You Who Creates Day and Night: A Poem to Expand Your Prayer Experience

082313_jews_prayer_lgYou who creates day and night
Whose crown emanates light and dark
Good and bad

How are we to understand
The slaughter of young children
The madness of war?

What do we make of the power of dictators
On the one hand and the often surprising
Lovingkindness of strangers on the other?

Creation—sudden, slow, one of a kind
One of many, mystery
Beyond understanding, wholly holy

Our hearts seek beauty
Balance among wrathful winds
And calming breezes

In the vastness of the night sky
In the brightness of the sun
We seek strength

We must face ugly news
Endure to find tiny sparks
In seemingly endless darkness

Creation—sudden, slow, one of a kind
One of many, mystery
Within understanding, wholly holy

The foundation of our wisdom must lie
Somewhere between light and dark
Perhaps in the wisdom of the body

Desperate we want a king
To make it all better
Although earthly kings fail the test

You must be more than God
Of light
Or God of dark

Creation—sudden, slow, one of a kind
One of many, mystery
Beyond understanding, wholly holy

More than God of both
Light and dark
More perhaps than light and dark themselves

What are You
Whose names are myriad
Whose oneness appears

As multiplicity
And Whose multiplicity
Appears as oneness

Creation—sudden, slow, one of a kind
One of many, mystery
Within understanding, wholly holy

We want to understand and know
Hold You away
And bring You near

Discover Your beauty while enduring pain
Forever stand on the foundation of Your guardianship
Make it through the long night’s journey into day

Some say You have turned Your face
Or do not exist
Or are a vengeful God

Creation—sudden, slow, one of a kind
One of many, mystery
Beyond understanding, wholly holy

Some ignore You
Curse You or in Your name
Some say You are not the true God

Some say You have an evil twin
Who creates dark, night, evil:
How else explain the mysteries of life and death?

Now, what do You say
God of tradition, with Whom
We have argued these thousands of years?

Creation—sudden, slow, one of a kind
One of many, mystery
Within understanding, wholly holy

I created the Big Bang
Something out of nothing
And nothing out of something

I made the stars, the planets, the sun and moon, galaxies
Novae, supernovae, the dark matter that composes
The bulk of the universe

I created the heavens and the earth,
The swimming, creeping, crawling, flying, and standing creatures,
Along with the trees, the shrubs, plants, algae, fungi, and all the rest

Creation—sudden, slow, one of a kind
One of many, mystery beyond
Within understanding, wholly holy

I set in course heavenly bodies
Whose laws govern
Human relationships

Hosted this universe
And all the others
Filled them with light

That your existence
Be lit by the glory
Of all that is holy

c 2015 Henry Rasof

Note for davvenologists and poets: This type of piyyut–Jewish liturgical poem–is a guf ha-yotzer: Guf means body, so literally this is the “body of the yotzer,” the sequence of poems of which one or more (or none) are meant to be inserted into the yotzer or, morning prayers blessing the creator of light (also called the birkat yotzer, the blessing of creation), perhaps just after “Praised are You…creating light and forming darkness…” However, other placements might be possible. What do you think?

The ancient author or authors of the prayer understood very well the problem of evil in their own time and grappled with earlier in Job. They allude to it in the blessing, which, by a slight change in wording from the biblical reference (Is. 45.7), makes sure no one thinks (God forbid!) there might be two Gods–one of light and one of darkness (as in the Zoroastrian religion).

The poem is my attempt to grapple with this question in the world today, and I feel that, however unpleasant or disturbing the references, questions, and images, it fits in the tradition (of God-wrestling, for example) and with the prayer.

A good guide to understanding Jewish prayers and making them your own is “Higher and Higher: Making Jewish Prayer Part of Us,” by Steven M. Brown (New York: United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, 1986).

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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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