Yedid Nefesh

Composition and audio © Alexander Massey 2011

The poem of Yedid Nefesh is usually attributed to the 16th century kabbalist Rabbi Elazar Ben Azikri, although he never claimed authorship. The text is often sung at Kabbalat Shabbat, the service bringing in Shabbat on Friday evening, but it is also used on Shabbat afternoon at Seuda Shlishit, the ‘third meal’ of Shabbat, and the last one before the end of Shabbat; some Chassidic Jews sing Yedid Nefesh every morning. Whenever it is sung, its purpose is both to bring the yearning heart closer to God, and to invite God closer to His people and creation, so that they become fully aware of and rejoice in God’s presence. The word formed from taking the initial letter from each of the four verses spells YHVH, the Tetragrammaton, the mystical, unpronounceable name of God.

In homage to the kabbalistic origins of the text, I have structured each line of text as 10 bars, to parallel the 10 sefirot (’emanations’) of the Tree of Life. In the verses, the first and third lines are split into two five-bar phrases. The middle line has a bar structure of seven and three, to echo the idea of the division of seven lower sefirot and three upper sefirot. The lower sefirot represent Creation and the world, and the upper sefirot represent the heavenly realms. This poem / song is about finding the connection between the two, bringing heaven to earth, and elevating earth to heaven.

Kabbalah teaches of the ‘hiddenness’ of God. In the refrain (to be sung by everyone), the 10 bar structure can be disguised by changing the phrasing and breathing places each time the refrain returns. God is always present, even when outward forms (or sounds) change.

Literal translation

1. 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.

2. Majestic, Beautiful, Radiance of the universe, my soul pines 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.

3. 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.

4. 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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