shelters.

Yedid Nefesh, published in 1601, is often part of the Sabbath liturgy. The images of drawing close in love to God and asking to be sheltered in His goodness fit well into the heart of Sukkot, which is being celebrated this week as in Leviticus 23:

So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the Lord for seven days; the first day is a day of sabbath rest, and the eighth day also is a day of sabbath rest. On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. Celebrate this as a festival to the Lord for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

When people set aside time in the midst of life to do no work, rejoice before their God, even eat and live outside of their houses for a week, they are given a tangible and unique opportunity to remember. Not the kind of memory that is easily recalled but doesn’t take much of your attention. This should be the kind that distracts, that gets in the way of other things, that begins to sink in and impact you; it has lasted with clarity “for the generations to come,” as part of the memory and testimony of who God is in their experience.

The prophet Jeremiah gave words from God to Jerusalem in his time: “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown.” For everyone, God’s desire isn’t only for the trust stirred when faithfulness comes naturally, but for devotion that lasts despite tiredness, the rhythms of normal life, even aspects of uncertainty. It’s hard to describe this kind of trust because it exists only as part of a real relationship. It’s impossible to comprehend why parts of our world are so broken and painful in people’s lives or why prayers seem to go unanswered. It’s true when people warn that it would be both awful and immoral to numb the questions with some kind of answer rather than doing everything to give people what is needed in this situation. And because my experiences of need can’t be compared to a lot of others, I can’t say much about it. A prayer of trust is still one of the most valuable and strong things I know how to choose, and to hear it resonating in other people’s lives, wherever they have been and whatever is happening, means a lot.

A strong tradition related to Sukkot is that it celebrates the clouds of God’s presence that sheltered and provided for the nation in the wilderness. There are times to plead and repent, times to mourn, times to remember in thankfulness and joy, and each is a time to come closer.

Yedid Nefesh

Beloved of the soul, Compassionate Father,
draw Your servant to Your Will;
then Your servant will hurry like a hart
to bow before Your majesty;
to him Your friendship will be sweeter
than the dripping of the honeycomb and any taste.

Majestic, Beautiful, Radiance of the universe,
my soul pines [lit: is sick for] for your love.
Please, O God, heal her now
by showing her the pleasantness of Your radiance;
then she will be strengthened and healed,
and eternal gladness will be hers.

Enduring One, may Your mercy be aroused
and please take pity on the son of Your beloved,
because it is so very long that I have yearned intensely
to see speedily the splendour of Your strength;
only these my heart desired,
so please take pity and do not conceal Yourself.

Please, my Beloved, reveal Yourself and spread upon me
the shelter of Your peace;
illuminate the Earth with Your glory,
that we may rejoice and be glad with You;
hasten, show love, for the time has come,
and show us grace as in days of old.

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