Adon Olam: Timelessness ‎

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			Some say that Adon Olam has been sung to more tunes than any other song in the world. ‎While we cannot comment on the likelihood of that claim, we can say that Adon Olam has ‎been sung to a heck of a lot of tunes. It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if the number tops ‎‎100. It is a poem that was written with a very regular meter – down, up, down, up…the ‎whole way through. Consequently, it can be sung in many different musical rhythms. You ‎name the tune - it’s a good bet that it can be fit into Adon Olam. But more important than the ‎meter are the words. They represent the very best of Sefaradic liturgical poetry. We don’t ‎know for sure if Solomon ibn Gabirol actually wrote it, but he’s the best guess out there. It ‎fits in perfectly with his long poem Keter Malkut. Here is the complete poem: ‎
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‎‘Master of the universe, who reigned ‎
Before all things were created; ‎
At the time everything was made by His will ‎
Then His name was called ‘King’. ‎
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And after everything has ceased to be ‎
He, the Awesome One, will reign alone; ‎
And He was, and He is, ‎
And He will be, in splendor. ‎
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And He is one, and there is no second, ‎
To compare to Him, to associate with Him; ‎
Without beginning, without end, ‎
To Him is the power and the authority. ‎
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And He is my God, and my living Redeemer, ‎
And a rock for my pain at the time of trouble; ‎
And He is my miracle and a refuge for me, ‎
The portion of my cup on the day that I call. ‎
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Into His hand I deposit my spirit, ‎
At the time of sleep and when I will awake ‎
And with my spirit is my body; ‎
Hashem is for me, and I shall not fear.’ ‎
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Analysis ‎
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It is beautiful poem in the great tradition of Sefaradi poems devoted to God. Each stanza has ‎four lines. Each line essentially has eight syllables with a couple of stretches to fit in with that ‎number. The second and fourth verses of every stanza rhyme in Hebrew. It is hard to imagine ‎a more fitting song of praise for the rational image of God that was cementing its way ‎into the Sefaradic mindset. It has it all – creation by the will of God, God as king, God’s ‎timelessness, God’s oneness, God’s uniqueness, God’s power, God as the personal redeemer, ‎the Rock, the Refuge, the Holder of spirits, the personal God. This is about as concise and as ‎perfect a way of describing the non-mystical Jewish image of God as could have been ‎written. It’s a shame to spoil it by analyzing it. ‎
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First off, this is all very nice and beautiful, etc, but how did God reign before anything was ‎created? And how will God reign after everything ceases to be? And if God does reign when ‎nothing else is around, why is God only called ‘King’ when creation actually happens? What ‎is the connection between God’s reigning and the line ‘He was, He is, and He will be’? If ‎God didn’t have a beginning and won’t have an end, how did God come into being? What is ‎the meaning of ‘my living Redeemer’?  Why does the author say that ‘Hashem is for me’ in ‎the last line? And of course, what image of God emerges from all this? ‎
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We’ll go through the poem line by line, answering the questions as we proceed. ‘Master of the ‎Universe who reigned before all things were created’ – God’s reign does not resemble the rule ‎of a human king, who needs subjects in order to reign. God’s kingship is independent of any ‎creations to revere or fear Him. But while it’s all well and good for the poem to state this, ‎how is it so? ‎
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‎‘And after everything has ceased to be, the awesome One alone will reign’. Perhaps these ‎lines tell us something important about God’s kingship. By virtue of God being God, God is ‎king. Creation is just one state of God’s reality. Without having created anything, with just ‎the awesome God existing alone, God was already king. After all creation ceases God will ‎also be king. How are we to understand the nature of God’s kingship? ‎
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‎‘He was, He is, He will be, in splendor’. The answer to these questions takes us into one of ‎the most profound ideas of Jewish philosophical theology. God exists in a timeless reality. ‎There is no difference between the past, the present and the future in the divine reality. There ‎is simply being, existing. Our inability to fully grasp this blending of the past and the future ‎into the present is a reflection of our being embedded into the created reality, in which the ‎distinction between the three states is absolute. If we could somehow extricate ourselves from ‎that time dependence, we would see that time itself is a creation and not an absolute feature ‎of all reality. In the timeless reality of God the past is the present which is the future. If God ‎is king in one, God is king in all, for they are all the same. ‎
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‎‘At the time when all things were made by His will, then His name was called ‘King’. Why is ‎God’s name only called ‘King’ when everything was made? It seems that the created state ‎has something over the uncreated state. The difference between them is not from God’s ‎vantage point. It is from the vantage point of the creation. We can only call God’s name ‎‎‘King’ when we exist to do so. God can be king before creation since there is no before for ‎God. But God cannot be called ‘King’ by anything else, since those other ‘things’ must be ‎created if they are to recognize God and proclaim His kingship. ‎
