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Thoughts on a Recurring Divine Attribute

Thoughts on a Recurring Divine Attribute


I wrote last week about one of the traditional Passover songs that appears at the end of the Seder, Echad Mi Yodea, Who Knows One?  I had written some time ago about one of the other songs, Chad Gadya, One Kid.  Both are fun songs to sing and perhaps were intended, as some suggest, to keep the interest of our children and grandchildren to the end of the seder.  Most Haggadot include a couple of other songs at the end of the seder, both beginning with the same word, “Adir.”  As is common in Jewish tradition, both songs follow an alphabetical acrostic, listing words from Alef to Tav which all refer to God.  In Adir Hu, the words are all divine attributes, stating that God is Adir, Bachur, Gadol, Dagul, and continuing through the alphabet.  All of the words offer praise to God and having offered these terms of praise, we go on in each stanza to speak of God rebuilding “His house,” the Temple, soon (b’karov), May He rebuild His house soon.” We continue by singing, Bimheirah, bimheirah, b’yameinu b’karov, speedily, speedily, in our day soon.  Each verse concludes, El b’nei, El b’nei, b’nei beitcha bekarov, God build, God build, build Your house soon.


After singing “Adir Hu” twice in the first stanza, we then use three attributes of God in each of the following stanzas, working our way through the Alef Bet.  In some versions, however, the number of attributes increases rapidly as we progress through the song.  I admit that I am not terribly impressed by the content of this song but appreciate the sentiment.  Throughout the seder we are missing the Passover offering, the Pesach, which may only be offered in the rebuilt Temple.


The song, however, is certainly rather repetitive.  It has been suggested that this continued plea for speed and for accomplishing the rebuilding of the Temple soon, reflects the fact that we realize that God’s timetable is infinite, as the Psalmist puts it, “A thousand years in Your sight is but a yesterday that has passed.”  We want to remind God that we are on a much tighter schedule and would appreciate His acting much more rapidly, to speed up the divine timetable and bring about the much hoped for redemption of the world represented by the rebuilding of the Temple, which symbolizes the return of God’s indwelling spirit, the Shechinah, to our midst.


As with the other songs, this one also has no direct connection with Passover and in some traditions may have been a general holiday song used on other occasions.  Its origins go back to the Germanic countries in the late Medieval period with its first appearance in a Haggadah in Prague in the fourteenth century.  In some places it is sung both in Hebrew and in Yiddish.  The Yiddish version is more elaborate than the Hebrew which leads some scholars to speculate that the Yiddish version might have preceded the Hebrew one.


The other song beginning with “Adir” is Adir Bimluchah which has a more complex structure.  While it follows the Hebrew alphabet, the first word in each stanza refers to a quality of God’s Kingship, melucha, from the same root as Melech. The second term also refers to God and states another attribute which the poet says is Kahalacha, literally in accordance with the law, but usually translated “as is fit.”  As for the third term in each stanza, it refers not to God, but to those who sing His praises, both heavenly as well as here on earth.  Thus the first stanza begins, “Powerful in Kingship, chosen as is fit, His troops sing to Him.” What do they sing?  Here the song seems rather cryptic, “To You and to You” (L’cha u’lcha). “To You, just to You”  (L’cha ki l’cha). “To You, even to You.” (L’cha af l’cha) “To You, Lord, is the kingship.” (L’cha Adonay hamelucha.)  Then the chorus, “Ki lo naeh, ki lo yaeh.” “To Him praise belongs, to Him praise is becoming.”


What then are we to make of all of these l’chas in the middle of each stanza?  It seems that they are shorthand for three biblical verses, though there is some questions as to which.  The Conservative Feast of Freedom Haggadah suggest that  L’cha ul’cha, refers to Psalms 65:2, “L’cha dumiyah tehilah, Elohim b’Tziyon” “Praise befits You in Zion, O God.” U’lcha y’shuleim neder.” “And unto You, vows are paid.”  - L’cha u’lcha. The second verse is more familiar since we sing it as we carry the Torah around the sanctuary each week and it also appears in the P’sukei D’zimrah prayers daily where we read of David blessing the Lord as he says this verse.  It comes from the First Book of Chronicles 29:11: “L’cha Adonay hagedulah v’hagevurah v’hatiferet v’hanetzach v’hahod.” “Yours Lord are greatness, might, splendor, triumph and majesty.  “Ki kol bashamayim uva’aretz” “Yes, all that is in heaven and on earth.” “L’cha Adonay hamamlacha v’hamitnasei l’chol l’rosh.” “To You, Lord, belong kingship and pre-eminence above all.” L’cha ki l’cha.  For the third verse, we turn back to Psalms 74:16.  “L’cha yom, af l’cha Lailah.” “The day is Yours and the night is Yours also.” L’cha af l’cha. Other suggestions provide other possible verses and thus, we have no way of knowing for sure, what the poet had in mind.


