Rosh Hashanah

Estar Rada – Lord Of Forgiveness (Adon HaSelichot)

Akiva Sygal

Lord Of Forgiveness (Adon HaSelichot) | Unknown Authour

Translation credit: The Masorti Movement

Lord of forgiveness,

Knower of thoughts

Revealer of the Concealed,

Speaks of truth

We have sinned before You, Have mercy upon us


Glorious in wonders,

Veteran in comforts

Remembers ancestral covenant,

Knower of Inner Thoughts

We have sinned before You, Have mercy upon us


Good and beneficent to humanity,

Knowing all hidden things,

Overcomes sins,

Clothed in righteousness

We have sinned before You, Have mercy on us


Full of purities,

Awesome in praises

Forgiving of sins,

Answerer in time of trouble

We have sinned before You, Have mercy upon us


Bridger of deliverance,

Seer of futures 

Calling to the generations,

Rider of clouds

Hearer of Prayer,

Perfect in knowledge

We have sinned before You, Have mercy upon us. 



Ester Rada is a superb vocalist. She is an original and highly intelligent musician, with a powerful voice and emotive stage presence. Even so, Ester Rada is an Israeli with Ethiopian roots, and when she elects to perform a piyut her choice entails symbolic significance beyond the wonderful singer presenting a well-known song. Rada is fully cognizant of that when she decides to incorporate, in such a wonderful and moving way, an Ethiopian prayer she learned by heart from her grandfather, with the best known of all piyutim – Adon Selihot. The group backing her is a typical blues group augmented, for this performance, by an Ethiopian krar player who supports Rada while she murmurs the prayer in Amharic. The krar player, Rada herself and also the other musicians, who play “regular” instruments, all wear the traditional white sheet attire of the elders of the community.


I could not avoid recalling the Ashkenazi custom of wearing the kittel for prayers during the Ten Days of Repentance, the white garment which reminds the worshipers of a shroud for the dead. The white garment worn by Rada and the musicians is, it seems, the same garment her grandfather always wore. And I suddenly had the sense that there are people who wear a kittle all year long, and not just on the Days of Repentance. This white sheet is just one of many examples of the wide gap that exists between the way the community lived in Ethiopia and the completely different culture to which they have been exposed, here, in Israel.


Ethiopian Jewry is a unique group, which became detached from the rest of the Jewish world at a very early stage, probably around the time of the destruction of the First Temple. Due to their almost complete isolation from the rest of world Jewry, the traditions that developed from the time of the Second Temple – holidays such as Purim and Hanukkah and, of course, the prayer book with the piyutim – did not reach them. Even so, the Jews devotedly maintained their identity and were termed Falasha (invaders) by their Christian neighbors. They were also frequently humiliated by them as the crucifiers of Jesus. When these Jews began to reach Israel, in the 1980s, they encountered an entire Jewish world that was ignorant of their existence. There were also events in the calendar of which they were not aware, such as the tradition of “selihot”. This tradition seems to be particularly popular here in Israel, specifically in its Spanish version, and the best loved piyut is, without doubt, Adon Selihot.


What is the secret of this piyut’s charm? There are no sophisticated words in it, no elaborate descriptions or long stanzas. The simple message of the song: “We have sinned before you, have mercy on us” is one that any person, even the most basic, who believes in divine prayer, is one with which they can connect. Although the melody is originally eastern (Mizrahi), but it is based on a very simple tune with just a few notes and is not necessarily “Mizrahi”. The melody is in the Arabic scale of Nahawand which is almost identical to the western minor scale, and is characterized by a degree of sadness in the stanzas of the piyut. This emotive delicacy is disrupted in the refrain, with the words “we have sinned before you”, where the melody ascends slightly and moves away from the fixed restraint of the base melody, which comes across as a substantial cry. When the base is simple you don’t need big changes in order to generate drama.


It is easy to imagine why someone, at some stage, wrote and scored such a simple song. It allows the whole of the community to sing in unison from the depths of our heart, instead of just listening to the cantor or to musicians well-versed in piyutim play while the community-audience sits to one side, passively. Even someone who can’t read can join in the chorus which only has four words. But, here, Rada shows us another side to the melodic simplicity. Adon Selihot has not been a Jerusalem-piyut for some time. It belongs to everyone in Israel – Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Yemenites and also to communities that don’t come under these categories, such as Jews with Ethiopian roots. The so universal and simple language of the piyut, both in terms of the words as well as the tune, enables people from different cultures and traditions to connect with it and to feel at home with it, and to incorporate it in their own tradition.


Westerners find traditional Ethiopian music hard on their ears. The intricate rhythms and rapid singing are not necessarily pleasant for people who are not used to hearing these kinds of sounds. So, it comes as no surprise that the younger generation of Ethiopian musicians in Israel prefer to dip into Afro-American music – blues, jazz, hip hop – and create their own art through that. They sometimes weave Ethiopian music into their work, but often manage without that. The simple piyut with its basic melody is the ideal musical raw material for improvising blues, as Rada shows us with her wonderful talent, and the sensitive and brilliant arranging by guitarist Nadav Hendler. However, insisting on bringing an Ethiopian krar player, to begin the instrumental performance on his weird instrument with its sound that may be grating to ears that are unfamiliar with the music, is a powerful statement by Rada. In blending Israeli and Jewish music with Afro-American jazz and blues she does not forget her own roots and does not let the traditional music of the community from she comes to be pushed to one side and forgotten, in the quest for integration. The expression “We have sinned before you, have mercy on us” is truly universal, and can accommodate all traditions and cultures.


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