Shavuot and a Famous Prayer

akdamutIf you have ever read bad religious poetry, it makes you appreciate all the more the relative handful of exquisite verses that can draw us in and transport us to paradise. At Shavuot we find one of those rare hymns which causes us to delight in God.

The Akdamut (Ashkenazi Jews say Akdamus) is an Aramaic poem written in the eleventh century by Meir ben Isaac Nehorai, a German cantor.

As is typical in some Biblical poetry, the Akdamut makes use of literary features involving letter sequences. In the first half, the lines begin with letters in order of the Hebrew (Aramaic) alphabet. In the second half, lines begin with the letters spelling the name of the author. Even more interesting, each line ends with a suffix of two Hebrew letters: tav and aleph, the last and the first letters of the alphabet. The suffix symbolizes the end and the beginning, a recurring cycle, which is about the endless cycle of Torah study which is the delight of Jews everywhere.

The original intention of the prayer was for it to be read just before the scripture portion about Mt. Sinai and the giving of the commandments during the Shavuot morning service. Some congregations have moved the prayer until after the Torah service, though others continue the older tradition.

The prayer moves from creation’s beauty reflecting God’s glory to a description of the wonders of the World to Come and to the angelic beings praising God and his chosen nation studying the perfect words of Torah.

The most famous stanza of the Akdamut is worthy by itself as a great poem and great prayer:

Were the sky a parchment made
A quill each reed, 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.
–Translated by Joseph Marcus, from the 1946 Rabbinical Assembly Sabbath and Holiday Prayerbook

You can read the entire Akdamut online here.

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About Derek Leman

Derek Leman and his wife Linda live in the Atlanta, Georgia, area with their eight children.
This entry was posted in Holidays, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Shavuot and a Famous Prayer

  1. amiel4messiah says:

    Shalom Derek. I absolutely love this prayer and have shared it with many friends and believers over the years. The very first time I came across it was in a (Christian) universalist devotional by Thomas Kissinger. It’s an awesome poem and catches a glimpse of the G-d of Avraham, Yitzak and Yaakov. It also puts down the misconception that grace and love are only part of the (renewed) covenant. My Rebbe, Dr Aron Les Gosling, uses it every year during Yom Kippurim. Shabbat Shalom!

  2. chadse00 says:

    Derek,

    Your blog is such a rich blessing to me. I am a follower of Jesus Christ and have tremendous respect for Judaism and the Hebrew Scriptures. I feel as if I am just discovering our beautiful and enchanting God.

    When I first read the excerpt you provided it reminded me of a hymn that was sung when I was a child called “the Love of God”

    here is the final verse: (I think the author had read the Akdamut!)

    Could we with ink the ocean fill,
    And were the skies of parchment made,
    Were every stalk on earth a quill,
    And every man a scribe by trade;
    To write the love of God above
    Would drain the ocean dry;
    Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
    Though stretched from sky to sky.

    thank you so much for your blog. blessings.

  3. What do you know . . . I looked it up on google under “hymn history love of god” and found that Frederick Lehman (hmm, sounds like a German Jew) wrote “The Love of God” in 1917 and based it on the Akdamut.

    You learn new things every day.

    Here is a link to the site where you can read about it and hear the hymn:

    http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/l/o/loveofgo.htm

    Derek

  4. Pingback: Shavuot prayer | Auctivastoreen

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