Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Usually, articles and shiurim just appear on OU Torah. (Well, they don’t just appear; somebody has to post them.) In something of a departure, I’d like to give you a peek behind the curtain and share how I came to write Understanding Anim Zemiros.

You may be aware that I have a series on OU Torah called The God Papers. You may not be aware that I am compiling that, with other material, into a book. One of the things I had hoped to include was an explanation of Shir HaKavod, popularly known as Anim Zemiros, a song that describes what God metaphorically “looks like.” I had seen in The World of Prayer by Rabbi Dr. Elie Munk that the poem contains many beautiful images drawn from the words of the prophets. That’s perfect; my style is to incorporate as many Biblical sources as possible. The only problem was that Munk didn’t offer any examples.

So I looked in siddurim. Some siddurim, like ArtScroll and Koren, have footnotes when the liturgy cites a Biblical verse. Surprisingly, this was not the case with Anim Zemiros. So I took to the Interwebs, looking for explanations of the poem, but I didn’t find anything useful. Certainly nothing source-based.

I back-burnered the project but my interest was re-ignited by, of all things, a Facebook group. In a discussion of Anim Zemiros, one of the participants linked to a d’var Torah he had written about the song. In it, he speaks extensively about one of the images, drawn from the Book of Isaiah. This was exactly the kind of thing I was seeking. I contacted this person to see if he knew of other Biblical references in the poem.

He did not.

Nevertheless, this motivated me to actively pursue this project. It was Daniel Adler, who presents shiurim on Rav Hirsch’s 19 Letters on OU Torah, who suggested I look in Siddur Otzar HaTefillos. (I happen to have this sefer, it just didn’t occur to me.) There, two commentaries, the Eitz Yoseif and the Doveir Shalom, provided the springboard I required. (Sadly, there was a lot of “k’mo she’kasuv” – “as is written” – without actually citing the sources. With the help of a concordance, I was able to discover where it is written!)

So now you know how something goes from concept to fruition, though this particular piece was considerably longer in getting from A to B. On a personal note, the finished piece was completed and posted on my mother’s yahrtzeit. So I hope you’ll enjoy Understanding Anim Zemiros, and that it helps to make your recitation of this song more meaningful.