MUSIC AND JUDAISM

A PURELY HASHKAFIC LOOK
We couldn’t afford Bob Dylan here
Brought To You By Tzevet Beit Midrash
Moshevet Chevlei Mashiach
2011
(Responsibility Ior anything horribly oIIensive: Akiva Weisinger)
QUICK NOTE
The intention oI this chabura is to go through the philosophical and
hashkaIic issues oI music and Judaism, and to think critically about
those issues.
It is not intended as a halachic source oI any sort, and no halachic
conclusions should be made Irom the content oI this chabura.
Any Halachic question on music and Judaism should be addressed
to your Local Orthodox Rabbi.
How does Judaism View Music?
Part One
Music Can Make People Happy
זט קרפ א לאומש
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.;¸ n¸ v : :¸ ,nv¸ ¬¸ c:n :x¸ -n :¬ x:¸
15 And Saul's servants said unto him: 'Behold now, an evil
spirit Irom God terriIieth thee.
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16 Let our lord now command thy servants, that are beIore
thee, to seek out a man who is a skilIul player on the harp;
and it shall be, when the evil spirit Irom God cometh upon
thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be
well.' {P
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1" And Saul said unto his servants: 'Provide me now a man
that can play well, and bring him to me.'
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1$ Then answered one oI the young men, and said: 'Behold,
I have seen a son oI Jesse the Beth-lehemite, that is skilIul
in playing, and a mighty man oI valour, and a man oI war,
and prudent in aIIairs, and a comely person, and the LORD
is with him.'
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1% WhereIore Saul sent messengers unto Jesse, and said:
'Send me David thy son, who is with the sheep.'
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'( And Jesse took an ass laden with bread, and a bottle oI
wine, and a kid, and sent them by David his son unto Saul.
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xc_ : ::-:n :¸: ,:x :¸ :n:_ n¸ x¸ :¸: ;:::¸:¸:¸
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'1 And David came to Saul, and stood beIore him; and he
loved him greatly; and he became his armour-bearer.
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'' And Saul sent to Jesse, saying: 'Let David, I pray thee,
stand beIore me; Ior he hath Iound Iavour in my sight.'
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'+ And it came to pass, when the |evil| spirit Irom God was
upon Saul, that David took the harp, and played with his
hand; so Saul Iound relieI, and it was well with him, and
the evil spirit departed Irom him.
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This teaches you that the Divine Presence rests |upon| man| neither through
gloom, nor through sloth, nor through Irivolity, nor through levity, nor through
talk, nor through idle chatter, save through a matter oI joy in connection with a
commandment, as it is said, But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass,
when the minstrel played, that the hand oI the Lord came upon him.
1. What is the purpose oI David playing music?
2. According to the gemara, what is impossible without happiness?
3. From what the gemara tells us, what can we assume song should not be
accomplishing?
