Do you recall skinning your knee as a child, and usually it was your mother who would comfort you, give a hug, probably spread some mercurochrome on it, and you were off and running outside once again? Perhaps a close friend reached out to you in a time of need and just reminded you that she was there for you whenever you needed her? How often might you hear someone let you know that they are “here for you”?
All of us need reassurance from time to time. We need to know that our work is acceptable to our employer, our looks and attire are approved, our cooking is edible, our tax deductions are legitimate, we will have enough money to retire, and so much more. That reassurance can come in many forms: a hug or kiss; an emoticon; a letter; a certificate or plaque; possibly a promotion.
Our Hebrew poets struggled with ways to express our needs for reassurance from God. When we were troubled or depressed, what could we expect from God to lift our spirits? I have always found the Psalms to be a source of reassurance, as King David led a complex life that found expression in his lyric poetry. An additional, yet perhaps lesser known poet, was Solomon ibn Gabirol. He was an 11th Century Andalusian poet and philosopher who published over 100 poems and other works. To some, one of his best works is the beloved hymn Adon Olam. The most telling sign of its’ popularity is that it is sung in many traditional synagogues every morning, some use it to conclude Friday evening services in lieu of Yigdal, and most sing it to conclude all Shabbat and Festival services. Let us take a look at the concluding stanza, which begins with the words “B’yado”:
I place my spirit in God’s care; my body too can feel God near. When I sleep, as when I wake, God is with me; I have no fear.
There has been a Jewish belief that the soul departs the body while we sleep to explore and learn, returning just before we wake. Upon waking, we daily express our gratitude to God for restoring our soul to us. I find these words so reassuring to me both evening, before I retire, and in the morning, upon waking. I am not alone; God is with me. They have given me much strength over these past 100 days. Try reciting them before going to sleep. Perhaps you too may feel the power of ibn Gabirol’s words that were written nearly one millennium ago.