I am writing this from the dining room of a sweet, retired director of religious education who has provided home hospitality for me and colleague Amy Zucker Morgenstern in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where yesterday we celebrated the installation of Diana McLean.
It’s entirely possible the sweetness of this woman, and of Amy, and of Diana, and of yesterday’s celebration, has infected me… and as I finished singing this hymn, I thought, “wow, what a sweet hymn.”
Now I admit that some of the sweetness is in the tune – it is a delightful dance by Polish violinist Leon Lewandowski, so seemingly familiar that I was sure we had other hymns set to it.
But are the lyrics really so sweet?
O hear, my people, hear me well: “I have no need for sacrifice;
but mercy, loving kindness shall alone for life and good suffice.”
Then source of peace, lead us to peace, a place profound, and wholly true.
And lead us to a mastery o’er drives in us that war pursue.
May deeds we do inscribe our names as blessings in the Book of Life.
O source of peace, lead us to heal. O source of peace, lead us from strife.
These words, from Rabbit Nachman of Bratzlav, reflect his ministry during the late 1700s, which was informed by both in-depth study of the Torah and the esoteric Kabbalah. It is a prayer of self-knowledge, searching, spiritual deepening, and deep care of each other.
So, yeah. Despite the declarative “o hear, my people”… this is a sweet hymn.
It’s a translation of Sh’ma, the first word of the central prayer of Judaism, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord [is] your God, the Lord is one.” By some traditions, religious Jews strive to make it the last words they say. It does sound a bit like “Listen up!”
Love this hymn and your comments. Rev. Debus, thanks for the typo that made me laugh: Rabbit Nachman. I once typed “Away in a Manager.”
“Rabbit Nachman” gave me pause as well…lol! Thanks, also, Rev Amy, for sharing the connection of these opening words with the Sh’ma.