Rabbi Nachman OI Breslav (1772-1810), Likutei Moharan I, 54
הזֶוְ תנַיחִ בְּ ילֵ כְּ רמֶ זֶ ןינִגְּנַמְּ שֶׁ דיָּבַּ לעַ שֶׁ ידֵ יְ הזֶ הרָ וֹשׁ האָ וּבנְּהַ לעַ םיאִ יבִ נְּהַ וֹמכְּ וּחקְ " :בוּתכָּ שֶׁ ילִ
יכִּ 'וּכוְ "ןגֵּנַמְ ילִ כְּ הַ אוּה תוּsoְּ אַ תְ הִ חַ וּרהָ אוּהוְ ברָ עמְ בוֹu ערַ וָ יכִּ שׁ יֵ תוּבxְ עַ חַ וּר ,חַ וּר האָ כֵ נְ חַ וּר
הע ָ רָ רמָ א¸ נֶּכַּ וּתּ תַ ע¸ בִ וּ" :לוּאשָׁ בְּ חַ וּר שׁ יֵוְ "העָ רָ חַ וּר הבָ וֹu וֹמכְּ qח¸ וּר" :בוּתכָּ ש ֶׁ הבָ וֹu ינִיחֵ נְתַּ yרֶ אֶ ב ְּ
אוּהוְ "רוֹשׁ ימִ תנַיחִ בְּ חַ וּר חַ וּר ,האָ וּבנְ שׁ דֶ קּ הַ qאַ אוּהשֶׁ כְּ ברָ עמְ בוֹu וֹניאֵ ,ערַ וָ לוֹכיָ לבֵּ קַ לְ תוֹאוּבנְ
תמֶ א¸ לעַ וְ ןכֵּ בוּתכָּ אבֵּ נַתְ יִּוַ" :לוּאשָׁ בְּ לsּ יִּוַ 'וּכוְ שׁ רֵ sֵ וּ "םרעָ ןוֹשׁ לְ ' :י"שִׁ רַ יכִּ 'עגָּש¸ׁ מְ היָהָ ברָ עמְ חַ וּרבְּ
תוּבxְ עַ ,תוּuשְׁ חַ וּר הזֶוְ ןגֵּנַמְּ שֶׁ דיָּבַּ לעַ ילִ כְּ הַ אוּה yבֵּ קַ מְ uקֵּ לַ מְ וּ דיָּבַּ תאֶ חַ וּרהָ חַ וּר ,הבָ וֹu האָ וּבנְ
qוֹת ּ מִ תוּבxְ עַ חַ וּר qירִ xָ וְ תוֹיהְ לִ עַ דֵ וֹי ןגֵּנַ עדַ יֵּשֶׁ yבֵּ קַ לְ uקלְ לִ וְ אxמְ ל ִ וְ יקֵ לְ חֶ חַ וּרהָ תחַ אַ תחַ אַ לְ ידֵ כְּ
תוֹנב ְ לִ ןוּגּנִּהַ וּניְהַ החָ מְ שִּ הַ וּניְהַ תוֹנבְ לִ חַ וּרהָ חַ וּר ,הבָ וֹu האָ וּבנְ אוּהשֶׁ qsֶ הֶ תוּבxְ עַ חַ וּר יכִּ qירִ x ָ
תוֹלע ¸ לַ דרֵ ילֵ וְ וֹדיָבְּ לעַ ילִ כְּ הַ ןגֵּנַמְּ שֶׁ ידֵ כְּ ןוֵּכַ לְ תוֹנבְ לִ החָ מְ שִּ הַ איבִ נָּהַ שֶׁ כְ וּ .תוּמילֵ שְׁ בִּ עַ מֵ וֹשׁ הזֶ ןוּגּנִּהַ
עַ דֵ וֹיּהַ מֵ ןגֵּנַ יזַא¸ לבֵּ קַ מְ וּנּמֶּ מִ חַ וּר yבֵּ קִּ שֶׁ ,האָ וּבנְ הזֶ וֹדיָבְּ qוֹתּ מִ תוּבxְ עַ הָ חַ וּר בוֹuוְ" ,אקָ יְדַּ "qלָ
uקֵּ לַ מְּ שֶׁ qרֵ xָ מְ וּ בוֹuּ הַ qוֹתּ מִ ערָ הָ רקַּ עִ וְ תוּxבְּ קַ תְ הִ ןיַנְבִ וּ חַ וּרהָ האָ וּבנְ
It was through music that prophetic spirit rested upon the prophets (see II Kings
3:15 ) . A musical instrument is a vessel containing air ( ruach , spirit). The air in the
instrument is a miture o! good and "ad. #n the one hand there is the anious,
depressed spirit $ a "ad spirit, as we !ind in the case o! King %aul: &and an evil spirit
terri!ied him& ( I %amuel 1':1() . #n the other hand, there is a good spirit, as it is
written: &)et *our good spirit lead me in an even land& (+salms 1(3:1,) . This good
spirit is the spirit o! prophec-: hol- spirit. .ut when good and "ad are mied up, it is
impossi"le to receive true prophec-.
