Yedid Nefesh (“Beloved of my soul”) is a setting of a poem attributed to Eleazar Azikri, a mystical Jewish poet and scholar of the 16th century. The poem has become popularly sung at various times in the Jewish liturgy, but especially at the beginning of Shabbat. Its language expresses the relation between the individual and the divine as one of longing and of delight, using the imagery of a lover as its prime metaphor. The poem has been set to many different melodies; this piece is based on a beautiful and delicate Sephardic melody, which I originally found in Yitzhak Levy’s Anthology of Judeo-Spanish Liturgy.
I had used the melody before in an instrumental piece from 2007, and have long wanted to write a choral setting. I am honored to have written this piece for the 2019 North American Jewish Choral Festival. It was commissioned by the Zamir Choral Foundation, through the Jeanne and Irwin Mandell Fund for New Music, as part of my receiving—along with my wonderful colleagues Benjie-Ellen Schiller and Steve Cohen—the Festival’s Hallel V’Zimrah Award.
Transliterated text, and translation:
Attributed to Eleazar Azkiri (16th Century)
Yedid nefesh, av harachaman, m’shoch avdach el r’tzonach.
Yarutz avdach k’mo ayal, yishtachave el mul hadarach.
Yeerav lo y’didutach, minofet tsuf v’chol taam.
Hadur na’e ziv haolam, nafshi cholat ahavatach.
Ana El na r’fa na lah, b’harot lah no’am zivach,
Az titchazek v’titrape, v’hayta lah shifchat olam.
Vatik yehemu rachamecha v’chus na al ben ohavach.
Ki ze kamah nichsof nichsaf, lirot b’tiferet uzach.
Ana Eli, machmad libi, chusha na v’al titalam.
Higale na ufros chaviv alai, et sukkat sh’lomach
Ta’ir eretz mik’vodach, nagila v’nism’cha bach.
Maher ahuv, ki va mo’ed, v’choneni kimei olam.
Translation adapted from Siddur Chaveirim Kol Yisraeil (K’tav, 2000)
Soul-mate, Merciful Parent, draw Your servant to do Your will.
Your servant will run like a ram, will bow down before Your splendor.
For Your love is tastier than nectar or any imaginable delight.
Pleasing in Splendor, Light of the World, my soul is love-sick for You.
Please, God, heal her with the pleasure of Your light.
Then she will be strengthened and healed and will be Your hand-maiden forever.
Ancient One, let Your mercies be aroused. Pity Your beloved child,
who has so longed to see the beauty of Your power.
Pray, my God, my heart’s desire, hurry, please, and do not hide.
Reveal Yourself, Beloved, spread over me Your canopy of peace.
Let the land be lit up with Your glory, let us rejoice and revel in You.
Come quickly, my Love, the time has come. Show me Your grace as of old.