El melekh yoshev is one of the principal supplications of the s’liḥot, or penitential, liturgy, which is recited throughout Yom Kippur and daily during the s’liḥot period preceding Rosh Hashana and leading up to Yom Kippur. The text belongs to the oldest portion of s’liḥot liturgy, thought to date to the Babylonian and Talmudic period (and perhaps known then in Palestine as well). It imagines God as the omnipotent King who sits on a “throne fashioned out of mercy”—and who thus, by His very nature and essence, pardons His people according to the “thirteen attributes of God’s mercy.” Those are contained within the text as well. Adler wrote this setting as part of a suite of High Holy Day liturgical pieces, entitled Hinei Yom Hadin (Behold, the Day of Judgment!). In this one, his aim was to mirror the typical undertone of communal prayer recitation in orthodox and traditional synagogues. “I have always been fascinated by the sound of a praying congregation,” noted the composer, “when everyone prays and recites at his own pace, typically in a murmuring ‘singsong’ that can appear to be mumbling. I have tried to simulate that effect at the beginning of this piece, with the chorus intoning the opening words at various speeds before the cantor’s entrance. This is a very dramatic text, drawing an awesome picture of God as He judges each individual, yet always with mercy; therefore, I have tried to create a tension in the music, which is only partially resolved at the end in the prayer.”
Sung in Hebrew
Translation by Rabbi Morton M. Leifman
God, King, You occupy a throne built on mercy.
Your deeds reflect Your loving-kindness.
You forgive Your people’s iniquities—
Putting each aside, one by one.
You expand forgiveness for the sinner, and pardon for the transgressor.
Your righteousness extends to all creatures of flesh and spirit; You do not assign a full measure of punishment to those who err.
God, You taught us that when in need of atonement, we are to recite Your thirteen attributes of mercy.
Thus, today we ask You to remember us for our well-being.
Remember: take note of Your covenant with us, which enumerates those thirteen attributes.
You revealed all this to Your humble servant Moses centuries ago, as is recorded in Scripture:
“And the Lord had descended in a cloud; He stood with Moses there and proclaimed the Lord’s name. The Lord passed before Moses and said":
The Lord, the Lord, God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, trusting in loving-kindness and truth; preserving His grace for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and cleansing from sin.
Pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Your own.
Publisher: G. Schirmer
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