One of the Most Spectacular Songs of Praise in the Jewish Liturgy

Nishmat starts with the wide-open sky and the wings of eagles; it ends deep inside the recesses of the body, in our vital organs.

Hasidic pilgrims pray along a river near the burial site of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Uman, Ukraine. Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images.

Hasidic pilgrims pray along a river near the burial site of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Uman, Ukraine. Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images.

Atar Hadari
Observation
Dec. 28 2016
About the author

Atar Hadari’s Songs from Bialik: Selected Poems of H. N. Bialik (Syracuse University Press) was a finalist for the American Literary Translators’ Association Award. His Lives of the Dead: Poems of Hanoch Levin earned a PEN Translates award and was released in 2019 by Arc Publications. He was ordained by Rabbi Daniel Landes and is completing a PhD on William Tyndale’s translation of Deuteronomy.


One of the most spectacular songs of praise in the Jewish liturgy is the prayer known as Nishmat (“Soul of”), after the first word of its opening line: “The soul of all that lives shall bless Your name.” (My attempt at a translation of the poem appears at the end of this essay.) Reserved for Sabbaths and major holidays, it culminates the series of psalms and praises of God with which the morning service begins, and concludes with a blessing that marks the transition to the next part of the service. Interestingly, it also makes an appearance at a parallel juncture in the Passover seder.

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More about: Jewish liturgy, Prayer, Religion & Holidays, The Monthly Portion