Where We Can Find Yah, a prayer-poem by Eugene Kohn (1945) inspired by Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali (Song Offerings, 1912)

Source (Hebrew) Translation (English)

Where We Can Find Yah

יָהּ אָנָה אֶמְצָאֶֽךָּ.
כְּבוֹדְךָ מָלֵא עוֹלָם׃ (ר’ יהודה הלוי — “יָהּ, אָנָה אֶמְצָאֲךָ”)
Yah, where shall I find you,
Whose kavod fills the universe?[1]From the piyyut, “Yah Anah Emtsa’akha” by Rabbi Yehudah Halevi. Cf. Baḥya ibn Pakuda in his מחשבת ישראל, חובות הלבבות, שער ראשון – שער ייחוד, י׳ (Duties of the Heart, First Treatise on Unity 10.67). ונאמר על קצת מן החכמים שהיה אומר בתפלתו אלהי אנה אמצאך אך אנה לא אמצאך נסתרת ולא תראה והכל ממך מלא. דומה למה שאמר יתברך (ירמיהו כ״ג:כ״ד) את השמים ואת הארץ אני מלא נאם ה׳. “It is said of one of the Sages who would say in his prayer: “My elo’ah, where can I find you, yet where can I not find you. You are hidden and invisible yet everything is filled with you, similar to the verse ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth says YHVH’ (Jeremiah 23:24).” (Many thanks to Aryeh Sklar for his identification of the piyyut via this statement by ibn Pakuda.

הִנֵּה שָׁם אֶמְצָאֶֽךָּ.
בַּאֲשֶׁר הַחוֹרֵשׁ חוֹרֵשׁ אֶת־הָאֲדָמָה הַקָּשָׁה.
בַּאֲשֶׁר הַחוֹצֵב מְנַפֵּץ אֲבָנִים.
בַּאֲשֶׁר הָאָדָם בְּזֵעַת אַפָּיו מוֹצֵא לַחְמוֹ.
בְּחִדְלֵי חֶֽבֶר עִם הָעֲנִיִּים וְהַשְּׁפָלִים וְהָאוֹבְדִים.
עִמָּם אַתָּה בְּשָׁרָב וּבְמִטְרוֹת עֹז׃
Behold, I find you
Wherever the ploughman ploughs his furrow through the hard soil,
Wherever the quarryman pounds the stone to gravel,
Wherever man earns his bread by the sweat of his brow.
In the company of the friendless, the afflicted, the lowly, the lost,[2]Cf. Gitanjali canto 10
There you abide in sun and shower.[3]Cf. Canto 11.

הִנֵּה שָׁם אֶמְצָאֶֽךָּ.
בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר הַתְּבוּנָה חָפְשִׁית לְרוּחָהּ.
בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יוֹצְאִים הַדְבָרִים מִמַּעֲמַקֵי הָאֱמֶת.
בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר שׁוֹלַֽחַת מַשְׂאַת־הַנֶּֽפֶשׁ אֶת־זְרוֹעוֹתֶֽיהָ בְּלִי מַעֲצוֹר אֶל כׇּל־שָׁלֵם.
בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר הָאָדָם נִלְחָם לְצֶֽדֶק וּלְחֵירוּת.
בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר הַחוֹקֵר יָגֵֽעַ לַחְשֹׁף מִסְתְּרֵי עוֹלָמֶֽךָ.
בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר הַמְשׁוֹרֵז חוֹרֵז לפְּנִֽינֵי־יֹֽפִי.
בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר מַעֲשִׂים נַעֲלִים יֵעָשׂוּ׃
Behold, I find you
Wherever the mind is free to follow its own bent,
Wherever words come out from the depth of truth,
Wherever tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection,[4]Direct quotation of the fourth and fifth lines of Gitanjali‘s canto 35. Note that the Hebrew translation by David Frishman is also directly quoted.
Wherever men struggle for freedom and right,
Wherever the scientist toils to unbare the secrets of nature,
Wherever the poet strings pearls of beauty in lyric lines,
Wherever glorious deeds are done.

הִנֵּה שָׁם אֶמְצָאֶֽךָּ.
בִּתְרוּעוֹת גִּיל הַיְלָדִים בְּשַׁעֲשׁוּעֵיהֶם.
בְּזִמְרַת הָאֵם הַמְטַלְטֶֽלֶת אֶת־עוֹלָלָהּ בָּעָֽרֶשׂ.
בַּשֵּׁנָה הַנּוֹפֶֽלֶת עַל־עֵינֵי עוֹלָל.
וּבַשְּׂחוֹק הָרוֹעֵד עַל־שְׂפָתָיו מִדֵּי יָשְׁנוֹ׃
Behold, I find you
In the merry shouts of children at play,
In the lullaby the mother sings, rocking her baby to sleep,
In the slumber that falls on the infant’s eyelids,
And in the smile that plays on his sleeping lips.[5]Cf. cantos 60 and 61.

