Ochila: An Artist’s Prayer

By: Benjamin Gottesman  |  September 24, 2021

By Benjy Gottesman, Arts and Culture Editor

One of the most well-known points of the yomim nora’im (High Holidays) is the chazzan’s (cantor) stirring prayer in which he asks God to grant him the gift of eloquent speech so that he may adequately represent the congregation. He concludes this request by declaring that while it is man’s responsibility to organize his thoughts, it is only God who allows speech and prayer. 

This tefilla (prayer) establishes an important relationship between creators. God creates man with the ability to feel. God aids man in expressing that feeling. This is a particularly deep level of creation; God creates through the vehicle of created man.

In turn, man is able to exhibit the highest level of free will, the expression of independent thought, while acknowledging that his ability to do so is completely dependent on his Creator. This demonstrates the beautiful paradox of Jewish art.

The great poet Solomon ibn Gabriel famously writes, “I run from you, to you.” In a sense, this is the mantle of the spiritually inclined artist. He runs from the embrace of his Creator in order to find the independence to “arrange the thoughts of his hearts.” However, he inevitably finds himself enveloped with the folds of the Divine again, as he knows that only through a higher communion can he find the means of expression he craves.

Oh Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will sing Your praise.