The musician pla-ing the instrument must gather the good spirit $ the spirit o!
prophec- $ and separate it !rom the sad, depressed spirit. /e must understand music
in order to 0now how to si!t out and gather up the parts o! the spirit and put them
together in order to construct the melod-, namel- the 1o-, in order to "uild the good,
prophetic spirit, which is the opposite o! the depressed spirit. /e must move his hand
up and down the instrument in order to channel the 1o- and "ring it to per!ection.
And when the prophet hears a melod- !rom an epert musician, he receives a spirit
o! prophec-, the ver- spirit that the musician gathered with his hand and separated
!rom the depressed spirit. Thus the attendants o! the depressed King %aul said to
him o! the -oung 2avid: &And he will pla- with his hand and it will "e good !or -ou& (
I %amuel 1':1' ) .
Accordingl-, "- pla-ing the musical instrument with one3s hand, one si!ts, puri!ies
and elevates the good spirit and separates it !rom the "ad. This is the wa- to
overcome the evil spirit o! !oll- that see0s to spoil and upset the good, prophetic
spirit. The "ad spirit is dissipated through the 1o- that comes through the hand o! the
pla-er.
4or the root o! the power o! the spirit o! !oll- lies in sadness and depression.
There!ore the onl- wa- to receive a hol- spirit o! prophec- is through 1o- $ the 1o-
created "- the hand o! the pla-er. Thus, &It was when the musician pla-ed that the
hand o! 5od was upon him& ( II Kings 3:15 ) 6 &and he will pla- with his hand and it
will "e good !or -ou&. The pla-er who has the power o! the hand can si!t out the
good spirit !rom the "ad and there"- su"due the evil spirit.
According to Rebbe Nachman, how does music enable prophecy?
,u- .s /0is 1l2ays 1pp3op3ia-e4
1+" םיל ִּ הִ ת ְּ
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6 How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a Ioreign land?
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.:::: :¸
5 II I Iorget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand Iorget
her cunning.
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6 Let my tongue cleave to the rooI oI my mouth, iI I
remember thee not; {8
iI I set not Jerusalem above my chieIest joy.
1.Why can they not sing the lord`s song in a Ioreign land?
2. What could that teach us about when/why singing is inappropriate?
3. Psukim 5-6 are typically sung aIter the glass is broken at a Jewish wedding. Why
might this custom have come to be?
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'+ Take thou away Irom Me the noise oI thy songs; and let
Me not hear the melody oI thy psalteries.
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.;n¸ :x_ :n ::¸
'6 But let justice well up as waters, and righteousness as a
mighty stream.
1. Why does Amos not want to hear songs and psalteries?
2. What could that show us about why/when singing would be inappropriate?
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MISHNAH. WHEN THE SANHEDRIN CEASED |TO FUNCTION|, SONG CEASED
FROM THE PLACES OF FEASTING; AS IT IS SAID, THEY SHALL NOT DRINK
WINE WITH A SONG ETC..
R. Huna said: The singing oI sailors and ploughmen is permitted, but that oI
weavers is prohibited
Rav Huna:
Not a fan
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'OI The Sailors¨- Because they sing when they are working, and it is only to concentrate
on their task.
'OI The Weavers¨- (Their song) is only Ior Irivolity.
1. Why is the song oI The Weavers not allowed, according to Rashi?
2. Why is that a problem? (Think about the Iirst two sources)
3. II we take into account the assumption that a just and good God would not want us to
be depressed all the time, how powerIul do our sources view music to be that they saw Iit
to limit it?
American folk music quartet based in the Greenwich
Village area of New York City. They sang traditional
folk songs from around the world, as well
as blues, gospel music, children's songs, labor songs,
and American ballads, and selling millions of records
at the height of their popularity. Their hard-driving
string-band style inspired the commercial "folk boom"
that followed them in the 1950s and 1960s, including
such performing groups as The Kingston
Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary.
MUSIC AS EMOTIONAL EXPRESSION
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$ O give thanks unto the LORD, call upon His name; make known His doings among the
peoples. % Sing unto Him, sing praises unto Him; speak ye oI all His marvellous
works. 1( Glory ye in His holy name; let the heart oI them rejoice that seek the LORD
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1 Hallelujah. {8
Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in the Iirmament oI His power.
