Sephardi Piyut of Rosh Hashana

עֵת שַׁעֲרֵי רָצוֹן לְהִפָּתֵחַ
יוֹם אֶהְיֶה כַפַּי לְאֵל שׁוֹטֵחַעֵת
אָנָּא זְכֹר נָא לִי בְּיוֹם הוֹכֵחַ
עוֹקֵד וְהַנֶּעְקָד וְהַמִּזְבֵּחַ

בָּאַחֲרִית נֻסָּה בְּסוֹף הַעְשָׂרָה
הַבֵּן אֲשֶׁר נוֹלַד לְךָ מִשָּׂרָה
אִם נַפְשְׁךָ בוֹ עַד מְאֹד נִקְשָׁרָה
קוּם הַעֲלֵהוּ לִי לְעוֹלָה בָרָה
עַל הַר אֲשֶׁר כָּבוֹד לְךָ זוֹרֵחַ
עוֹקֵד וְהַנֶּעְקָד וְהַמִּזְבֵּחַ

More of the piyut.

Sacrifice of Isaac, painting by Caravaggio
Sacrifice of Isaac, painting by Caravaggio

Many of the piyutim (liturgical songs) that we sing at Congregation Etz Ahaim on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are beautiful, memorable melodies, but one that stands out in particular is Et Sha’arei Ratzon. The poem was written by R. Yehuda ben Shmuel Ibn Abbas in the 12th century; it is a haunting retelling of the Akeida, the story in which Avraham brings his son Isaac as a sacrifice and then he is stopped by an angel. The repeated verse that most remember is “Oked veHanekad VeHamizbeach” – “the binder, the bound, and the altar.” Here is Avraham the binder bringing his son the bound on the altar – a scary, hard to explain, difficult to comprehend episode in the Torah. It seems like we too on Rosh Hashana are coming before God; like for Avraham, it is the “Et Sha’arei Ratzon” – the time of the gates of grace or desire. The Akeida is part of the Torah reading for Rosh Hashana.

My husband explained some of the midrashim of this song. The first is a lie that Avraham tells Sarah, that he is taking Yitzhak (Isaac), her beloved only son, to study Torah. In the next, Avraham, Yitzhak (Isaac) and his servants are approaching the mountain, but at some point the servants are told to stay behind because, according the English translation in the Sephardi siddur, they are not “spiritually worthy.” The Hebrew, however, calls them “חֲמוֹר”. (Hamor may possibly be translated as donkey). When Isaac is taken to be sacrificed, he worries about his mother Sarah, how she will weep for him. The angels ask that Isaac be spared, that there shouldn’t be a world without a moon (i.e., without Isaac, who is compared to the moon).

The poet, who starts the poem with gates of “ratzon” (desire?) ends with gates of “rahamim” (pity, mercy) and a call for salvation.

You can listen to the piyut on the website (try using Internet Explorer on a PC). One of the advisers of that site of piyutim is Dr. Meir Buzaglo, who was a visiting professor for a year at the Rutgers Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life and a visitor to Etz Ahaim, as well.

Our chazzan, Refael Ishran, who lives in Israel but visits Congregation Etz Ahaim in Highland Park on the High Holidays, sings this and other melodies beautifully and with great kavana (concentration). I prefer his melody to the one on the piyut website. Too bad his CD is not available for purchase online.
***Note: this week is the holiday of Sukkot, but I don’t want to wait until next summer to publish this post.***

10 thoughts on “Sephardi Piyut of Rosh Hashana

    • I am glad you both like it. I feel like I am talking to a limited audience, but I know how much this is appreciated by some.

      In one of the Amazon reviews of the Spinoza book on your blog the commentator talks about his anger at Spinoza for not continuing his Sephardi heritage. Here I am, an Ashkenazi woman, trying to do my little part in preserving the liturgy and melodies. And explain some of the midrashim that are themselves supposed to help explain the text.

  • “Et Sha’arei Ratzon” is one of the most beautiful Pizmonim, and one of the first I was ever acquainted with during my growing up as a Syrian Jew and three-times-a-year shul attendee. I never knew the background of this, only the melody. Thank you for such an interesting explanation!

  • I remember this piyut from my days in Toronto where I attended a Sephardic synagogue on the High Holidays. It was a thrill to hear the melody again after so many years.

    Could I get a translation of the text into English?

    • Glad you enjoyed the piyut! I’m not that talented to be able to do my own translation, and I couldn’t find one online. Maybe I’ll get a mahzor from our shul sometime before next Rosh Hashana and type the translation myself.

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