“You set the patterns of the moon”

El Adon and Another Pinchas Addendum

(5) Glory and honor they give to You
glowing praises to Your rule
You call to the sun and it gives forth light
You set the patterns of the moon

(6) You are honored throughout the heavens with songs of glory and praise
[the Seraphim, Ophanim and holy beings ascribe glory and greatness]

Shevach notnim lo kol tz’va marom
[tiferet ugdulah serafim ve’ofanim vechayot hakodesh]

— from “El Adon,” a hymn of Creation
in the Shabbat and Festival morning services
translation from Mishkan T’filah,
[MT inexplicably omits the final (“tiferet“) line]

Alyssa Gray, who comments on “Our Talmudic Heritage” in My People’s Prayer Book: Shabbat Morning (v.10), links the sun/moon verse — “You call to the sun and it gives forth light; You set the patterns of the moon” — to Numbers 28:15, in parashat Pinchas. This is the Talmudic story about God seeking atonement for having diminished the moon. (The same teaching is variously attributed to Simeon ben Azzai and to Shimon ben Pazi.)

Gray doesn’t say anything more, beyond mentioning the story. But I find the link fascinating in this context: The suggestion seems to be that even when we’re singing joyful praises of God as Creator, imperfection and pain is included in the praise-worthy whole.

Background on El Adon

Several teachers mention that the poem consists of 11 lines as follows:

  •  the first line contains 10 words (for the 10 commandments)
  •   next: 9 lines of 8 words each (totaling 72, as in one of God’s names)
  •   finally: a twelve-word line (as in the tribes of Israel)[Mishkan T’filah, as noted above, is missing this 11th line]

Also noted by many sources, the hymn incorporates God’s rule over the planets (those known at the time the poem was composed) through the initial letters of the words in verse 6:

  • SH[evach] for SHabtai (Saturn);
  • N[ot’nim] for Nogah (Venus);
  • K[ol] for Kokhav (Mercury);
  • TS[‘va] for TSedek (Jupiter); and
  • M[arom] for Ma’adim (the red one, Mars).

Musical background:

  • a host of tunes at Piyut.org.il, which is an amazing site for exploring the music of prayerbook poetry
  • the Moditzer melody, linked there, is one I hear pretty frequently (e.g., on “Virtual Cantor“)
  • another common Ashkenazi melody (not on the piyut site) — one some folks may know — is more upbeat
  • Here’s a from Bnai Jeshurun in NYC.
  • I have several more extraordinarily beautiful versions to share — from the Shalshelet competition and from Rabbi Kaplan’s Tuning the Soul. But I don’t have the rights to post them; will try to share at our next study session.

All are welcome to join Temple Micah’s siddur study group, which meets on the last (4th or 5th) Shabbat of each month, following services and a little lunch. Email siddurstudy at templemicah.org with any questions.

NOTE: The final line of the hymn “El Adon,” which appears on pp. 314-315 in Mishkan T’filah, is not included. I only noticed the omission myself this past Shabbat, as Temple Micah doesn’t include “El Adon” in the morning service.

I have inquiries into the URJ publishing arm and several Reform rabbis to see if anyone knows whether the omission is a result of bad proofreading or a deliberate choice to avoid mentioning seraphim, ophanim, and other angels. If anyone knows anything about this, please share!

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Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages WeLuvBooks.org, blogs on general stuff a vspatz.net and more Jewish topics at songeveryday.org and Rereading4Liberation.com

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