This was one of those songs where the melody came first. One of my kiddos had a fever, very high fever, and I was trying to calm them to sleep through song and just wanted to focus on the sweetest melody I could come up with. And then when I found these verses I thought they fit really well, fit really beautifully.
SHIMU EILAI BEIT YAAKOV VECHOL SHEI'ARIT BEIT YISRAEL
This is someone heralding our attention, proclaiming a prophetic statement. This is Isaiah, sometimes known as a Second Isaiah because this very many-chaptered book seemingly has two chronological moments. These verses really captured me with special qualities or attributes of the God of the Hebrew Bible.
This first verb SHIMU — we have the definitions over here — to hear or listen. SHEMA is "to perceive by hearing. Pay attention to with interest." To wake up.
SHIMU EILAI BEIT YAAKOV. Listen to me, House of Jacob.
VECHOL SHEIARIT VEIT YISRAEL. And all the SHEIARIT. All those that remain, all the residue, the remnant, the remainder, of the House of Yisrael. Isaiah is speaking to the children of Israel in exile.
HAAMUSIM MINI VETEN. "Those who've been carried" or borne, in my VETEN, in my womb, in my belly, in my body.
HANSU'IM MINI RACHAM. The ones who have been in another word for womb.
RACHAMIM, Compassion comes from the same root. So sometimes we've heard the Reb Zalman translation of God being the womb-full One.
This is an image of God as Mother, as a pregnant person, as someone carrying us within Her body, within Their body. The verbs are all masculine here; the gendered language of Hebrew is all male. However, it's clear we're talking about a goddess form, a goddess figure.
HANSU'IM. This is "to lift, to bear up, to carry." This shares of the language from [our song] ESA EINAI. "I lift up my eyes. I carry the weight of the world being born." This language of birth, of gestation, of caring for through to completion. These are all High Holidays, these are all Rosh Hashanah themes.
And then it continues VE'AD ZIKNAH ANI HU. This is where we get the name for the song. "I will still be the same." It is literally "I," ANI, "I" — HU/"Him" — I am Him. Or perhaps we would translate it as " I am That." [Tat Tvam Asi]
In your ZIKNA. ZAKEN is "beard." In your old age. In your SEIVAH is another word for your old age, [when] you're in your silver years. When you have a hoary head, with gray hair.
"I'm not going to change." I have borne you, carried you, I have made you. I have ASITI. VA'ANI ESA, I will continue to lift, to bear, to carry. ANI ESBOL. The same word here, ESBOL twice, to bear, to carry. VA'AMALIET. "And I will rescue you." Cause you to be saved.
It's a beautiful image of hearing of that Mother Love. Is it possible for a Mother to forget her child? The one She carried, the one She bore, the one who came through Her body.
Whether from that prenatal, in utero, gestation time, or all the way until the satisfied old age of the end of your life: I Am That, I will be the same.
So these words, they're not traditionally part of the High Holiday liturgy but they connect very much with those themes of HAYOM HARAT OLAM, "today is the birthday, the appearance day of the world."
They're also not so easy to sing and I really wanted to incorporate this melody and some of these concepts into our prayer throughout the year. So I chose a very precious prayer which is known as ASHREI.
Now ASHREI is actually a combination of several different psalms. You can see here as we look at the Koren Siddur [prayerbook] we have a bit of Psalm 84, a bit of Psalm 144, and then we have all of Psalm 145. It actually continues onto the next page. And then has another line from another psalm, Psalm 115.So altogether four psalms are composited to make this prayer known as ASHREI.
Why is it known as ASHREI? It's known as ASHREI because of its first word. ASHREI YOSHVEI VEITECHA. But that word ASHREI repeats three times. ASHREI HA'AM SHE'KACHA LO. ASHREI HA'AM SHE'ADONAI ELOHAV. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, translates this word ASHREI as "happy are those who dwell in Your House... Happy are the people... Happy are those whose God is the Lord." Jonathan Sacks is being very literal here. He does not try to massage the text in any way.
Reb Zalman asked, what is ASHREI? He said, "this is Jewish bliss." And what is Jewish bliss? Being free from anxiety.
ASHREI means fortunate. It's homophonic with ASHREI spelled with an AYIN. עשר/OSHER/wealth. So it's both physical and spiritual wealth.
ASHREI is also an alphabetic acrostic. Each of these lines starts with the ALEPH, BET, GIMEL, DALED, HEY, et cetera, of the Hebrew alphabet going all the way through. This version we've received is missing a particular letter, the NUN is not here, although in the caves at Qumran other versions have been found, have been discovered, with other NUN lines.
This Psalm is elevated above almost all other liturgies in the Babylonian Talmud where it says that those who recite ASHREI three times a day would be assured a place in the world to come. And the rabbis ask themselves, why is that? And they look at a particular line and they say, it's because of this line: POTEACH ET YADECHA UMASBIA LECHOL CHAI RATZON. "You open your hand and satisfy every living thing with your favor."
Now you'll notice that the beautiful design, the book designers of Koren Publishing, have put these small circles to indicate that when wearing TEFILLIN some people touch the arm TEFILLIN which represents, which signifies the hand, "you open your hand." And kiss your finger. And then at "satisfy everything" LECHOL CHAI RATZON the divine will, in the mind, so to speak, of God, you kiss your tefillin there. Others have the custom of saying this prayer with palms open, with extra emphasis, because of this surrender of knowing that we're being carried. We open our hands because we know, "He's got the whole world in his hands." That we're always being carried back to these themes that we find in Isaiah.
This was also one of the reasons I called Kol Hai, Kol Hai. Because LECHOL CHAI, "every living thing" or "all life" is embedded in this verse.
But when we sing this song on our recording and liturgically within Kol Hai, we don't sing all of this liturgical prayer. Going back to the beginning for a second. We do sing:
ASHREI YOSHVEI VEITECHA OD YEHALELUCHA SELAH. ASHREI HA'AM SHE'KACHAH LO. ASHREI HA'AM SHE'ADOANI ELOHAV.
These introductory fortunate, wealthy, blissful, anxiety-free lines. And then the B part jumps to the very end of the prayer.
TEHILAT ADOANI YIDABERI PI. VIVARECH KOL BASAR SHEM KODSHO LE'OLAM VAED. VA'ANACHNU NEVARECH YAH MEI'ATAH VE'AD OLAM.
"My mouth shall speak the praise of HAVAYAH, and all creatures have blessed God's holy name for all time, forever and ever. We will bless God for now and forevermore."
So there you have a little bit of that textual analysis if the lyrics of "Ani Hu / Ashrei" We put it at the beginning as a wake-up call to hopefully come more consistently, more honestly, more regularly, more abidingly with That Which Is. The One Who has formed us before we were aware we had a form. Who will carry us into the grave and beyond.
"And happy are those who dwell" in that sense of security, of open-heartedness and open-handedness.
That none of this was of our making our, of our creation, of our doing.
We work to sing, to align our hearts, minds, bodies, souls, and beings to do the work of this world. To being carried.
To being held in the womb, the compassionate womb of the Womb-full One.
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