Translating the Invocation Toward the One
Into The Hebrew of the Jewish Tradition
Toward the One,
The Perfection of Love, Harmony, and Beauty,
The Only Being,
United with All the Illuminated Souls,
Who Form the Embodiment of the Master,
The Spirit of Guidance.
Years ago, when I first began saying the Toward the One prayer of the Sufi Master Hazrat Inayat Khan, I found that I was often unable to get beyond the opening words. For even as I was speaking, I would be lifted “Toward the One” to regions of “Love, Harmony, and Beauty” where my feet no longer touched the ground of materiality, but instead were grounded in “The Only Being.” I was overwhelmed by the energetic qurb—‘proximity’ to the One—in the words themselves. There was such holy precision in them and manifest spiritual energy that my heart could not fail to respond to them. And, as with other things that touched me powerfully from outside of the Jewish tradition, I immediately wanted to translate it into Hebrew, the language of my spiritual upbringing.1
In the years since I originally made this little translation for myself in the 1970’s, other Hebrew translations of Toward the One have appeared in various places. This is in no way meant to imply criticism of other Hebrew translations, but only to offer another version. The beauty of a translation is the access it gives to a ‘message’ originally given in another language, but we must always understand that it is an interpretation of that ‘message.’ For each language has a beauty and sophistication of its own which resists translation. There is no one-to-one equivalence for the cultural understandings of words translated from one language into another. Thus, there is a practical truth to what Muslims say when they speak of the miraculous ijaz (‘inimitability’) of the Arabic Qur’an. And when they say that a Qur’an in English is not the Qur’an, they are also right. It is an interpretation.
This is not to say that the spirit of the ‘message’ is not conveyed in the translation, only that there is variation between one and the other. And just as a translation is an interpretation of the original, different translations sometimes yield quite different interpretations. Thus, it is possible that there will be some who will find value in my particular Hebrew interpretation of Toward the One.
This is why I am now hoping to make this translation available, for I have noticed that the Hebrew translations of the Toward the One I have seen are interpretations into modern Hebrew. This is good, and I am delighted to see them, just as I am pleased to see renderings into modern Spanish, German, French, and Arabic. But with this translation I intended to render Toward the One into a Hebrew that has a resonance with the liturgical Hebrew of the beit midrash, where Jews traditionally prayed and studied. For today, there is both a traditional Hebrew of Judaism and a secular Hebrew of social discourse.
For Israelis (who have often been raised in a secular environment), modern Hebrew obviously makes more sense and is far more palatable, but for others who are more oriented toward the Hebrew of prayer and study, there are certain words and phrases in modern Hebrew that are foreign to traditional Judaism and do not come across as authentically Jewish. Thus, I labored to translate Toward the One in such a way that those who have solid footing in Jewish tradition may add it to their prayers without it feeling like something foreign.
Here is my translation of Toward the One into traditional Hebrew:
Ha’yahid ha’ehad v’ha’m’yuhad,
Shleymut ha’emmet, ha’tzedeq v’ha’tif’eret,
Ha’kolel kol hann’shamot ha’ne’orot,
Yotzrey hag’shammat harrabbi,
Of course, some of the words will be the same in nearly all translations into Hebrew, but there will also be critical differences, and in this case, even additions.
First of all, the phrase Liqrat ha’ehad is a fairly direct translation of ‘Toward the One’ into Hebrew. But if we wish it to impart more of the sense intended by Hazrat Inayat Khan, and to connect with how the Jewish tradition expresses this notion, we have to include another phrase here. In Hasidism, there is a distinction between ehad ha’manuy, the number one, and ehad v’eyn sheyni, the One that has no other, no two or three. The phrase in traditional Hebrew that best expresses this notion comes from the Italian Kabbalist and hakham (‘sage’), Rabbi Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto (1707-1747), the author of the Mesillat Yesharim (‘Path of the Upright’), who gives us Ehad, yahid, u’meyuhad, ‘One Uniquely Simple Unity.’2 But since this phrase cannot follow Liqrat ha’ehad in a natural way, I created a kind of echo of it with Ha’yahid ha’ehad v’ha’m’yuhad.
In the next line, we have Shleymut ha’emmet, ha’tzedeq v’ha’tif’eret, which is quite different from what we have in the English and requires some explanation. First of all, shleymut, ‘wholeness,’ is simply the word that best conveys the notion of ‘perfection’ in Hebrew,3 but ha’emmet, ha’tzedeq v’ha’tif’eret actually translates to ‘truth, righteousness, and beauty.’ Somehow, emmet, ‘truth,’ struck me as a better choice from within the Jewish tradition to put in this trilogy of words.4 Nevertheless, I think ahavah, ‘love,’ (ha’ahavah if put into the whole phrase) would still be acceptable here. I chose to use tzedeq, ‘righteousness’ for ‘harmony’ because ‘righteousness’ in Hebrew carries with it the sense of balanced scales.5 Now, tif’eret is in fact the Hebrew for ‘beauty,’ but it is also a word that is loaded with meaning in the world of Jewish mysticism (kabbalah). In a very simple sense, tif’eret is what balances and completes the forces of Love and Justice in the Universe.
The next three lines are fairly straightforward. Hannimtza ha’yahid is basically, ‘the only one who can be found,’ ‘the only existent.’ Yahid is also the One Infinite Being, the Simple Unity without separation or parts, the God without limits. Ha’kolel kol hann’shamot ha’ne’orot is ‘Who contains all the souls that have been illuminated.’ Yotzrey hag’shammat harrabbi is ‘Forming the actualization of the master,’6 the rebbe, in Hasidic parlance.
Finally, in the last line, I chose not to translate the words, “The Spirit of Guidance,” but to replace them with the parallel concept from the Jewish tradition, Ha’ruah haqqodesh, ‘the Spirit of Holiness,’ or Holy Spirit. This is the phrase most often used in the Talmudic and Midrashic literature to denote prophetic inspiration. And while there are statements in the tradition that say that ruah haqqodesh departed after the passing of the prophets Haggai, Zachariah and Malachi, Hasidim clearly believe that it is still available, even today.
If one were to translate this Hebrew Toward the One back into English, it would probably come out something like this:
Toward the One,
Unique, One, and Unified,
The Wholeness of Truth, Righteousness, and Beauty,
The Only One in Existence,
Who contains all the Illuminated Souls,
Forming the actualization of the Master,
The Spirit of Holiness.
As you can see, there is clear variation in the sense of the words, but I believe that the Message is still available in them. The English prayer of Hazrat Inayat Khan is so precise and beautiful that all attempts at translation will fail in one way or another. It has its own miraculous ijaz and will stand forever among the great prayer-creations of the English language. Nevertheless, I offer this rendering into Hebrew as a way for those who wish to pray in Hebrew, but who are also committed to the Message, to add this to their other prayers in a way that will feel natural in the prayer-space of Judaism.