Personally Connecting to Adon Olam

A Jewish Joke:

Q: Who are the 3 cowboys of Adon Olam?

A: Billy Reisheet, Billy Tachleet, and (Af) Kid Ruchi.

Adon Olam “on one foot”:

Adon Olam is a prayer about G-d at the beginning of the weekday morning service and the end of Shabbat and Festival morning services. It is attributed to Solomon ibn Gabirol (1021–1058), though some think it was written by Sherira Gaon (900-1001), or his son, Hai ben Sherira Gaon (939-1038). The piyut (liturgical poem) started to become popular in the 1400s. It was originally meant to be used at bedtime (and still is), was added to the end of the Yom Kippur evening service in Worms, Germany, and from there migrated to its current places in the liturgy. In Morocco, it is sung at weddings before the bride reaches the chuppah / wedding canopy.

(ב) אֲדוֹן עוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר מָלַךְ,

(ג) בְּטֶֽרֶם כָּל יְצִיר נִבְרָא:

(ד) לְעֵת נַעֲשָׂה בְחֶפְצוֹ כֹּל,

(ה) אֲזַי מֶֽלֶךְ שְׁמוֹ נִקְרָא:

(ו) וְאַחֲרֵי כִּכְ֒לוֹת הַכֹּל,

(ז) לְבַדּוֹ יִמְלֹךְ נוֹרָא:

(ח) וְהוּא הָיָה וְהוּא הֹוֶה,

(ט) וְהוּא יִהְיֶה בְּתִפְאָרָה:

(י) וְהוּא אֶחָד וְאֵין שֵׁנִי,

(יא) לְהַמְשִׁיל לוֹ לְהַחְבִּֽירָה:

(יב) בְּלִי רֵאשִׁית בְּלִי תַכְלִית,

(יג) וְלוֹ הָעֹז וְהַמִּשְׂרָה:

(יד) וְהוּא אֵלִי וְחַי גּוֹאֲלִי,

(טו) וְצוּר חֶבְלִי בְּעֵת צָרָה:

(טז) וְהוּא נִסִּי וּמָנוֹס לִי,

(יז) מְנָת כּוֹסִי בְּיוֹם אֶקְרָא:

(יח) בְּיָדוֹ אַפְקִיד רוּחִי,

(יט) בְּעֵת אִישַׁן וְאָעִֽירָה:

(כ) וְעִם רוּחִי גְּוִיָּתִי,

(כא) יְהֹוָה לִי וְלֹא אִירָא:

(2) Master of the Universe who reigned

(3) before any creature / creation was created.

(4) At the time when all was made according to God’s will,

(5) then “Ruler” God’s name was called.

(6) And after all things shall cease to be

(7) the Awesome One will reign alone.

(8) God was, God is,

(9) and God shall be in glory.

(10) God is One / unique, and there is no second / peer

(11) to compare, to join God

(12) Without beginning, without end,

(13) power and dominion are God’s.

(14) The Lord is my God and my ever-living Redeemer,

(15) the Rock of my destiny in times of distress.

(16) God is my miracle and my refuge;

(17) the portion of my cup on the day I call.10 God answers me.

(18) Into God’s hand I entrust my spirit

(19) [both] when I am sleep and when I am awake.

(20) And if my spirit leaves,

(21) God is with me, I shall not fear / be afraid.

Context: This is the text to Adon Olam.

1. What reactions do you have to it?

2. What questions do you have about it?

3. Why would we end a service like this?

4. Lines 2-13 describe G-d as the transcendent G-d of the universe, while lines 14-21 describe G-d as the personal G-d of the individual. Which image resonates with you more?

5. Based on your understanding of G-d, how do you feel about the idea of G-d as the “master of the universe”?

6. If G-d is the master of the universe, what does that say about our responsibility to care for this planet?

7. This prayer is also part of the prayers said before going to sleep, possibly in recognition that not everybody wakes up in the morning (hence why we say “Modeh Ani” upon waking). How do you feel about saying this at night?

8. The prayer says that “G-d is with me, I shall not fear”. Does this work for you as a strategy to reduce anxiety? Whether or not it does, what else works for you?

9. The Rabbis said that the Torah began with the letter Bet to teach us that we should not think about what came before Creation as we simply can not know. How does this text jive with thinking about the unknowable?

10. “Adon Olam” is often sung communally, bringing everybody together as the service ends. How important is it to you to feel connected to the people you pray with, and what can you do to increase that feeling of connection?

