for a joyous and meaningful Elul!


pagan said...

Shabbat Shalom, and thank you again for Hebrew Online Newsletter! Let us rejoice in the Lord and walk after His statutes and commandments, so we can rejoice even more!

Greetings from one, who is born a pagan, but now believes in the G_d of Israel

Laura said...

Shalom!!! Thankyou very much for sending me your interesting Newsletters.

Laura said...

Thankyou very much for sending me your interesting Newsletters.

Nathan Dahan said...

Congratulations for this very interesting blog. Thank you very much for your work.