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L'El Orech Din is a prayer that's only said on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

It's part of the service called the KEROVA, the "approach" or the "nearness", and these PIYYUTIM, these liturgical poems, of which L'el Orech Din is one, are inserted into the AMIDAH, the Standing Prayer.

This PIYYUT, this prayer-poem in particular is said when the doors of the Ark containing the Torah is open. So it's representative of a real moment of intimacy, of intensity, of intention.

This ancient prayer follows the ALEPH BET, the Hebrew alphabet line-by-line, exploring different attributes or qualities of the One, of the Divine.

So I find there are a few ways to work with prayer-poetry of this variety. Seeing as it's an alphabetic acrostic — and the idea of a poem going from A to Z, so to speak, enumerating all sorts of attributes — is to allow the entirety or the enormity, or the complete the spectrum of all of these attributes to wash over you.

The intent, I believe, behind an author who is writing such a prayer is to cover all of their bases, to give a complete picture of God.

Another way of working with it is noticing, in a given moment or in a given year, which of the letters or which of the lines really jumps out at you.

Given these 22 attributes, or these 22 options, there may be one — one image, one interface — that really opens your mind or opens your heart.

Or, on the other side, one may stand out in really challenging you or troubling you and really asking for you to pause and chew that bite well; to take in that one epithet, that one attribute, and really to work with it.

Before going into the specifics of each line, as we look at this prayer, you'll notice one word repeats over and over again.

Each line, each stich, ends either with the word DIN, BADIN, or BEYOM DIN.

DIN meaning "judgment"; BADIN "in judgment"; or BEYOM DIN "on the day of judgment".

EL ORECH DIN is translated by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, as "the God who renders judgment."

An ORECH DIN is a judge, a litigator, an advocate. And this idea of standing before a lawyer of sorts, no matter how divine, and it may not initially be one that elicits intimacy or trust.

This word judgment can be pretty heavy, can induce fear or contraction.

But to understand DIN, we need to understand CHESED, or lovingkindness.

For the mystics and the Kabbalistic understanding, on one side of the Tree of Life is CHESED— or GEDULAH is the more ancient word for it —and it's the idea of expansion.

It is the love behind all there is, the impulse to create, and to manifest.

DIN or GEVURAH, on the other side of the tree is the counterbalance or the valence that limits, holds, constrains, and gives boundaries.

These two work together to find some compassionate balance in TIFERET.

But with this emphasis of DIN, YOM DIN, the Day of Judgment, I think I prefer the translation of discernment or clear awareness.

Back to our image of the judge. Imagine standing before someone who's really expert in law, in justice, in procedure. Someone who's sharp and clear and kind who can advocate for you, can grok your whole story and really sees you and really understands you. This is the invitation or the interface we're being asked to connect with as we stand in this KEROVA, and this intimate moment of prayer.

So again, the arc is open. The Torah is there. It's almost as though we're putting our hand on the Bible and coming clean, giving our own testimony. And also receiving one about who we are and where we are in our lives. And what if we could do this free from fear, shame, guilt, with utter transparency and utter trust.

And so with this kind of foregrounding, I want to read Jonathan Sacks' translation and pull out some of the deeper flavors of these words.

L'EL ORECH DIN, to the EL, to God, "to the transcendent One who is a judge. Who renders judgment".

LEVOCHEN LEVAVOT BEYOM DIN. "Who examines hearts." LEVOCHEN LEVAVOT, here the poet is playing with the second letter, the BET, or the VET in this case, both words LEVOCHEN to examine, to look within our hearts.

LEGOLEH AMUKOT. To reveal. AMUKOT the depths, the deep secrets. One who really gets clear through really deep discernment. To see the parts that may have been hidden, concealed. They begin to start bubbling up.

LEDOVER MEISHARIM BEYOM DIN. Who speaks straight, who talks true. Who speaks candidly. To speak straight.

LEHOGEH DEOT BADIN. Who voices wisdom or contemplates with intimate awareness. This discernment, this clarity.

LEVATIK VEOSEH CHESED. "Who is digilent and performs kindness." We had this word; I talked about the word CHESED as lovingkindness, VATIK someone who is meticulous and wise has the connotation of , eldering, of embodied wisdom, someone who does CHESED out of DIN, who does loving kindness out of discernment.

LEZOCHER BERITO BADIN. One who remembers the BRIT, or abides by the covenant. Recalls relationship. Does what they say they're going to do.

