One of the most well known Jewish prayers is the hymn of Adon Olam - Master of the World. There are several tunes put to the words of Adon Olam, and it is sung by many Jewish communities daily or on Shabbat.

Today, let's have a detailed look at this beautiful prayer, line by line. We’ll try to discover how it can help guide us through our journey in life:

אֲדוֹן עוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר מָלַךְ בְּטֶרֶם כָּל יְצור נִבְרָא 

Master of the world, who reigned before anything was created.

We see so many things in the vast world around us. We take it all in, and it is truly amazing. Nature, technology, economics. It can also make us dizzy, feeling like sheer chaos at times. Yet everything we see, from skyscrapers to stick insects, serves a purpose. G‑d had a detailed plan before creating the world, meticulously placing every human being, creature and object in our universe to brighten the world in a way that only it can. 

לְעֵת נַעֲשָׂה בְחֶפְצוֹ כֹּל אֲזַי מֶלֶךְ שְׁמוֹ נִקְרָא 

When all was created, just as G‑d intended it to be, it was then that G‑d was named as king.

Just imagine the world on the day it was created. The birds chirped, the waves gently crashed on the beach, the sun was shining. No sin had ever been done, the world knew not the meaning of pain. This was G‑d’s masterpiece, a beautiful harmony of life and nature. All was precisely the way it was meant to be. 

It was truly a world where G‑d was King. But a King in name only. Sometimes everything is perfect, but our heart knows that something is off, something is missing. There was still a certain emptiness, a certain void that desperately needed to be filled. G‑d wanted someone special to share the world with.

וְאַחֲרֵי כִּכְלוֹת הַכֹּל לְבַדּוֹ יִמְלוֹךְ נוֹרָא

After all is said and done, G‑d will reign supreme.

On day six of creation, the first man and woman were created to fill that void, to be G‑d’s ‘partners’ in creation. But within hours they sinned. Jealousy, greed and malice were introduced to the brand new world. 

Today we take in the world around us, and we can begin to question. Not unreasonable questions, but real, serious questions. Why did G‑d create us? Before G‑d created human beings, truth shined blissfully. No pain, no fighting, no human imperfections. Why all the ups and downs, the constant struggle to perfect our world at so great a cost. Why?

Under all those human imperfections lies a spark of goodness and holiness so profound and so powerful that it surpasses in value the entirety of creation itself. And G‑d knew that. It was G‑d who placed that spark within us. But G‑d also knew that only the individual person him/herself could unleash that profound goodness within, and let it shine for the world to see. A true relationship, as G‑d wished to have with us, cannot be created by force. 

When we choose to live a life of kindness, Torah and Mitzvot, despite all the goings-on of our world, the world is transformed. The emptiness and void that was there before is filled by the warmth of our hearts, of our sheer humanity. We shed a gentle, warm glow across the entirety of creation and transform G‑d’s world into a home.

וְהוּא הָיָה וְהוּא הֹוֶה וְהוּא יִהְיֶה בְּתִפְאָרָה

G‑d was, is and always will be in splendor.

This does not answer all the questions we have. But the message that we each, always, have the capacity to make our world shine brightly is eternal. The message is everlasting as G‑d himself is, for He was the one who entrusted us - specifically with our human touch - with transforming our world into a home.

וְהוּא אֶחָד וְאֵין שֵׁנִי לְהַמְשִׁיל לוֹ לְהַחְבִּירָה

G‑d is one, there is no other to compare to him, or that he needs to consult with.

This message might seem inspiring, but perhaps wistful. If only things were as simple as that! Are there not facts on the ground that we need to take into consideration? Geopolitical forces, historical trends, antisemitism? We can’t seriously be told that - if we really want to - we have the power to make the world shine in such a special way?

Yes we can. This is the rallying cry of Judaism, and has been since creation. It’s G‑d’s world, and we have a divine ability to elevate our world and make it shine. 

בְּלִי רֵאשִׁית בְּלִי תַכְלִית וְלוֹ הָעֹז וְהַמִּשְׂרָה

He has no beginning and no end, with him alone lies power and control.

What about all the evil, the awful regimes and the terror? There is no answer. One thing which we do see is that they're all gone. Evil and falsehood can wreak tremendous damage. But they always fade, they never last. Those of yesterday are gone today, those of today will be gone tomorrow. Yet the Jewish people, who - through thick and thin - stuck to the belief that the world belongs to G‑d and not to evil or tyranny, are stronger than ever.

וְהוּא אֵלִי וְחַי גּוֹאֲלִי, וְצוּר חֶבְלִי בְּעֵת צָרָה

He is my G‑d, my ever living redeemer, the strength of my fortune in time of distress.

It’s one thing to have a history, to know that many great people came before us. But to have a living history is something special. To be connected to something as real and alive today as it was 1000 years ago is life-changing. Come what may, four millennia of living Jewish history and complete trust in G‑d is a rock solid strength to keep in mind when the sky looks gray.

וְהוּא נִסִּי וּמָנוֹס לִי, מְנָת כּוֹסִי בְּיוֹם אֶקְרָא

He is my banner, my place of refuge, my special place on the day I call.

There are two ways to tackle questions that challenge our beliefs and core values. One way is to say that unless the question is answered, we cannot continue. Another way is to rise above the question itself. It might still remain, but we can lift ourselves to a place where the question itself is questioned. 

In a more practical sense, we can either ask ourselves how it is possible that in a world which G‑d made, people are allowed to make so many wrong decisions. Doesn't that contradict everything we believe in? 

Or we can ask if G‑d is so kind, takes such meticulous care of each and every creature and gives us small human beings so much potential and power, how is it possible that in G‑d’s world there should be wrongdoing? That mindset is a place which we can actually lift ourselves up to. It's a place of refuge we can choose to live with at any time.

בְּיָדוֹ אַפְקִיד רוּחִי, בְּעֵת אִישַׁן וְאָעִֽירָה

In his hands I place my soul when I go to sleep, and when I wake.

From a place of faith - not blind faith in myths, but real faith in and connection to a G‑d who is infinitely dedicated to each of us - it is much easier to relax. We can’t control everything, and we don’t need to. We need to work tirelessly to brighten our world, and rest assured that there is a Creator backing us up.

וְעִם רוּחִי גְּוִיָּתִי, יְהֹוָה לִי וְלֹא אִירָא

With my soul, with my being, G‑d is mine and I shall not fear.

What a prayer, what a message. Does it answer all the questions? No. Does everything in the world now make sense, after reading Adon Olam? Probably not. But if we can meditate on and internalize this message, we can elevate our state of living from one of nervous anxiety and fear of tomorrow to one of security, happiness and positivity.

Rabbi Avrohom