Yigdal Elohim chai v’yishtabach nimtza v’ein et el m’tziuto. Echad v’ein yachid k’yichudo ne’lam v’gam ein sof l’achduto. Ein lo d’mut haguf v’eino guf lo na’aroch elav k’dushato. Kadmon l’chal davar asher nivra rishon v’ein reishit l’reishito. Hino adon olam l’chal notzar yoreh g’dulato umalchuto. Shefa n’vuato n’tano el anshei s’gulato v’tifarto. Lo kam b’Yisrael k’Moshe od navi umabit et t’munato. Torat emet natan l’amo el al yad n’vio ne’eman beito. Lo yachalif haEl v’lo yamir dato l’olamim l’zulato. Tzofeh v’yode’a s’tareinu mabit l’sof davar b’kadmato. Gomeil l’ish chesed k’mifalo noten l’rasha ra k’rishato. Yishlach l’ketz hayamim m’shichenu lifdot m’chakei ketz y’shuato. Meytim y’chaiyeh el b’rov chasdo Baruch adei ad shem t’hilato.
Exalted be the Living G-d and praised, He exists – unbounded by time in His existence. He is One – and there is no unity like His Oneness. Inscrutable and infinite is His Oneness. He has no semblance of a body nor is He corporeal; nor has His holiness any comparison. He preceded every being that was created – the First, and nothing preceded His precedence. Behold! He is Master of the universe to every creature, He demonstrates His greatness and His sovereignty. He granted His flow of prophecy to His treasured splendrous people. In Yisrael none like Moshe arose again – a prophet who perceived His vision clearly. G-d gave His people a Torah of truth, by means of His prophet, the most trusted of His household. G-d will never amend nor exchange His law for any other one, for all eternity. He scrutinizes and knows our hiddenmost secrets; He perceives a matter’s outcome at its inception. He recompenses man with kindness according to his deed; He places evil on the wicked according to his wickedness. By the End of Days He will send our Mashiach, to redeem those longing for His final salvation. G-d will revive the dead in His abundant kindness – Blessed forever is His praised Name.
“Yigdal” (“Great” or “Exalted”) is a piyyut, written by Daniel ben Yehudah Dayan, based on the Thirteen Principles of Faith by Rabbenu Moshe ben Maimon (“Maimondies,” also known as “The Rambam”). It is found near the beginning of the weekday Shacharit service and the end of Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday night) services.
Born in Cordova, Spain in 1135 CE, the Rambam eventually left Spain due to Moslem persecution. He lived in Morocco and Israel before moving to Egypt where he lived most of his adult years.
Having an intellect of rare genius, the Rambam devoted his life to study until the untimely death of his brother, David, who had been his benefactor. The Rambam became a physician, eventually being appointed as physician to the royal court of Saladin, the sultan of Egypt and Syria, who had driven the crusaders from Jerusalem.
As a Torah scholar, physician, astronomer, and philosopher, the Rambam was a prolific author of books and essays in all four disciplines. Some of his better known Judaic works are:
- Kitab as-Siraf (Book of Illumination, also known as Commentary on the Mishnah): the Thirteen Principles are found in tract Sanhedrin, chapter ten
- Mishneh Torah (Code of the Torah): a fourteen volume encylcopedia which includes his well-known Eight Levels of Giving
- Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed): a view of Judaism through the lens of Aristotelian logic. It remains a controversial work
- Sefer HaMitzvot (Book of Commandments): a comprehensive study of the 613 commandments
The Middle Ages were a difficult time for the Nation – Jewish scholars were frequently forced to defend the faith. Ongoing expulsions caused the Nation to become geographically dispersed, effectively losing any semblance of a centralized source of guidance. Several theologians started working to create an organized synopsis, i.e., “creed” of Judaism for the sake of defining and preserving the faith.
The Rambam’s composition of the Thirteen Principles was controversial when published, but remains the best known. As with any creed, there were detractors who rejected the concept of reducing Torah down to a mere checklist. Other critics attempted to perfect it by either shrinking or expanding the list. (There truly is nothing new under the sun!) The Rambam’s Thirteen Principles can be found in the selected readings after weekday Shacharit in traditional siddurim.
In 1404 CE, Daniel ben Yehudah Dayan completed “Yigdal” after working on it for eight years. He composed Yigdal with thirteen stanzas, one for each of Rambam’s Thirteen Principles. Let’s see how this fits into the Shacharit service.
We’ve learned that the Mah Tovu prayer, which we sing individually as we enter the synagogue, exhorts us to leave all our personal joys and sorrows behind so we may worship without distraction. We are clearing our thoughts and lifting our hearts to join the Nation in worship.
We sing the Adon Olam together to begin our daily Shacharit service. (Many Messianic synagogues sing the Adon Olam at the end of services, by in traditional siddurim it is also the first congregational prayer each morning.) The Adon Olam pulls us into a greater awareness of HaShem as the G-d of all the vastness of infinite creation – yet also as our personal, every-present G-d.
Yigdal then directs our attention to Israel’s unique connection with HaShem. He is the G-d of Israel; He reveals Himself to us in ways the nations do not yet see. We are forever a generation away from extinction. B’ezrat HaShem, may Yigdal prove to unify us b’chal dor v’dor.