In the past few years, during which I adopted the small synagogue of North African Jews on the street I live in for the Yom Kippur prayers, I encountered the beautiful liturgical poem “Yah Hear your Poor People“ (Ya Shema Evionecha) by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, that is sung with great force at the beginning of the Mincha Prayer (afternoon prayer).
The liturgical poem opens with a direct appeal to God – an almost informal appeal – “Yah“ (one of God’s names), like a child calling to his friend on the playground. The first verse of the poem, which is given in the work, is like an appeal for the attention of God, an appeal made specifically to His sense of hearing (Shema – Hear, Oznecha – Your Ear).
The words in this verse of the poem reflect our deep need – the poor servants appealing to God – to get the Creator to listen to us. We therefore appeal to Him any way possible – in prayer, in liturgical poetry, in song – and, just in case, also in body language, that is presented here in the word “Yah“, that is expressed in sign language. The signs reverberate the tags that appear above the biblical letter.
The liturgical poem “Yah Hear your Poor People“ touches the existential anxiety of the worshipper, his wondering and hope that there is someone who hears and listens, forgives and pardons. We sing and beg like a child who incessantly pulls the edge of his father’s garment in an attempt to get his attention – “our Father, do not turn Your ear away from Your children“ (Avinu, Levaneicha Al Taalem Oznecha).