The Breath of Breaths: Chant of the Four Elements

This chant invoking the four elements, the Shekhinah, and the Holy One is inspired by Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 and by the poet Nelly Sachs. It works with various melodies, but a recording will soon be posted as an example.

Life is born and life moves on
and the earth has held and will hold it all.

The sun rises and the sun sets
and returns again to rise and fall.

The wind turns north and the wind turns south
turning, turning, returning still.

The rivers run from the clouds to the sea
and become the rain, and the sea is never filled.

So the beginning flows to the end
and the end flows on to begin again.

The One at the end is the One who begins
and the breath of breaths is within all things.


Dor holech vedor ba
Veha’aretz le’olam omadet

Zarach hashemesh uva hashamesh
Ve’el mekomo shoef zoreach

Holech el darom vesovev el tzafon
Sovev sovev holech haruach

Kol hanachalim holchim el hayam
Vehayam einenu maleh

Kach hatchalah zoremet el sof
ketz zorem el reishit

Ha’acharonah hi ha’rishon
hevel havalim havel hakol


In the kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, the Godhead flows from the Infinite beyond time and space down to the Divine within the earth, the Shekhinah. According to Reb Schneur Zalman, a Hassidic master in the line of the Baal Shem Tov, the earth/the Shekhinah then sends back Divine light and boundless love to the Infinite. So the Divine without and the Divine within are in a constant cycle, like the rain, the sun, and the wind. The final verse of this chant reflects this understanding.

Ecclesiastes' phrase "vanity of vanities" (hevel havalim) can also be translated "breath of breaths." I have used these words to refer to the breath that is composed of all breaths, the breath that is the source of all breaths, the Holy One/Shekhinah. Since Ecclesiastes is called in Hebrew Kohelet, the gatherer, it is appropriate that his words be used to gather together the four corners of the earth.

Rabbi Jill Hammer, PhD, is a senior associate at Mayan: The Jewish Women's Project of the JCC in Manhattan. She is the author of Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women and the founder of Tel Shemesh.

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