Wednesday, September 14, 2005

173. El Nora Alilah

One of the prayers in the Ne'ila service is a Sephardic song called "El Nora Alilah, " translated in the machzor as "Awesome God, let us live; forgive." The first verses plead from the gut:

Our merits few, we look to You.
The gates are closing.

In spite of sin, again help us begin.
The gates are closing.

The author is a little more positive at the end:

Let joy, not strife, embrace our life.
The gates are closing.

Redemption bring, that we may sing,
Though the gates are closing.

It's hard to hear any emotion in these square, dull English rhymes. The Hebrew, however, is a tongue-twister; I would love to find a literal translation. And the music--not a dirge, as the words would suggest, but rather peasants in a Breughel painting dancing with casks of ale. The gazelle from the Song of Songs cajoling, teasing and leaping with her lover. What happens when the dead reach heaven. The melody, of Spanish origin, is simple, repetitive, and drunken: save me now, I can't wait any longer. I've been knocking at the gate all day long, and there's only one more hour left. I need you, I need you.

I hope to live for a very long time, but should I ever know that those last hours are drawing near I will demand track 4 on my iPod, to which I listened yesterday about fifty times. I was at the service last year where the recording of this song was made. The voices of the rabbi and cantor were raw and a little hysterical, as if everything extraneous or hidden had been burnt away. I was so tired from a day of fasting, and five hours in front of the congregation with a fever (but I'll get to that part soon), that it all just swept by. I get it now. I hope I can approach those gates, and the rest of my life, with the the same honesty, chutzpah, and unbound joy as in this music.

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