Mi Adir – Composition and audio © Alexander Massey, 13 Nov 2013
Mi Adir is a text that is traditionally used at a Jewish wedding as the couple processes to the chuppah. Last year, I composed a new musical setting for it, and as always, I studied the text closely to see what treasures might be found it.
What is special about Mi Adir? Why is it one of the very few prayer-blessing texts that is always used at the opening of a Jewish wedding? I have searched for an answer amongst commentaries and Jewish texts on weddings, and not found an explanation. The last line, of course, blesses the couple. But is there anything particularly significant in the wording of the first four lines beyond general praise, important though that is? Texts in traditional liturgy are usual dense with layers of meaning – is there more to Mi Adir than meets the eye?
The opening words of each of the first four lines run as follows: “Mi Adir … mi Baruch … mi Gadol … mi Dagul”. The four main words start respectively with aleph, beit, gimmel, dalet. What is behind the choice to construct the blessing with the first four letters of the Aleph-beit (Hebrew alphabet)?
There is a much longer song – Adir Hu – that we sing at Pesach (Passover) that starts very similarly: “Adir hu … bachur [Aramaic] hu … gadol hu … dagul hu …”. It continues: “yivneh beito b’karov; bimheirah bimheirah, b’yameinu b’karov; eil b’neih eil b’neih, b’neih beito b’karov” (‘He will build his house soon; quickly, in our days soon; God will build His house soon.’) Each of the 22 verses starts with a letter from the Aleph-beit: the clear symbolism is that using the whole Aleph-beit represents the totality of God, as well as the tools of God’s process of creation and repair (speaking the world into being with the 22 letters).
But Mi Adir uses only the first four letters of the aleph-beit. What could that mean? I think the answer to this mystery lies in the Talmud. There is a passage that teaches about the deep symbolism of the letters of the aleph-beit, both in their formation, and in their sequence. Here is a translation of the first half of the passage (covering the first 12 letters from aleph to lamed):
Alef Bet [means] ‘learn wisdom [Alef Binah]; Gimmel Dalet, show kindness to the poor [Gemol Dallim]. Why is the foot of the Gimmel stretched toward the Dalet? Because it is fitting for the benevolent to run after [seek out] the poor. And why is the foot of the Dalet stretched out toward the Gimmel? Because he [the poor] must make himself available to him. And why is the face of the Dalet turned away from the Gimmel? Because he must give him [help] in secret, lest he be ashamed of him. Heh, Vav, that is the Name of the Holy One, blessed be He; Zayin, Chet, Tet, Yud, Kaf, Lamed: [this sequence teaches,] and if you do thus, the Holy One, blessed be He, will sustain [Zan] you, be gracious [Chen] to you, show goodness [meiTiv] to you, give you a heritage [Yerushah], and bind a crown [Keter] on you in the world to come [oLam haba has a Lamed in the middle]. [Shabbat 104a]
What this passage tells us is that if letters 1-4 (and their implied virtuous actions) are present, then God (represented by letters 5 and 6) will provide the person with letters 7-12 (and their implied blessings). In Mi Adir, the couple is blessed in hidden code with letters 1-4. The fifth line begins hu y’vareich ‘May He bless’. I believe that this sequence is a reference to the Talmudic passage, which means that Mi Adir has not only its obvious, surface meaning, but also the deeper meaning of invoking for the couple all the other blessings described in Shabbat 104a as well – sustenance, grace, inheritance [of all that was promised to the ancestors], and a place in the world to come. Truly Mi Adir is then a profound and powerful blessing.
If this interpretation of Mi Adir up to, but not including, the final four words is correct, could there also be a deeper meaning for those final four words (eit ha-chatan v’eit ha-kalah)? Those last four words begin respectively with the letters aleph, heh, vav, heh. I would like to suggest – is it too fanciful? – one possible meaning for these four letters. Connecting them in speech could give us the sound ‘A-H-V-H’. Is it pure chance that this sounds like the Hebrew word ahavah (spelled aleph-heh-beit-heh), meaning ‘love’? What better way to complete a blessing for a couple on their wedding day?
Mi adir al hakol
Mi baruch al hakol
Mi gadol al hakol
Mi dagul al hakol
Hu y’vareich et hachatan v’et hakalah.
He who is mighty above all,
He who is blessed above all,
He who is great above all,
He who is distinguished above all,
May He bless the groom and the bride.