I Sang Bruce Springsteen’s “Cover Me” In Synagogue on Friday Night: Lovers and Covers
August 18, 2011 at 12:56 am, by Jonah Rank
K. Let me backtrack.
Friday night prayers in the traditional Siddur (prayerbook) tend to be lengthier than the typical weekday evening prayer service–a fairly short service.
Medieval and early modern Jewish rabbis wrote that the reason that Friday night’s Arvit is lengthier than the weekday Arvit stems back to the fear of traveling at night when it is dark–when it is not the norm to light any lanterns, flashlights, or lamps on the Sabbath.
Traveling home from synagogue on Shabbat–back in the day before street lights–meant traveling in the dark, in a rough world where worrying about getting mugged, beaten, or killed in the dark was no irrational fear.
On track 2 of Born In the USA (to which I was listening on my car-ride into NJ Friday afternoon), Bruce sings, “The times are tough now, / Just getting tougher. / This old world is rough. / It’s just getting rougher.” And, that’s when Springsteen opens up and asks, “Cover me.”
Springsteen’s words reflect an anxiety similar to that in a nightly-read passage of the Siddur:
הַשְׁכִּיבֵֽנוּ ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵֽינוּ לְשָׁלוֹם, וְהַעֲמִידֵֽנוּ מַלְכֵּֽנוּ לְחַיִּים, וּפְרוֹשׂ עָלֵֽינוּ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶֽךָ, וְתַקְּנֵֽנוּ בְּעֵצָה טוֹבָה מִלְּפָנֶֽיךָ, וְהוֹשִׁיעֵֽנוּ לְמַֽעַן שְׁמֶֽךָ.
Lay us down in peace, our God; let us stand again with liveliness, our Sovereign; spread upon us Your Sukkah of peace; affix us with good guidance from before You; and save us for the sake of Your name.
וְהָגֵן בַּעֲדֵֽנוּ, וְהָסֵר מֵעָלֵֽינוּ אוֹיֵב, דֶּֽבֶר, וְחֶֽרֶב, וְרָעָב, וְיָגוֹן, וְהָסֵר שָׂטָן מִלְּפָנֵֽינוּ וּמֵאַחֲרֵֽינוּ, וּבְצֵל כְּנָפֶֽיךָ תַּסְתִּירֵֽנוּ, כִּי אֵ-ל שׁוֹמְרֵֽנוּ וּמַצִּילֵֽנוּ אָֽתָּה, כִּי אֵ-ל מֶֽלֶךְ חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם אָֽתָּה, וּשְׁמוֹר צֵאתֵֽנוּ וּבוֹאֵֽנוּ, לְחַיִּים וּלְשָׁלוֹם, מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עוֹלָם.
Shield us, and remove from before us animosity, pestilence, battle, hunger, and anguish; remove the evil inclination from before us and behind us; in the shade of Your wings, cover us; You are the God who protects us and saves us; You are the God who is a graceful and compassionate Sovereign; protect our departure and our arrival, in life and in peace, from now and until eternity.
On a typical weekday night, the prayer ends with “בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, שׁוֹמֵר עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל לָעַד” (“Praised are you Lord, Protector of God’s people Israel for eternity”). But, on Shabbat (and various holidays), the prayer goes a few steps further beyond the weekday words:
וּפְרוֹשׂ עָלֵֽינוּ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶֽךָ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, הַפּוֹרֵשׂ סֻכַּת שָׁלוֹם עָלֵֽינוּ וְעַל כָּל עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל וְעַל יְרוּשָׁלָֽיִם.
Spread upon us the Sukkah of Your peace. Praised are You Lord, who Spreads a Sukkah of Peace upon us and upon all of God’s nation Israel and upon Jerusalem.
Spreading. Protection. Covering.
If the sentiments of Springsteen’s “Cover Me” are found in the Siddur, then they’re in this prayer sometimes called “Hashkivenu“ (the first word of the text). The air reeks of worries, and the narrator seeks to be protected by some extraordinary covering.
Asking to be covered, Springsteen sings: “Hold me in your arms.” “Hashkivenu” asks that Israel be held in God’s wings.
Yet, the Boss acknowledges that “Outside’s the rain, the driving snow.” In “Hashkivenu,” we ask that God covers us with a peaceful Sukkah: a structure that, because it is not entirely closed up, still allows the rain and outside weather to seep through.
Being protected and being covered means creating a safe space in an atmosphere of inclement weather and dangerous living.
In Hashkivenu, the divine Protector (“Shomer“) of whom we speak on weekdays is recognized on Shabbat as the Master of the most peaceful Sukkah: the word “Sukkah” meaning “covering” (hence, “Sukkah” is the name of the temporary tent-like home built on the holiday of Sukkot).
(Just in case, it’s not yet clear: I did NOT sing the actual lyrics Bruce wrote for “Cover Me” when I was in synagogue on Friday night. At best, the most I did was sing a very interpretive cover. Drum-hit!)
At the end of the original, Springsteen says, “I’m looking for a lover who will come on in and cover me.”
It is, in my opinion, no coincidence that “Hashkivenu” comes shortly after reciting the passage known as “Ahavat Olam“ (“Eternal Love”), in which God’s unending love for the people Israel is affirmed.
Although Ahavat Olam declares evidence of God’s love for Israel in that they were given the Torah and mitzvot, it is hard for me to accept that idea night after night. I am left looking for Divine love.
But, aren’t we all like Bruce? Aren’t we all looking for extraordinary love? Aren’t we all looking for lovers to serve as covers–lovers who cover up all those grievances of the outside world?
Like the Sukkah through which we can still hear the rain–and even feel a drizzle–love give us a cover that reminds us that, though we live in an imperfect world, our loved ones grant us a sense of security like none other.
I’m inclined to agree with Bruce. Maybe love is the most important piece of architecture in a Sukkah.