Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Love of God

Yesterday a song came to mind that I hadn't thought of in quite some time...all I could think of were the first few words...The Love of God...  So, I looked it up.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the history of the song as well as the lyrics on the first page I went too...but was this the real history? 

From http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/l/o/loveofgo.htm a direct quote:

"Words: Fred­er­ick M. Leh­man; he wrote this song in 1917 in Pas­a­de­na, Cal­i­fornia, and it was pub­lished in Songs That Are Dif­fer­ent, Vol­ume 2, 1919. The lyr­ics are based on the Jew­ish poem Had­da­mut, writ­ten in Ara­ma­ic in 1050 by Meir Ben Isaac Ne­hor­ai, a can­tor in Worms, Ger­ma­ny; they have been trans­lat­ed in­to at least 18 lang­uages.
One day, dur­ing short in­ter­vals of in­at­ten­tion to our work, we picked up a scrap of pa­per and, seat­ed up­on an emp­ty le­mon box pushed against the wall, with a stub pen­cil, add­ed the (first) two stan­zas and chor­us of the song…Since the lines (3rd stan­za from the Jew­ish po­em) had been found pen­ciled on the wall of a pa­tient’s room in an in­sane asy­lum af­ter he had been car­ried to his grave, the gen­er­al opin­ion was that this in­mate had writ­ten the epic in mo­ments of san­ity.
Frederick M. Lehman, “History of the Song, The Love of God,” 1948
Music: Fred­er­ick Leh­man; ar­ranged by his daugh­ter, Clau­dia L. Mays"

As you can see above I have highlighted the text I found to be interesting...does anyone know what was happening in Europe during that time period?  THE CRUSADES!

So...I decided to dig deeper, which took some time. Translations of words are sometimes written differently so I could not seem to find this elusive Haddamut poem...until I typed in the name Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai and this was what I found in the webpage listed below:

From http://www.herjc.org/cantor/Shavuot.html


Sung in part during Shavout (that would be the Feast of Weeks or commonly known as Pentecost)

"Akdamut was written in Aramaic by Rabbi Meir ben Isaac Nehorai (c.1030-c.1096) of Worms, Germany. Rabbi Meir is known to have been a great scholar and a Hazzan, as well as the author of many liturgical poems and prayers, most of which have been lost." 

Some of the Akdamut is on the site above but I found a more complete history and poem translation here:

http://www.ou.org/torah/article/akdamut_and_ketuvah has this to say:

"Akdamut" - The Background

Akdamut is a "piyut," a religious poem, which was composed during the First Crusade, which began in 1096, as an effort by Christian Europe to recapture the "Holy Land" from the Moslem "infidels" who had seized it. On their way to the Middle East, the Christian knights would, in general, visit terror if not outright destruction upon the Jewish communities which happened to be on their route. It was a time of oppression, of cruelty, of ignorance on the part of the Jews' neighbors. There was absolutely nothing attractive in the dominant culture in Europe at that time.

Nevertheless, the Christians tried to force their religion upon their Jewish neighbors, often at the threat of death. Sometimes, mock "debates" were held, in which Jewish rabbis were forced to participate, knowing that the juries, consisting of church officials, were rigged against them, and that nothing they said would have any effect on their listeners, or upon their own fate. The author of Akdamut was the unwilling participant in such a "debate."

This then was the background of Akdamut, composed at that time by Rabbi Meir son of Rabbi Yitzchak, who was the "Chazan" of the City of Vermaiza, in Germany. The position "Chazan" is not directly translatable as "Cantor," which is its current meaning, for at that time, there was the additional connotation of great Talmudic scholarship associated with the position and, indeed, this particular Chazan is supposed to have been one of the teachers of the great Bible and Talmud Commentator, RASHI.

The poem describes the words of the author as he "debated" the truths of Judaism to a hostile audience. But they are disguised for posterity in the Aramaic language, which was not understood by the Christian world or its censors. The author, who died shortly after the "debate," left behind a priceless inheritance for the Jewish People, the piyut of Akdamut. The practice began to chant Akdamut on Shavuot, with its characteristic melody, at the beginning of the public reading which includes the "Aseret HaDibrot," the Ten Commandments.