LECHOMEL MAASAV BADIN. "And shows compassion upon all creation." CHAMOL AL MAASECHA. This a theme that appears in other prayers of Rosh Hashanah, to compassionately hold all acts, to take responsibility for the things and the beings and the creation of the world.

LETAHEIR CHOSAV BADIN. "Who purifies those who rely on God in judgment." TAHEIR, TAHARAH this idea of purity in a post-puritanical West can be a word that we're a little bit allergic to. Being TAHOR is of the quality of being available, responsible, able to respond and available for service. To recognize those God depends upon, to acknowledge those who depend upon us.

LEYODEA MACHSHAVOT BAYOM DIN. The one who knows our thoughts. Who's intimate with our inner murmurings rumblings. The primary language that's within all beings.

LECHOVESH KAASO BADIN. Jonathan Sachs says "suppresses anger", but also knows how to work with the edge. Work when things start trembling and raging.

LELOVESH TZEDAKOT BADIN. The one who is adorned in righteousness. Who wears TZEDAKAH, whose very acts, whose very nature, whose very behavior engenders righteousness.

LEMOCHEL AVONOT BADIN. "The one who forgives sin." MECHILAH is one of the three words of forgiveness that we repeat throughout this [time of] year. To do the dance... — TOF UMACHOL, "drum and dance" — is a play on this idea of being able to dance into the perspective of another, to take that dance of forgiveness.

LENORA TEHILOT BEYOM DIN. "The awesome and praiseworthy One." NORA TEHILOT, the one who is excellent and exceeds all language in terms of prayer and praise.

LESOLEIACH AMUSAV BADIN. SELICHA is one of those other words of forgiveness. Who forgives LEAMUS, the ones that are borne... The name of this album is The World Being Born. And that's a play of not only what's being birthed, but being carried like a compassionate mother, a compassionate parent, holding a child.

LEONEH LEKORAV BEYOM DIN. "The One who answers those who call." LEONEH KORAV, this is a familiar phrase repeated multiple times throughout the Psalms. The one who hears our prayer, the one who wants us to call and cry out. The one who is, again, able to respond.

LEFOEL RACHAMAV. "The One who two exercises 'wombfullness'." RECHEM is womb. RACHAMIM is compassion. EL RAHIM is one of the Arabic names of Allah who holds the universe in her womb, in their womb. The one who does the verbing of compassion in the world.

LETZOFEH NISTAROT BEYOM DIN. "Who sees all that is hidden." Just breathing away any secrets, any hiding, any shame. She already knows. He already knows. They already know.

LEKONEH AVADAV BADIN. "The One who acquires his servants in judgment." This is one of those old paradigm phrases that needs a little upleveling and re-translating. KONEH is also "creates." Creates the possibility of service, creates the possibility that we are here to transcend the small self; to find purpose in larger stories than the ones that are too small for us.

LERACHEM BEAMO BEYOM DIN. "The One who has," again, RECHEM, RACHAMIM, "compassion on His people, on Their people." Again, with that smallness of our personal story, being a singular soul... to remember we belong, the One who has compassion on all of us. And we're not doing this alone.

LESHOMER OHAVAV BADIN. "The One who protects His beloveds." There's a guard and a guardian, a strength and a support like SHOMER YISRAEL, SHOMER SHABBAT, SHAMOR VEZACHOR, to be guarded, to be protected, this SHEMIRAH.

LETOMECH TIMEMAV BEYOM DIN. Another language of "support the innocent."

So as you listen to this song, as you play it, as you pray it, as you work with the text or work with the melody, perhaps you're awash in this alphabet of justice and of discernment, of getting clear what needs to be disclosed or what needs to be held and what sort of justice and righteousness you seek.

Perhaps one of these lines, one of these letters, one of these words pops out for you and is an outstanding guide or puzzle for you to hold.

Whether you really want to develop a deeper relationship with the YODEA MACHSHAVOT, for example, "the knower of secrets", or whether you have trouble with the idea of the KONEH AVADAV, the one who "acquires worshipful ones" or "acquires servants".

Here the ark is open, the Book of Life is there, the opportunity to plunge into a day of discernment, a practice of discernment, a moment of discernment...

May the EL ORECH DIN, the One who is an Advocate and Judge, see you clearly, represent you justly, and manifest righteousness for all life everywhere.

Shanah Tovah.

shir feit


Shir Yaakov is Kol Hai's founder and spiritual director.