' Praise Him Ior His mighty acts; praise Him according to His abundant greatness.
+ Praise Him with the blast oI the horn; praise Him with the psaltery and harp.
6 Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; praise Him with stringed instruments and the
pipe.
5 Praise Him with the loud-sounding cymbals; praise Him with the clanging cymbals.
6 Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. {9 Hallelujah. {P
1. Why is it encouraged to sing, according to these sources?
2. What kind oI sentiments would this song express?
'In a small town in Poland, there was an orphan shepherd boy who grew up knowing
very little about being Jewish. One day, shortly beIore Yom Kippur, he met a group oI
people who were traveling to Mezibush to spend the holiday with the Baal Shem Tov.
The boy decided to join them and soon, he was standing with the many people in the
Baal Shem Tov`sshul.
But the boy did not know how to daven he couldn`t even read the Aleph-Beis. He saw all
the people davening earnestly Irom the depths oI their hearts, and he also wanted to say
something to HaShem that came Irom deep inside. So he drew a deep breath and let out
the shrill whistle that he would sound every evening when he gathered the sheep Irom the
Iields. Right in the middle oI davening on Yom Kippur, the shepherd boy whistled as
loud as he could.
The people in the shul were shocked, but the Baal Shem Tov calmed them and said, 'A
terrible decree was hanging over us. The shepherd boy`s whistle pierced the heavens and
erased the decree. His whistle saved us, because it was sincere and came Irom the very
bottom oI his heart, where he Ieels love Ior HaShem even though he doesn`t know or
understand why.¨¨-http://www.chabad.org/kids/article¸cdo/aid/82112/jewish/Yud-Tes-
Kislev.htm
1. In this story, why is the shepherd boy`s whistle more eIIective than the prayers oI
everyone in the shul?
2. How does the story view the nature oI song?
THE POSSIBLE PITFALLS OF MUSIC AS
EMOTIONAL EXPRESSION
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'Acher (Elisha Ben Avuyah) , what happened to him? Greek song never ceased Irom his
mouth¨
Some background: Elisha Ben Avuyah was a Tanna who went very, very oII the derech.
The Gemara here blames that on his singing/listening to Greek Music.
What does this mean? What is 'Greek Music¨ and what is so bad about it?
Let me advance my own idea:
Consider the Iollowing lyrics
'I'm beautiIul in my way
Because God makes no mistakes
I'm on the right track baby
I was born this way
Don't hide yourselI in regret
Just love yourselI and you're set
I'm on the right track, baby
I was born this way¨
-Lady Gaga, 'Born This Way¨
1. What kind oI philosophical implications do these lyrics have? In other words, iI you
believe God makes no mistakes, and you`re on the right track because you were born this
way, how do you view the world? How might that eIIect the way you act?
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x:).
Turnus Rufus the wicked the wicked once asked Rabbi Akiva: Whose works are superior, those
of God or those of man? He answered him: Those of man are superior.
Answered Turnus Rufus: But look at heaven and earth, can man make their like? Rabbi Akiva
replied: Do not draw on what is above human experience and control, but rather on that which is
within our range. He said to him: Why do you circumcise? He answered: Ì knew you would ask
this question, and so Ì anticipated you by declaring that human works are superior to those of
God. Thereupon Rabbi Akiva brought him sheaves of wheat and cakes. He said to him: the
former are the works of God, the latter of man. Are not the latter superior to the sheaves of
wheat?
Turnus Rufus, however countered; Ìf He requires circumcision, why does not the child leave the
mother's womb circumcised? Rabbi Akiva replied: Why indeed, does the umbilical cord come out
with him and he is suspended by his navel and his mother cuts it? as for your query why he is not
born circumcised, this is because the Holy one Blessed be He has given the commandments for
the sole purpose of refining our character through them. This is why David declared: "The word of
the Lord refined"
1. What does Turnus RuIus` question about circumcision assume about humanity? Does
he think God makes mistakes?
