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    Happy is the eye

    At the end of the Avodah section of the service which is part of the Yom Kippur Musaf, there comes a poem, Ashrei Ayin – “Happy is the eye that saw the atonement ritual in the Temple”.

    The poem is one of a medieval series of Ashrei Ayin compositions which lament the destruction of the Temple. This particular version is part of a longer poem by Solomon ibn Gevirol of the 11th century, a famous philosopher as well as a poet.

    If you ask today’s generation whether they feel envious of their ancestors who lived in Temple times, they might mutter about the blood and guts in the sanctuary but they would miss the whole point. Actually what the poet is lamenting is the emotion of the congregation – “the joy of our people” – who witnessed the Temple service and their conviction that at this moment they were in the presence of the manifestation of the Divine.

    One of the dimensions of Judaism that was rescued by the Baal Shem Tov and the early Chassidim was the ecstasy of the human soul in the presence of God.

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