They go on to talk about the structure of the poem which is very interesting...

 "Akdamut" - The Structure

Akdamut has ninety lines; the first forty-four begin with a double Aleph-Bet; Aleph, Aleph, Bet, Bet, and so on. The first letters of the next forty-six lines make up an acrostic in which the author expresses the prayer that the L-rd will bless him with the ability and opportunity, even in the extremely hostile environment in which he found himself, to grow in knowledge of Torah and in the performance of good deeds.

Each line of the poem, written in Aramaic, as mentioned above, ended in the letters "Tav," the last letter of the Aleph Bet, and "Aleph," the first letter of the Aleph-Bet, to show that when one reaches the last letter, the "end" of the Torah, so to speak, one immediately turns and restarts the Torah from its "beginning."

Then the poem is translated:

"Akdamut" - Free Translation of Content

Before I begin to read his Words (The Ten Commandments),

I will ask Permission,
Of the One Whose Might is such that -
Even if all the heavens were parchment,
And all the reeds pens,
And all the oceans ink,
And all people were scribes,
It would be impossible to record
the Greatness of the Creator,
Who Created the World with a soft utterance,
And with a single letter, the letter "heh,"
The lightest of the letters.

And Angels of Heaven of all kinds,

All full of fear and terror of their Master,
Have permission to praise him only at set times,
Some once in seven years, Others once and no more,

How beloved is Israel!

For the Holy One leaves the Angels on High,
To take the People of Israel as His lot -
And they make Him their King,
And declare, "Holy! Holy! Holy!"
Twice a day, Morning and Evening -

And all His Desire is that His Chosen People

Will study His Torah and pray to Him,
For they are inscribed in His Tefillin,
"Who is like Your People, Israel,
One nation in the World!"

Thus it is the will of the Holy One,

That I speak in praise of Israel,
And though all the nations come and ask,
Who can it Be, for Whom you give up your lives,
O most beautiful of the nations?
But come with us,
And we'll satisfy all your desires!

And Israel responds with wisdom,

Only a bit of the truth do they reveal,
What is your greatness, say they to the nations,
Compared to the reward that He has in store for us!
And when He sheds upon us His great light,
While you go, then are destroyed in darkness!

Yerushalayim will be rebuilt!

The Exiles will return,
The Gates of Gan Eden will Re-Open,
And all their Brilliance will be Revealed to us -
We will enter those Gates and take Pleasure,
In the Radiance of the Divine Presence,
Whom we will point to, and say -
Here is our G-d, in Whom we hoped,
He will save us!

And each righteous one under his canopy will sit,

In the Sukkah made from the skin of Leviathan,
And in the future
He will make a dance for the righteous ones,
And a banquet in Paradise,
From that Great Fish and the Wild Ox ,
And from the Wine preserved from the Creation -
Happy are those who believe and hope and
Never abandon their faith forever!

Now you my listeners,

When you hear your praise in this song,
Be strong in your faith!
And you will merit to sit in the company
Of the holy and righteous ones
In the World-to-Come!
If you've listened well to my words,
Which were uttered in holy majesty -
Great is our G-d!
The First and the Last!
Happy are we, for He loved us,
And gave us His Torah.

So...we go from an insane asylum to a prison to maybe neither, an insane Jew to a persecuted Jew who may have lost his life for what he believed...I will leave it to you to decide...

As for me, I do not believe the first report above by Mr. Lehman, I am saddened that he believed that Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai had gone insane and I am relieved to know more about the time now with so much at our fingertips, after all it was a time of great turmoil and loss of life in Europe, if you were not a Catholic, you were a heretic or a Jesus killer...sigh...how absolutely wrong they were...  I am thankful for Mr. Lehman's tribute of the Akdamut/Haddamut in "The Love of God".  It is a great song and now I know why the 3rd stanza always makes me cry when I sing it...so much the Hand of God in those words!

Here is a version from Mercy Me.
The 3rd stanza has been moved to the middle in this version...enjoy!

The Love of God - Mercy Me



KathyB. said...

I learned a lot in reading this, what a testimony to the ability of truth ( God's truth )to prevail when all seems lost, even for generations.

Kim K. said...

Beautiful in-depth analysis.... very informative! Thank you for sharing this.