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‎‘And He is one and there is no second to compare to Him or to associate with Him; without ‎beginning, without end – to Him alone is strength and authority’. To ask the question of how ‎God came into being is to assume that God has to come into being. It is to compare God to ‎other creations. This is the natural assumption of any creation. We are limited by the horizons ‎in which we exist. It is almost impossible for us to transcend those limits. But we have to do ‎the impossible when it comes to understanding God. God transcends those limitations. God’s ‎transcendence is such that it takes God out of the realm of creation altogether. No beginning ‎and no end does not mean non-existent. On the contrary, it means that God doesn’t need to ‎be created in order to exist – God is existence. ‎
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‎‘And He is my God, my living Redeemer; a Rock for my pain at the time of trouble; and He ‎is my miracle, a refuge for me; the portion of my up on the day that I call’. What is a ‘living ‎Redeemer’? Is there such a thing as a dead redeemer? The word ‘living’ is not used here to ‎distinguish it from ‘dead’. It doesn’t mean living in the normal sense but in the sense of being ‎actively ‘there’ in all situations of my life. The relationship between God and the poet has ‎shifted. The first three stanzas imaged God in the abstract, absolute sense. God is timeless; ‎God is king; God is existence. The last two stanzas deal with God on a personal level. God is ‎‎‘alive’ in the sense that in all my life, as I experience it, God is there for me. A ‘dead’ God ‎would not be able to be there whenever I need it. A living God lives my life with me - ‎redeeming me, being a rock and a refuge for me, occasionally acting in a manner that makes ‎me recognize a miracle, but in general, just being there as a part of my life. ‎
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‎‘Into His hand I deposit my spirit when I sleep, and when I will awake; and with my spirit is ‎my body; Hashem is for me, I shall not fear’. The final line sums up this entire poem. In the ‎end, throughout all the thick and thin of life, the only constant is God. There are good times ‎and bad times, there is a time when we are alive and a time when we are not. There are ‎moments in life when we are awake and moments when we are asleep. Throughout it all, God ‎is there. There is nothing to fear if we know that behind everything life throws at us, God is ‎watching and waiting somewhere in the shadows. I, in my limited perspective on the world, ‎in my limited perspective on my own life, think that I know how it should be done. But am I ‎really so far above the fray that I can claim the authority and the strength to run the universe ‎as I see fit? Only God lives above it all, knowing what was, what is, and what will be. And ‎God, with that timeless awareness, passes into my immersed-in-time life to be with me. It is ‎the greatest miracle there is. The King, who is timeless, is with me, who is not. I have nothing ‎to fear. ‎
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Perceiving the Image ‎
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Can we relate to a God who exists beyond time and is just as at home in an uncreated reality ‎as in a created reality? It is all about expanding the mind. We are limited by the reality of ‎time, but why should that limitation restrict us from imagining a reality in which time plays no ‎part? The imagination knows only the bounds that the rational mind places on it. If those ‎bounds could be overcome there are no limits. In our dreams we face no such limitations. The ‎impossible happens with regularity. The reality of dreams shows that it is at least possible to ‎see beyond the restrictions of a time-oriented world. It is during sleep and while in the dream ‎state that the soul ‘returns’ to God temporarily and catches a little glimpse of God’s timeless ‎reality. We awaken, but we remember the faintest glimmer of that reality. That glimpse stays ‎with us, carrying us through all of the ups and downs of the waking world. At the end of the ‎day, God is timeless and that is the ultimate reality. There is nothing to fear from the roller ‎coaster of time. ‎
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It is truly an amazing experience to catch that glimmer of timelessness. It is like tasting a ‎wonderful new flavor for the first time. It will be difficult to sustain, just as it is difficult to ‎hold on to the memory of a dream. But with concerted practice in allowing the imagination to ‎roam into uncharted territories it can actually happen. It is in the realm of the imagination that ‎this journey must take place, for the imagination is our sole pathway to the timeless world of ‎dreams. It may come as a surprise such an intellectually oriented image of God can only be ‎experienced through the haphazard faculty of the imagination. Timelessness is one of the ‎royal roads to God. It is taking a step into a different reality and recognizing that it isn’t so ‎foreign after all. A feeling of familiarity slowly creeps in. God was there for you all along. ‎
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Reflections ‎
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Timelessness is one of those experiences that we’ve all felt at one ‘time’ or another but ‎couldn’t quite place the feeling in any standard category. What if it were true that the time-‎oriented reality we exist in were not the ultimate reality after all? What if experiencing ‎timelessness was the ultimate reality of God? How would this change our lives? ‎
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