Elohai N’shamah – its music and meaning

Music and recording © Alexander Massey 11 March 2015

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אֱלהַי נְשָׁמָה שֶׁנָּתַתָּ בִּי טְהורָה הִיא

Elohai, n’shamah shenatata bi, t’horah hi.

My God, the soul You have given me is pure.

The Talmud teaches us to say ‘God’ as our first word when we wake in the morning (Berachot 60b) – God, the origin of everything, the essence of everything, and the ultimate destination of everything. Elohai – God of me, or to me – establishes our fundamental bond with God. N’shamah – ‘soul’, or perhaps ‘soul essence’ or even ‘soul-ness’ – is our most essential connection to God. God’s breath is our breath. Our soul is made of God’s soul. Shenatata bi – soul is a gift, intimately and freely given. T’horah hi – soul is a gift that makes purity our very essence.

The implications of this cannot be over-estimated. No matter how far we may stray, and whatever our ‘missings of the mark’, our God-given soul and purity give us the reason and the ability to be ‘theotropic’, do t’shuvah, and grow back towards God. We can start again, every day, every moment if we have to. Rabbi Nathan of Nemirov, a student of Reb Nachman of Bratslav wrote:

“The Rebbe became accustomed to constantly begin anew. Whenever he fell from his particular level, he did not give up. He would simply say, ‘I will begin anew. I will act as if I am just beginning to devote myself to G-d and this is the very first time.’ This happened time and again, and each time he would start all over again. He would often begin anew many times in a single day.” [1]

The soul of God calls to my soul, and my soul calls to God’s soul in an endless cycle of love. T’hom-el-t’hom korei -“Deep calls to deep” (Ps 42:7).

The Elohai n’shamah prayer affirms that all humans have a pure, God-connected soul. Jacob eventually saw his brother Esau in this way: “I see your face as one sees the face of God.” (Gen 33:9) Indeed, it is, perhaps the very means by which he is able to bridge the gap between them: Deep calls to deep. …. I see your face as the face of God. When we recognise “that of God” (George Fox, Quaker) that lies at the heart of each other, we make the Sh’ma real, loving with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength.

There are two other articles about this text and music:

  1. Elohai N’shamah and 2 meditations
  2. Elohai N’shamah: its deeper meanings

[1] Rabbi Nathan of Nemirov (1973) Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom: Shevachay HaRan & Sichos HaRan, translated and annotated by Aryeh Kaplan, Breslov Research Institute, p.8

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