The Sephardic Version

The Sephardic version is longer. Here’s a video of it being sung:

Musical Versions

“Adon Olam” is written with 4 beats per phrase, which means that it goes well with any song written in 4/4. Here are two songs that take on pieces of “Adon Olam”, followed by some traditional tunes and then some contrafactions (taking one tune and applying it to new words). Additionally, it is often set to the “signature tune” for holidays, such as “Maoz Tzur” on Chanukah (pro tip: do 2 sets of 5 lines — no repeats of words — to make it fit better).

This was written by Craig Taubman; it is being performed by Todd Herzog (also a Jewish singer-songwriter). The two parts of the song work together, and you can hear that here:

This take on “Adon Olam” was written by Tara Mizrahi.

This is the French Sephardic tune, sung by Cantor Brian Shamash. The visuals are coming from Tefillah Trainer, a computer program notated by Cantor Neil Schwartz and produced by Kinnor Software (better known for Trope Trainer).

This is another tune, written by Eliezer Gerovitch (1844-1914). For more information about him, see:

This tune repeats the phrases of the refrain, though that isn’t shown in this video. Sometimes people pretend to play instruments in the repeating parts (trombone, trumpet, flute, triangle, trombone, cymbals).

This version of “Adon Olam” was composed by Uzi Hitman and Oded Ben-Hur in Israel in 1976. This video shows them singing it in concert. To see ballet dancers dancing to this tune, go here:

This is “Adon Olam”, set to “You’ll be back” from “Hamilton”. It is sung by Cantor Azi Schwartz, of Park Avenue Synagogue in New York.

This version is sung by the Abayudaya community in Uganda.

This is to the tune of “Cups” from the movie “Pitch Perfect”. It’s sung by the Jewish a cappella group “Listen Up”. If you like that tune, you can hear the Maccabeats apply it to “D’ror Yikra” here:

This is “Adon Olam” set to the Backstreet Boys “I Want It That Way”.

This is a Gospel setting by Joshua Nelson

This is the tune of “Rock Around the Clock”.

Adon Olam Sources

(ה) הָרִ֗ים כַּדּוֹנַ֗ג נָ֭מַסּוּ מִלִּפְנֵ֣י יְהֹוָ֑ה מִ֝לִּפְנֵ֗י אֲד֣וֹן כׇּל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃
(5) mountains melt like wax at the LORD’s presence,
at the presence of the Lord of all the earth.

Context: This is from the Biblical Book of Psalms. Here we see the word “Adon” referring to G-d.

(ד) שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהֹוָ֥ה ׀ אֶחָֽד׃

(4) Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one.

Context: This is from the Biblical Book of Deuteronomy. It is the Shema, and it is the source for the idea that G-d is “echad” - “one”.

(ה) תַּעֲרֹ֬ךְ לְפָנַ֨י ׀ שֻׁלְחָ֗ן נֶ֥גֶד צֹרְרָ֑י דִּשַּׁ֥נְתָּ בַשֶּׁ֥מֶן רֹ֝אשִׁ֗י כּוֹסִ֥י רְוָיָֽה׃
(5) You spread a table for me in full view of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my drink is abundant.

Context: Same psalm, this time giving the word “kosi” - “my cup”.

(ד) גַּ֤ם כִּֽי־אֵלֵ֨ךְ בְּגֵ֪יא צַלְמָ֡וֶת לֹא־אִ֘ירָ֤א רָ֗ע כִּי־אַתָּ֥ה עִמָּדִ֑י שִׁבְטְךָ֥ וּ֝מִשְׁעַנְתֶּ֗ךָ הֵ֣מָּה יְנַֽחֲמֻֽנִי׃
(4) Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness,-b
I fear no harm, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me.

Context: This is from Psalms, specifically Psalm 23 (“Mizmor L’David”). Here we have the phrase “lo ira” - “I shall not fear”, as well as the idea of G-d being with us.

With appreciation to: Tara Mizrahi, Neil Tow, Rabbi SB Gershuny, Chavy Konikov, Sarah Hass Robinson, Ari Lev Fornari, Siddur Or Chadash, and Cantor Neil Schwartz

Appendix: Transliteration

Adon Olam transliteration

Adon olam, asher malach, b'terem kol y'tzir nivra.
L'et na'asah v'cheftzo kol, azai melech sh'mo nikra.

V'acharey kichlot hakol, l'vado yimloch nora.
V'hu haya, v'hu hoveh, v'hu yih'yeh b'tifara.

V'hu echad, v'eyn sheni, l'hamshil lo, l'hachbira.
B'li reishit, b'li tachlit, v'lo ha'oz v'hamisrah.

V'hu Eli, v'chai go'ali, v'tzur chevli b'et tzarah.
V'hu nisi umanos li, m'nat kosi b'yom ekra.

B'yado afkid ruchi, b'et ishan v'a'irah.
V'im ruchi g'viyati, Adonai li v'lo ira.