Sunday, October 5, 2008

Ibn Gabirol's Keser Malchus

In last week's post, (and see also here) I referred to Reb Shlomo Ibn Gabirol's great Piyut, Keser Malchus. I had a remarkable experience this past Shabbas. I have a Kiddush at my house after the early minyan, which is baruch hashem attended by intelligent individuals who seek Torah insights, growth in ruchnius, and cholent. I mentioned the post about Gilu Bi're'ada, and how I used Ibn Gabirol's marvelous words and Rav Pinkus's story to illustrate how the emotions of fear and love, of confidence and anxiety, are joined in our avodas Hashem. One person at the table said, "Of course! Ibn Gabirol's Kesser Malchus!" I asked him how he was so familiar with the piyut, since it is rarely said these days, certainly among Ashkenazim, and he said that his special interest (during his studies at Oxford and University of Chicago) was Neo-Platonism in medieval Jewish thought, and that Adin Steinzaltz had suggested to him that he write his doctoral dissertation on Gabirol's Kesser Malchus, which is a perfect example of this philosophical stance.

As it happens, life interfered, and he did not write the dissertation, but he is thoroughly knowledgeable in the Piyut and the philosophers of that tekufa. He also mentioned that a recent study had found that among academics, the percentage of religious faithful among mathematicians is far greater than among biologists, and he attributes the difference to the mathematical focus on the reality of theoretical perfection (in keeping with his neo-platonic world-view), while biologists see the imperfection of reality. The Kiddush is, sometimes, sort of like being at the Algonquin, minus cocktails and venom, but plus a Jewish equivalent, cold beer and matjes herring.

I looked for the Piyut online, and could not find it outside an unwieldy several-hundred-page collection of Ibn Gabirol's poems, so I have typed it up. Keser Malchus is a very lengthy poem; the first chapters are mostly focused on philosophy and metaphysical imagery. But toward the end, he starts to talk in language I understand. The part I have written here is the first third of chapter 38. I don't know if you'll find it as moving as I did, but I memorized it and I have found that saying the words in my mind is comforting.

אלהי, אם עוני מנשוא גדול
מה תעשה לשמך הגדול
ואם לא אוחיל לרחמיך
מי יחוס עלי חוץ ממך
לכן אם תקטלני לך איחל
ואם תבקש לעוני
אברח ממך אליך
ואתכסה מחמתך בצלך
ובשולי רחמיך אחזיק
עד אם רחמתני
ולא אשלחך כי אם ברכתני
By the way, the Im Tikteleini Lecha Ayacheil is based on Iyov 8:13. And, you might find it interesting that Ibn Gabirol died at around 30 years old. Also, it's not easy to memorize, because the cadence doesn't really was probably written to be sung to a particular tune.
Eli sent me this Teimani chant of the Piyut on Youtube.  The link will begin the video at the paragraph above.  For most of us, it will be easier to understand if you follow along in the written version.  This is available here, paragraph 38.

Maybe it would be more accessible with a more Sefardi tune, like this Deror Yikra:
or, for after Yom Kippur,



  2. Thank you for the reference. That website only has, from what I've seen, Cole's translation. It's a good translation, somewhat more poetic than Lewis's, but it's much inferior to the hebrew.

  3. Do you know if the Moshe Hadarshan mentioned in this weeks Parsha by Rashi,Is the same as always and Rashi just now said I will tell everyone where he is from because my Pirush is almost done?

  4. "מזי רעב" - א"ת נפיחי כפן ואין לי עד מוכיח עליו ומשמו של רבי משה הדרשן מטילוש"א שמעתי שעירי רעב אדם כחוש מגדל שער על בשרו
    I would also appreciate someone who could tell me why he choose this week Parsha to tell us Where he is from?

  5. I don't know why Rashi decided now to identify Reb Moshe Hadarshan more carefully. Maybe he was learning Gittin and decided you need sheim iro.

  6. Do you Know for A fact it is the same one? I would think he added the name to indicate it is a diffrent Moshe Hadarshan.

  7. In case your Interested I checked The Chida's sefer on Personalities There is a Pirush on the Bottom he says all the Moshe Hadarshans are the same. As to why he choose this weeks Parsha to tell us which city he is from I am Unsure but Stranger than that In the Medrash Tanchumah on this weeks Parsha Hazzinu there is a Medrash brought down in his name where he is DOIRESH (GET THIS)THE NAMES OF ALL THE MERAGLIM the eitz Yosef asks how is able to Doresh names that the Gemara does not Just thought I would Share.

  8. Very interesting. I didn't think of looking at the Chidah. Yasher Kochacha.