elohai neshama

אלהי נשמה collage; photo by salem pearce (via instagram)

אֱלֹהַי, נְשָׁמָה שֶׁנָּתַֽתָּ בִּי טְהוֹרָה הִיא

אַתָּה בְרָאתָהּ, אַתָּה יְצַרְתָּהּ, אַתָּה נְפַחְתָּהּ בִּי,

וְאַתָּה מְשַׁמְּרָהּ בְּקִרְבִּי, וְאַתָּה עָתִיד לִטְּלָהּ מִמֶּֽנִּי

וּלְהַחֲזִירָהּ בִּי לֶעָתִיד לָבוֹא. כָּל זְמַן שֶׁהַנְּשָׁמָה

בְקִרְבִּי, מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶֽיךָ, יְיָ אֱלֹהַי וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתַי

רִבּוֹן כָּל הַמַּעֲשִׂים, אֲדוֹן כָּל הַנְּשָׁמוֹת

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, הַמַּחֲזִיר נְשָׁמוֹת לִפְגָרִים מֵתִים

My G-d, the soul that you put in me, it is pure: You created it, you formed it, you breathed it in me, and you tend it in my core. But you will take it from me and put it back in me in the world to come. For all the time that the soul is in my core, grateful am I before you, Adonai my G-d, and G-d of my ancestors, master of all works, lord of all souls. Blessed are you, Lord, the one who restores souls to lifeless bodies.

Earlier this week, a classmate led our tefila group in a guided meditation through the prayer elohai neshama (so called for the first words of the prayer). As we sat or stood in stillness and silence, listening to the meditation, experiencing this prayer in this way felt exactly right to me. Elohai neshama is an intensely personal prayer, beginning by addressing the divine with the words, “my G-d” and continuing throughout the prayer to speak directly to G-d. Many Jewish prayers are said collectively, in the first person plural (“we”), and talk about — not to — G-d. So having what was in many ways a private experience was a great choice for this prayer.

I love the progression of “you created it, you formed it, you breathed it in me.” In my meditation, I was struck by the image of a soul made for me alone: G-d was thinking of me when G-d gave me my pure soul.

On top of that, G-d is guarding (a tense shift from the previous verbs) — as in, G-d continues to guard, to tend — my soul. G-d created my soul for me, and G-d will also make sure that my soul stays in me, that it stays pure, and that I stay true to my soul and do not lose it. While my soul is in me, the prayer continues, I am grateful lifanecha, “before you,” emphasizing that personal relationship with G-d that is the birthright of my soul.

Lastly, I was really struck by my classmate’s interpretation of ribon, usually translated as “master.” He suggested that this word could denote less of a controlling G-d — and more of an expert (as in “the great masters of the Renaissance”). It resonated with me as an acknowledgement that G-d is really good at creation, and G-d gave me the soul that was right for me.

I don’t think that I want to address here the issue of taking and restoring of soul, as I find it problematic and incongruous to my understanding of the rest of the prayer. (I should definitely work it out at some point, but I’m okay leaving it for now.)

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This post is part of a series about my year-long tefila (“prayer”) group. Read other posts about the group here. View my artwork inspired by the group here.

Trackbacks

  1. […] part of our commitment to considering the transitions between prayers, we began our session with elohai neshama, singing it a few times through to an arrangement by a classmate. We then went outside for […]

  2. […] korbanot, the prayer that my tefila group is looking at this week. Unlike the guided mediation for elohai neshama, the prompts for this exercise were not the actual words of the prayer (which is part of why I […]

  3. […] part of our commitment to considering the transitions between prayers, we began our session with elohai neshama, singing it a few times through to an arrangement by a classmate. We then went outside for […]

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