Come and See: A Poem to Light Up Your Prayer Experience

082313_jews_prayer_lgWhy did You
Create light and dark?

Come and see
We do not know.

And day and night:
Why not just one or the other?

Come and see
A mystery.

Why is light
Particle and wave?

Come and see
We do not know.

Why is the speed of light
Constant?

Come and see
A mystery.

Is there a light
Around the body?

Come and see
We do not know.

What causes our eyes
To light up?

Come and see
A mystery.

Why are fireflies
And lightning beautiful?

Come and see
We do not know.

What is the ultimate meaning
Of light?

Come and see
A mystery.

Is the Book of Radiance
Just a book?

Come and See
We do not know.

After the Creation
Did light-filled vessels really break?

Come and see
A mystery.

Is there really a Torah
Of white letters on black fire?

Come and see
We do not know.

How did You conceive of light
In the first place, and why?

Come and see
A mystery.

Come and see
We do not know.

A mystery
We do not know.

c 2015 Henry Rasof

This Jewish liturgical poem, or piyyut, is a me’ora (“light”) and is meant to be inserted before the first benediction/blessing preceding the shema, which reads: “Praised are You, O Lord, Creator of lights” (Baruch ata Adonai, Yotzer ha-meorot). However, I think there is flexibility with these poems in general, since placement information is often either inconsistent or unclear. In addition, these poems do not necessarily have to fit with the liturgy. Although the morning weekday service contains some poems (other than psalms) or prayers incorporating poetic features (for example, the third and fourth paragraphs after the yotzer or, the first benediction before the kriyat shema), piyyutim are usually reserved for shabbat and holidays, because of weekday time constraints.

At one time, prayer services were so loaded with piyyutim that prominent rabbis like Maimonides argued against their inclusion, and worshippers, as they often do today, complained that services were often too long. But (congregational rabbis take note!), let’s not blame the poets: Sermons, too, were often overly long. Leon of Modena (1571-1648), who was famous for his sermons, drawing Christian clergy to hear them and sometimes preaching at more than one synagogue on the same day (perhaps to earn enough money to pay his gambling debts), complained of the short attention spans of congregants (see the truly fascinating Autobiography of a Seventeenth-Century Venetian Rabbi: Leon Modena’s Life of Judah).

About Henry Rasof

I have been writing poetry for over fifty years. During this time, I have worked as a musician, chef, book acquisitions editor, and creative-writing instructor.

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