הִנֵּה שָׁם אֶמְצָאֶֽךָּ.
בְּבוֹא הַבֹּֽקֶר עִם טֶֽנֶא זְהָבוֹ.
וּבְבוֹא הָעֶֽרֶב וַהֲבִיאוֹ שָלוֹם וּמְנוּחָה מִיַּם הַמְּנוּחָה בַּמַּעֲרָב.
בַּחֶדְוָה הַזּוֹרֶֽמֶת מִן הַשָּׁמַֽיִם עִם אוֹר הַבֹּֽקֶר.
בְּזִמְרַת הַחַיִּים הַשּׁוֹטֶֽפֶת יוֹם וָלַֽיְלָה בְּתוֹךְ גִידַי וּבְתוֹךְ הַיְקוּם.
בַּחַיִּים הַדּוֹפְקִים בֶּעֱלִיצוּת גִּיל בְּקֶֽרֶב עֲפַר הָאֲדָמָה.
בְּתוֹךְ טַרְפֵי עֵֽשֶֹב אֵין מִסְפָּר.
וּמִשְׁתַּפְּכִים בַּהֲמוֹן גַלִּים סוֹעֲרִים בְּתוֹךְ עַלִים וּפְרָחִים׃
Behold, I find you
When comes the dawn with her golden cornucopia,
Or when evening falls, bringing peace and rest from the Western ocean of rest.[6]Cf. Canto 87
You are in the joy that streams from heaven with the morning light,
In the current of life that courses day and night
through my sinews and through all nature,
In the life that throbs exultant in the dust of the earth and through the blades of grass innumerable,
And that flows, in a multitude of tempestuous waves, through the leaves and flowers.[7]Cf. Canto 69

הִנֵּה שָׁם אֶמְצָאֶֽךָּ.
בַּעֲתֶֽרֶת הַחֶדְוָה אֲשֶׁר תַּחֲלֹף וְתִגְוַע וְתָמוּת כָּל־רֶֽגַע.
בְּדֹֽפֶק הַחַיִּים אֲשֶׁר מֵעוֹלָם הַמְפַזֵּז גַּם בְּקֶֽרֶב דָּמִי.
בַּלֵּדָה הַמְחַדֶּשֶׁת תָּמִיד אֶת־הַ‎דּוֹרוֹת.
וּבִדְפֹק הַמָּֽוֶת עַל־דַּלְתֵי הַחַיִּים׃
Behold I find you
In the wealth of those passing delights that live but for a moment,
In the pulsebeat of a life that comes from eternity and dances in my own blood,[8]Cf. Canto 69
In birth that keeps renewing the generations,
And in death that keeps knocking on the doors of life.

אֱלֹהַי.
מַלְּאֵֽנִי תָמִיד חַיִּים חֲדָשִׁים׃
תֶּן־לִי כֹֽח לִשְׁמֹר אֶת־בְּשָׂרִי לְמַֽעַן יִטְהַר
מִּכׇּל־כֶּֽתֶם מִכׇּל־נֶעְקַשׁ בְּחַיַּי.
וּמַחְשְׁבוֹתַי מִכׇּל־כָּזָב׃
גָּרֵשׁ כׇּל־רָע מִקֶּֽרֶב לִבִּי.
וְהַרְחֵק גָּאוֹן מֵרוּחִי.
תֶּן־לִי בִינָה לִמְצֹא אוֹתְךָ בְּכׇּל־מִפְעָלַי.
וְהָיוּ חַיַּי נְכוֹנִים וִישָׁרִים.
כִּי יָדַֽעְתִּי כִּי אַתָּה הוּא הַמְאַזְּרֵֽנִי כֹֽח לְמַֽעַן אֶפְעָל׃
O my elo’ah,
Fill me ever with new life.
Give me strength to keep my body pure
Of all stain and perversion,
And my mind of all illusion.
Banish all evil from my heart,
And remove all pride from my spirit.
Grant me discernment that I may discover you in all my achievements,
That my life be ready and at your disposal,
For I know that it is you who girds me with the power to achieve.

אֱלֹהַי.
תֶּן־לִי כֹֽח לְבִלְתִּי הַזְנִֽיחַ לְעוֹלָם דָּל.
וּלְבִלְתִּי כָפוֹף בִּרְכַּי לִפְנֵי עָרִיץ גְבַה־רוּחַ.
תֶּן־לִי כֹֽח לְנַשֵּׂא אֶת־רוּחִי מֵעַל־תַּעְתּוּעֵי יוֹם וָיוֹם.
לָשֵׂאת עַל־נְקַלָּה אֶת־חֶדְוָתִי וְאֶת־דַּאֲגָתִי.
וּלְהַסְגִּיר אֶל חֶפְצְךָ אֶת־כׇּל־כֹּחִי בְּאַהֲבָה.
תֶּן־לִי כֹֽח לְהוֹדוֹת לְךָ עַל־כׇּל־מוֹשָׁב דָּל.
עַל־כׇּל־חֵֽלֶק חַיִּים קָטָן.
כִּי רַבּוֹת הַמַּתָּנוֹת אֲשֶׁר נָתַֽתָּ לִּי.
אֶת־הַשָּׁמַֽיִם וְאֶת־הָאוֹר. אֶת־בְּשָׂרִי זֶה.
וְאֶת־הַחַיִּים וְאֶת־הַנְּשָׁמָה.
אוֹצְרוֹת אֵין עֲרוֹךְ. אוֹצְרוֹת חַיִּים וָחֶֽסֶד׃
O my elo’ah,
Give me the strength never to desert the helpless,
Never to bend the knee before a haughty tyrant.
Enable me to live my life above the vanities of the daily round,
To bear serenely joyous and anxious moments,
And in love to devote all my powers to doing your will.
Give me the ability to thank you for even the poorest dwelling,
For even the most meagre portion in life;
For abundant are the gifts you have given me:
The sun, and the light, and this my flesh,
Life and the soul —
Treasures invaluable, treasures of life and love.

