Creative Piyut Finding our own creativity in the poetry of our ancestors

Et sha'arei ratzon
Use: Piyut for Rosh Hashana in Middle Eastern communities sung before the blowing of the shofar in between Shaharit and Musaf and in some communities during Ne'ilah (closing serviced of Yom Kippur)

Written by: Yehuda Abbas (12th century, born in Fez and died in Aleppo)

עת שערי רצון להפתח

עֵת שַׁעֲרֵי רָצוֹן לְהִפָּתֵחַ
יוֹם אֶהְיֶה כַפַּי לְאֵל שׁוֹטֵחַ
אָנָּא זְכוֹר נָא לִי בְּיוֹם הוֹכֵחַ

עוֹקֵד וְהַנֶּעְקָד וְהַמִּזְבֵּחַ

בָּאַחֲרִית נֻסָּה בְּסוֹף הַעְשָׂרָה
הַבֵּן אֲשֶׁר נוֹלַד לְךָ מִשָּׂרָה
אִם נַפְשְׁךָ בוֹ עַד מְאד נִקְשָׁרָה
קוּם הַעֲלֵהוּ לִי לְעוֹלָה בָרָה
עַל הַר אֲשֶׁר כָּבוֹד לְךָ זוֹרֵחַ
עוֹקֵד וְהַנֶּעְקָד וְהַמִּזְבֵּחַ


At this time when the gates of good-will are soon to open, on this day, when I spread out my hands to you, please remember me! On this day of trial, the binder, the bound, and the altar.

The last of the ten tests [of Abraham]

The son born to you by Sarah

The one who your soul is closely tied to.

Get up and raise him up to me as a burnt offering On the mountain where glory shines upon you. The binder, the bound, and the altar.

שירת הפיוט בשעת הלידה:

פרופסור משה בר אשר, חתן פרס ישראל ונשיא האקדמיה ללשון העברית – כותב כי היה מנהג אצל יהודי צפון אפריקה לקרוא פיוט זה בשעה שבה האישה כורעת ללדת, כאשר מרחפת סכנה הן לחייה והן לחיי העובר. ונהגו לומר את הפיוט, כאשר צירי הלידה אחזו את היולדת. היו מזעיקים גברים, ולפעמים אפילו כיתת ילדים עם המלמד, כדי לקרוא את הפיוט, ואִם התקשתה היולדת היו גם תוקעים בשופר, וכך עשו עד שהתינוק נולד. וכך היו נשים שבתודעתן זיהו את הלידה עם סיפור העקדה.

Singing of this piyut during labor and birth process:
Professor Moshe Bar Asher, Israel Prize Laureate and head of the Academy of Hebrew Language - writes that it was a custom among the Jews of North Africa to read this poem [Et Shaarei Ratzon] when a woman was in labor, when her life or the life of the fetus was in danger. They would say this poem when the woman was having contractions. Men and sometimes even a class of children with their teacher were called in so they could chant the poem. And if the woman in labor was experiencing difficulty they would also blow the shofar until the baby was born. And thus women would associate the birthing process with the story of the binding of Isaac.

(35) 3) Completion and self perpetuation of the entire creative process. Development of the egg into a living organism, the whole process of procreation in nature is again an improvement over the original directive. At the building of the tabernacle too, we find three stages to parallel the above mentioned phases of the creative process. They are: 1) The donation of the material; 2) Appointment of the master builder and performance of the work; 3) The actual erection of the tabernacle and its becoming functional. The latter was still to come, just as in the case of the universe or earth, its function was not to commence until the end of the actual process of creativity.

(36) In short, we have "material," construction, and performance of purpose.

(ז) נצחיות החיים, גם כן תלויה רק בהשתלמות האדם בכללו בכחות גופו ונפשו. אז תוכל המכונה הגופית לעבוד עבודתה בתנאים הגונים וקלים עד מאד. כח החיים החזק הבא מנועם מתמיד בזיו גדולת הטוב והחסד וההכרה השלמה בהוד נועם אוצר החיים, אין לנו להשוות לו ערך וגבול. וכאשר אין דבר נאבד כלל מן המציאות, לא פעולה ולא כח ולא חומר, ועל אחת כמה וכמה רעיון וציור רוחני, כי הוא אדיר שבפעולות, הדבר מובן שתתעורר התשוקה לתקן גם כן את העבר, להחיות את המתים, לחדש להם חיים של הוד ועז כפי הדרת התקופה הנכבדה ההיא.

(7) Eternal life is also only dependent on the general perfection of the whole of man, his physical and psychological strength. Then, the bodily machine will be able to do its service in extremely fair and easy conditions. A powerful life-force will come from the pleasure of constant basking in the radiance of the greatness of goodness, and kindness, and the complete recognition in the splendor of pleasantry of the storehouse of life, of which we cannot compare to any value or definition. And when nothing is wasted at all in existence, no action or ability or material, and how much more so for spiritual thought and creativity (for that is the most glorious of activities), it is understood that the desire will be awakened to fix the past as well, to resurrect the dead, to renew for them a life of splendor and strength according to that glorious and honorable era.

(יג) רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר, הֱוֵי זָהִיר בִּקְרִיאַת שְׁמַע (וּבִתְפִלָּה). וּכְשֶׁאַתָּה מִתְפַּלֵּל, אַל תַּעַשׂ תְּפִלָּתְךָ קֶבַע, אֶלָּא רַחֲמִים וְתַחֲנוּנִים לִפְנֵי הַמָּקוֹם בָּרוּךְ הוּא, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (יואל ב, יג) כִּי חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם הוּא אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב חֶסֶד וְנִחָם עַל הָרָעָה. וְאַל תְּהִי רָשָׁע בִּפְנֵי עַצְמָךְ:

(13) Rabbi Shimon says: Be careful in the reciting of Shema and praying. When you pray, do not make your prayer fixed, rather prayers for mercy and supplication before the Omnipresent blessed be He, as it says (Joel 2, 13), "For He is gracious and merciful, long-suffering and full of kindness, and repenteth Him of the evil." And do not be wicked in your own eyes.

1. How can we use our own creative will to personalize prayer in a traditional context and view the text as our own?

2. Active Listening: Listen to the piyut alternating focus on the melody and the words. Write down what comes to you. This can be images, memories, poetic lines, other melodies, pictures. Whatever comes to you. Free association.

3. What situations or experiences in your life do the words and/or the melody make you think of?

4. Chavruta. Turn to a partner. Experiment together with "material, construction, and performance (of purpose)." For example, you can create additional, complementary, and/or alternate or text, melody, or image that corresponds with the piyut's aesthetic and content. Elements you can focus on in this practice: specific short phrases, Hebrew roots, overall poetic construction, musical rhythm, aspects of the story you are looking for and don't see, questions you have that you'd like to pose to the text itself, to someone else, or to G-d.