Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or Holy Day Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look at it.
The festival of Shavuot is recognized in the Bible as the second of the three pilgrimage festivals. While it is also known as the festival during which the first fruits were brought to the Holy Jerusalem Temple, we are most familiar with Shavuot as the time of the giving of the Torah. It is traditional to stay up all night on the eve of this festival and study – reenacting the excitement and trepidation of our ancestors as they anticipated receiving the Torah. Preoccupation with the Torah and the majesty of the Holy One Blessed Be He is continued into the services of the first day of Shavuot, with the chanting of the epic hymn, Akdamut, which is said just prior to the reading of the first verse of the Torah portion.
“Were the sky of parchment made,
A quill each reed, each twig and blade,
Could we with ink the oceans fill,
Were every man a scribe of skill,
The marvelous story
Of God’s great glory
Would still remain untold;
For He, Most High,
The earth and sky
Created alone of old.”
Akdamut, is a rich and extremely complicated tapestry woven in tooth-breaking Aramaic, an ancient Semitic language, by the 11th century Rabbi Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai in the city of Worms, Germany. Rabbi Meir who was the son of Hazzan Isaac Nehorai and a contemporary of the great biblical commentator, Rashi, used lines beginning with each of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet twice through. The Rabbi also added, the letters of his name, his father’s name and of a short blessing asking for strength (which he no doubt needed after this huge work). The resulting composition is a 90 verse panegyric proclaiming the majesty and greatness of The Creator, the beauty and wisdom of the Torah and praise and hope for the Jewish people. Each verse of the opus contains exactly ten syllables and always ends with the syllable,’TA’.
Akdamut is usually recited responsively. The melody used for Akdamut (click to hear an example) is an ancient chant that is characterized by a downwardly cascading motif (very short musical phrase) that occurs at the end of the first of each of the pairs of verses that characterize the Hymn. Interestingly, the music for Akdamut, which is not found any where else in our liturgy, is sprinkled throughout the Festival Kiddush.
It may be said that the reasons for emulating the Biblical Israelites night long vigil and for reciting Akdamut with its ancient melody are identical: We are invited to share the excitement of our ancestors at the foot of Mount Sinai together with the passion of Rabbi Meir over G-d, his Torah and of the life that the Torah conveys. Perhaps, by looking through the eyes and hearing through the ears of our predecessors, we will, in our hearts, minds and bodies feel, understand, and emulate their steadfast commitment to Torah and the Jewish way of life.
Hag Shavuot Samayach
I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at email@example.com.
Hazzan Michael Krausman