One of my favorite times of day with Drew is late evening. Well, what passes for late evening in his world, which is to say, 6-7pm. I put him in pyjamas and we lie on our backs on a quilt and I read him a picture book or two. Then I nurse him, and sit him on my lap to read a couple of board books about going to bed. And then, most nights, I sing to him.
I sing a lot of things. Suzanne Vega's "Gypsy" and James Taylor's "Sweet Baby James" were two of the first lullabies I sang to him, during those early weeks before he knew the difference between day and night. Lately I've been singing "The Angel Song," also known as "B'shem Hashem." The tune is by Reb Shlomo Carlebach, z"l.
Shlomo Abramson performing B'Shem Hashem. (If you're reading this post in an aggregator or via email, and can't see the embedded video, you can go directly to it here on YouTube.)
The words are simple:
B'shem Hashem, elohei Yisrael
B'ymini Michael u-smoli Gavriel
U-milfanai Uriel, me'acharai Raphael
V'al roshi, v'al roshi, Shechinat-El
I also learned a singable English version, so I sing it to Drew in both languages:
In the name of God, the God of Israel
On my right is Michael, on my left is Gabriel
In front of me is Uriel, behind me Raphael
And all around, surrounding me, Shekhinat-El.
The four figures named are angels; the first two are Biblical in origin, the latter two are post-Exilic and entered the tradition much later. Their names mean -- roughly -- "Who is Like God?" "God's Strength," "Light of God," and "It is God Who heals." You can learn more about the lullaby here at Neohasid.org (there's also a downloadable mp3 of the song, sung simply. For Neshama Carlebach's rendition of the tune, listen to track 7 here at Rhapsody.)
As Reb Duvid notes at Neohasid, invoking the protection of these angels is part of the liturgy of the bedtime Shema (here's context at My Jewish Learning; here's a translation of the traditional text of the bedtime prayers.) In one of my favorite children's books, The Bedtime Sh'ma by Sarah Gershman, the words of the bedtime prayer are reframed in age-appropriate imagery alongside beautiful paintings by Kristina Swarner. Anyway, to me the angels represent wonder, strength, light, and healing.
I like the idea of invoking these four qualities, and the immanent divine presence, to protect us as we sleep. Drew seems to like the song, though whether he has any sense that I am singing a prayer is unknown to me. Maybe he just likes being waltzed around his nursery...