The prayer-poem “Where We Can Find God” first appears in Hebrew with English translation by Eugene Kohn in the Sabbath Prayer Book (Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation 1945). It is not entirely clear who composed the prayer-poem; by way of attribution, the editors of the Sabbath Prayer Book only write that it was “adapted from passages in David Frishman’s [Hebrew] translation of [Rabindranath] Tagore’s Gitanjali” (see p.570). Several lines in the poem can indeed be found in Frishman’s translation of Gitanjali from English to Hebrew. (Gitanjali‘s translation into Hebrew, published in 1922, was one of the final works David Frishman (also Frischmann, 1859-1922) completed in his lifetime.)

Tagore’s Gitanjali (Song Offerings) is comprised of 103 “songs” or cantos. I’ve provided notation indicating which of Tagore’s songs in Gitanjali have inspired lines and stanzas in “Where We Can Find God.”

I am nearly certain that “Where We Can Find God” was composed by Eugene Kohn. Tagore’s canto 35 includes the lines, “Wherever words come out from the depth of truth / Wherever tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection” and David Frishman’s Hebrew translation has בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יוֹצְאִים הַדְבָרִים מִמַּעֲמַקֵי הָאֱמֶת. בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר שׁוֹלַֽחַת מַשְׂאַת־הַנֶּֽפֶשׁ אֶת־זְרוֹעוֹתֶֽיהָ בְּלִי מַעֲצוֹר אֶל כׇּל־שָׁלֵם. In “Where We Can Find God” the Hebrew (source) has the exact wording of Frishman while Kohn’s English (translation) provides the exact wording from Tagore’s canto 35. My conclusion is that since the author of “Where We Can Find God” was equally familiar with Gintanjali’s original English and David Frishman’s translation, it makes sense to see that the listed translator, Eugene Kohn, was also the prayer-poem’s author.

The prayer-poem has been incorrectly attributed at least twice. First in Rabbi Morrison David Bial’s An Offering of Prayer where it is attributed directly, albeit “freely adapted” to Tagore. Chaim Stern in his own translation appearing in Gates of Prayer (1975 CCAR Press) seems to attribute the prayer to David Frishman: “Page 659: “Lord where can I find You? You glory fills the world…” Translation by Chaim Stern from David Frischmann’s Hebrew version of Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali. Cf. Chaim Stern’s earlier translation in Service of the Heart [1967] pp. 225ff. and Eugene Kohn’s translation in Recontructionist Sabbath Prayer Book [1945], pp. 342-9.”

I have made some very light editing to “Where We Can Find God,” mainly to replace ‘Thee,’ ‘Thy’, and ‘Thou’ with ‘you’ and ‘your.’ And I have also made other subtle changes to bring the English translation closer to the Hebrew. –Aharon N. Varady.

Source(s)

Notes   [ + ]

  1. From the piyyut, “Yah Anah Emtsa’akha” by Rabbi Yehudah Halevi. Cf. Baḥya ibn Pakuda in his מחשבת ישראל, חובות הלבבות, שער ראשון – שער ייחוד, י׳ (Duties of the Heart, First Treatise on Unity 10.67). ונאמר על קצת מן החכמים שהיה אומר בתפלתו אלהי אנה אמצאך אך אנה לא אמצאך נסתרת ולא תראה והכל ממך מלא. דומה למה שאמר יתברך (ירמיהו כ״ג:כ״ד) את השמים ואת הארץ אני מלא נאם ה׳. “It is said of one of the Sages who would say in his prayer: “My elo’ah, where can I find you, yet where can I not find you. You are hidden and invisible yet everything is filled with you, similar to the verse ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth says YHVH’ (Jeremiah 23:24).” (Many thanks to Aryeh Sklar for his identification of the piyyut via this statement by ibn Pakuda.
  2. Cf. Gitanjali canto 10
  3. Cf. Canto 11.
  4. Direct quotation of the fourth and fifth lines of Gitanjali‘s canto 35. Note that the Hebrew translation by David Frishman is also directly quoted.
  5. Cf. cantos 60 and 61.
  6. Cf. Canto 87
  7, 8. Cf. Canto 69

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