In 1970, shortly after I completed my New Year’s Service for Young People, I wrote the first of Three Candle Blessings. The simplified musical language that I used for the Rosh Hashana service spilled over into this piece. First performed in the autumn of 1970 at Temple Israel in St. Louis, where I was the music director, it was dedicated to Mary Gallatin, a dear friend and colleague—now deceased—who was the music director at Temple Emanuel there. Mary and I, along with other community organists and cantors, were founders of the St. Louis Circle of Jewish Music, an organization that embraced all three major branches of American Judaism.
The first b’rakha has become one of my most frequently performed pieces—both to my pleasure and to my dismay, since the other two b’rakhot, written two years later, have been overshadowed. These were also premiered at Temple Israel, during the 1972–73 season, and were dedicated respectively to Linda Kramer, on the staff of Temple Israel, and to Patti Teper, a friend and local radio personality. I mention these dedications only to point out that the b’rakha over the Sabbath candlelighting is—in terms of its requirement—the domain of women, one of the few prayers to be so designated. This lovely ceremony, traditionally performed at home before sunset, has been incorporated into the American Reform Friday evening service in many synagogues. To capture the delicacy of the rite, I was fortunate to be able to use for the cover of the published score an enchanting painting by Harriet Gross, a St. Louis artist, of a young girl looking up at the hands of her mother, who is murmuring the b’rakha.
There is a formal design to these three settings in that the first is to be sung by a soprano, the second by an alto and soprano duet, and the last by an alto solo. The midsection duet of the second b’rakha is based on a contrapuntal fragment written by Harry Coopersmith, which is found in The Songs We Sing (1950), his landmark anthology. The readings, added since the work was composed, are often recited in the Reform rite on Sabbath eve (Numbers 1 and 2); the third is for the Sabbath as well as other holy days. If there is a whiff of the style of Gabriel Fauré in this last piece, I happily plead guilty.
Recited in English; sung in Hebrew
BLESSING NO. 1
In every beginning there is darkness.
The darkness of chaos seems eternal,
Yet form emerges: light dawns, and life is born.
In every beginning there is darkness:
The darkness of ignorance, which smothers human dignity;
The darkness of fear, which chokes the creative will;
The darkness of tyranny, which stifles freedom.
The Most High said: Let there be light!
Barukh atta adonai eloheinu melekh ha’olam asher kid’shanu
b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel shabbat.
[You are worshiped, O Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has made us holy through His commandments, and who has commanded us to kindle the Sabbath lights.]
Translation: Rabbi Morton M. Leifman
May God bless us with Sabbath joy. (CHOIR: Amen.)
May God bless us with Sabbath holiness. (CHOIR: Amen.)
May God bless us with Sabbath peace. (CHOIR: Amen.)
BLESSING NO. 2
Come, let us welcome Shabbat and give thanks for its light.
May our homes shine with the lights of Shabbat
And our hearts glow with Shabbat joy
This week and every week.
barukh atta...shel shabbat.
May the Eternal One bless us with Sabbath joy. (CHOIR: Amen.)
May the Almighty One bless us with Sabbath holiness. (CHOIR: Amen.)
May the Holy One bless us with Sabbath peace. (CHOIR: Amen.)
BLESSING NO. 3
It has been said:
“You shall keep the flame burning on the altar continually;
It shall not go out....”
In this spirit would we keep alive within us
The flame of faith.
And in this spirit we kindle the yom tov light.
barukh atta...shel shabbat v’shel yom tov.
[You are worshiped...to kindle the Sabbath and Holy Day lights.]
May we be blessed with light. (CHOIR: Amen.)
May we be blessed with joy. (CHOIR: Amen.)
May we be blessed with peace. (CHOIR: Amen.)
Publisher: Theophilous Music, Inc.
Reading Recording: Clinton Recording Studio, New York, NY, May 2002
Reading Recording Engineer: Tom Lazarus
Editing Engineers: Tim Martyn, Marc Stedman
Spoken texts adapted from Gates of Prayer
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