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  • Writer's pictureHesh Meister

Lyric of the Week: 18 BENEDICTIONS

Blessed art Thou, Shield of Abraham

The blues overtakes me, wherever I am


Thou art faithful to revive the dead

Revive me from all these thoughts brewing in my head


Thou art holy and thy name is holy

Let me find my way back to my one and only


O grant us knowledge, gracious Giver of knowledge

The kind I’ll never get in college


Forgive us, our father, for we have sinned

You don’t wanna know the places I’ve been


Look upon our affliction and champion our cause

Even if I’ve played fast and loose with your laws


Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed

I’ve grazed too much grass growing in those strange fields


Bestow a blessing upon the face of the earth

Send her to me, for whatever she’s worth


Lift up our banner to bring our exiles together

Take this land of never and let me leave it forever


The King who lovest righteousness and justice

I want to believe this, but it’s so hard to trust this


Who breakest enemies and humbles the arrogant

Let all who done me wrong suffer shame and embarrassment


Who art the stay and the trust of the righteous

‘Cuz what’s going on wasn’t supposed to be like this


Return in mercy to thy city Jerusalem

‘Cuz the cities around here, I’ll never get used to ‘em


Speedily cause salvation to flourish

And just as fast cause me to find my own courage


Hear our voice and accept it with favor

It ain’t easy livin’ on the edge of this razor


May the worship of thy people be ever pleasing to thee

And save just a piece of that redemption for me


Who restores thy divine presence to Zion

I can’t get there from here but believe me I’m tryin’


O Beneficent One, to whom it befits to give thanks

My attitude is gratitude, take that to the bank


Blessed art Thou, bless thy people with peace

Bless me also to find my own way to release.


©2024 The Hesh Inc.

Shemoneh Esrei / Siddur Shilo
Shemoneh Esrei ("18") - the central part of the Jewish prayer service.

When I attended Trenton State College (now The College of New Jersey) in 1995, I took a fascinating class, called "The Blues," as part of my English language requirement. The class treated blues lyrics as a vital part of the American idiom, and gave the history of the blues form and of its artists. The course materials included two anthologies, compiled by the professor, of blues lyrics from the late 19th to the late 20th centuries, from obscure artists as well as the better-known ones. One of the 'deeper cuts,' so to speak, was a song based on the Lord's Prayer, which would have one line from the biblical text of the prayer followed by another line responding in blues vernacular. The professor gave us an assignment to write our own lyrics based on one of the songs in the anthology, and the idea for this song was born ... a Jewish version of the "Lord's Prayer" song, based on the Shemoneh Esrei (also known as the Amidah),* the central part of all Jewish prayer services.


This is not actually that song, though. I did the assignment and got a good grade on it, with a note the professor added after the fifth or so benediction, to the effect of "I get the idea." But then later on, in the course of one of my many relocations, my coursework and the anthologies were lost, probably disposed of when I was trying to lighten my load. In late 2023, while I was revisiting my unfinished songs (in the wake of my father's passing, when I was acutely feeling my own mortality looming), which had been languishing in various notebooks in some cases for decades, I searched high and low amongst my "archives" to see if somehow the anthologies and my assignments had somehow survived and traveled with me. Alas, to no avail; I had to create a new song from scratch.


There are actually two versions of the song—one that I call the "ArtScrawl" version because I based the prayer lines on a more 'modern' translation of the original Hebrew. But I found that it lacked that 'spiritual edge' often conjured up by more archaic texts, which the Lord's Prayer song possessed. So I wrote a second version, which I call the "Burndown" version, making use of an older translation that suited the concept much better. This is the version presented here, which I finished on December 27, 2023. No music just yet (why I didn't have the presence of mind to seek out a recording of the Lord's Prayer song when I still had the anthology, I'll never know; Googling so far has turned up nothing), but I'm willing to collaborate with contemporary blues artists to come up with something.


 

*Shemoneh Esrei means "eighteen," so called because the prayer originally consisted of 18 blessings or benedictions when it was composed during the early Second Temple era (6th century BCE) by the Men of the Great Assembly, the governing body of the Jews who returned to their land from the Babylonian exile; a 19th was added during a time of Roman persecution of Jews in Judea in the early second century CE. Amidah means "standing," so called because the prayer is recited and chanted while the congregation stands.

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