This song goes back a little further it seems than Adir Hu and appears in an Italian Haggadah dating from 1269. As with most of these poetic songs, Adir Bimlucha has a variety of tunes to which it has been set.  As a college student, studying in Jerusalem during my junior year, it seemed wonderful not to be barraged by the seasonal songs of Christmas time whether they were religious hymns or secular songs, many written by Jewish composers, that play continuously, wherever one goes throughout November and December each year in this part of the world.  In fact, it turned out that we actually missed those songs a bit.  In the spring, however, Israel radio began playing what we might call “Passover carols.”  One song which I picked up from the radio was a melody for Adir Bimlucha or Ki Lo Naeh.  It is constructed in such a way that each stanza is linked to the following one.  Thus as one repeats the chorus of Ki Lo Naeh, ki Lo yaeh, one adds the opening phrase of the next stanza.  Following this pattern, at the final stanza, one needs to return to the beginning and conclude with the words, “Adir bimlucha.”


Both of these songs, begin with the word “Adir,” which I was a bit uncertain how to translate.  Looking in the Alcalay Hebrew-English dictionary, I found that they list seven different suggested translations:  great, powerful, mighty, noble, majestic, splendid, and glorious.  All of these seem quite appropriate ways of referring to God.  Looking at the Even-Shoshan Hebrew dictionary, he breaks this down into several categories.  His first definition is chazak, kabir, strong and mighty.  He cites the Song of the Sea where the Egyptians are drowned in Mayim Adirim, mighty waters.  The Psalmist also uses this word in a verse that we recite in the holiday prayers, from Psalm 8, Adonay Adoneinu, mah adir shimcha b’chol ha-aretz, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth.” In the Kedushah prayers on Shabbat, we use the phrase, “Adir v’chazak mashmi’im kol.” We speak of a thunderous voice, powerful and strong, over-powering the seraphim in their chorus.  Even-Shoshan cites as his second definition, ruler or head, which fits with the idea of majesty and nobility.  In fact, in a secular context, the word adir can refer to prominent thinkers or figures of nobility.  Yet as a third definition, Even-Shoshan says simply that Adir is a term of honor for God.


In a more popular Hebrew dictionary, Shweike’s Milon HaShalem, he gives a contemporary definition of Adir as is used in everyday discourse: very great, strong, powerful. He also says that in Israeli slang Adir is used for anything that makes a strong impression, wonderful, splendid.  It could be a piece of artwork or the latest movie.  Adirim can also refer to prominent scholars of the Torah or equally to prominent people of wealth. 


The attribute Adir reminds me as well of popular Shabbat table song that we used to sing at camp also following an alphabetical acrostic. Each verse uses four letters of the alphabet, the first refers to an attribute of God, and once again, for aleph we use the word Adir, Ein Adir kadonay, there is none as Adir (powerful, majestic) as the Lord.  The second term refers to Ben-Amram, Moses the son of Amram, Ein Baruch k’ven Amram, No one is as blessed as the son of Amram.  The third term refers to the Torah, Ein Gedulah kaTorah, there is no greatness like the Torah.  The fourth term refers to us, the people of Israel who study Torah, v’ein dorsheha k’Yisrael. And there are none who interpret it, the Torah, like Israel.  The chorus is “Mi pi El, mi pi El, y’vorach kol Yisrael” From the mouth of God, from the mouth of God, may all Israel be blessed.


In the Haggadah, Adir Bimlucha precedes Adir Hu, and it has been suggested that we praise God’s might in redeeming us from Egypt in the past and then look to the future when God’s might will again be revealed as He brings about redemption in the future, restores the Temple, and once again dwell among us throughout the world.  That would truly be Adir.





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