2. What is the point oI Rabbi Akiva`s response?
3. Why do you think Rabbi Akiva knew what Turnus RuIus was going to ask? How does
that shed light on what 'Greek Music¨ means?
But is all non-jewish music 'Greek¨?
Compare Lady Gaga`s 'Born This Way¨ to this lyric:
'He not busy being born
Is busy dying.¨
-Bob Dylan, 'It`s Alright, (I`m Only Bleeding)
1. How do Lady Gaga and Bob Dylan diIIer as to the
nature oI humanity? How does it matter iI a person is
'Born That Way¨, or 'Being Born¨?
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(:: ;n¬:: nx c::: n¬:: :;v: ¬:x:: (x::
(n¬:: :: n: n::: n::: ;::n :::x n:n :cv ¬:x:: (:::
(:;v:: :n¬:: nx ¬:::: :: v:c:: c::: :: nv:cn :;v: ¬:x:: (:::
(n¬::n nx :cv :::: ;::: c;:: nc:: ::x:: c:c:v ::::: cn: :cv: ;n: :;v:: (::
+( And Esau said to Jacob: 'Let me swallow, I pray thee, some oI this red, red pottage;
Ior I am Iaint.' ThereIore was his name called Edom. +1 And Jacob said: 'Sell me Iirst thy
birthright.' +' And Esau said: 'Behold, I am at the point to die; and what proIit shall the
birthright do to me?' ++ And Jacob said: 'Swear to me Iirst'; and he swore unto him; and
he sold his birthright unto Jacob. +6 And Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage oI lentils;
and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way. So Esau despised his birthright.
1. In what way is Yaakov born? Did God 'make a mistake¨? Is Yaakov 'on the right
track¨? Does he accept the way he is born as destiny? Or is he 'being born¨?
2. What about Esav? Is he busy being born? What does he say he`s busy doing?
In conclusion:
II music is a Iorm oI deep emotional expression, should there be a consideration about
the ideas inherent in the music one listens to?
(Just a reminder, this is not a halachic chabura)
MUSIC AS A GLIMPSE INTO MESSIANIC
TIMES
Rav Yitzchak Hutner (1906-1980), Pachad Yitzchak Al Pesach, Maamar 15
(Until this point, in this essay, Rav Hutner developed an idea that the power oI speech is the connection
between the natural soul (neIesh t`vii), involved in the regular Iunction oI the body, and the spiritual soul
(neIesh ruchani), involved in thought, spirituality, imagination, etc. Ie, it is a physical action that is
impossible without intellect, and vice versa. This tie is reIerred to with the word 'peleh¨, which appears as
a synonym Ior speech in a number oI places. He then relates this to the topic oI song)
'And one who understands this matter will better understand the concept that song is said
upon the downIall oI the evil. The regular understanding is that we sing when evil is
deIeated because we are happy that evil is deIeated. Certainly this is correct. But there is
Iurther depth to this concept. Because just as there is this concept oI 'peleh¨ within a
human being, there is also this concept by the ways the universe is run. Also in the ways
oI the universe there is an idea oI a tie between the natural and the spiritual. The way oI
this world, oI evil succeeding, is the natural way oI things occurring. The way oI the
world to come, oI evil getting its just desserts, is a spiritual (moral) way oI things
occurring. So when events occur and we see the downIall oI the wicked in this world, that
is a connection between the natural order and a higher, more moral order..And now we
see the connection between the downIall oI the wicked and the singing over it. Because
what is song iI not speech except the Iull development and gloriIication oI the power
hidden within it? So when evil is deIeated in the world, and that connection between the
natural order oI things and a higher, more moral world is revealed, man also evolves the
same aspect within himselI. And the power oI liIe contained in speech..girds glory, and
song bursts Iorth. And then it is Iound that song said by man and the downIall oI the
wicked go hand in hand¨
Fun Facts:
1. Rav Hutner wrote 'B`lvavi Mishkan Evneh¨ (Song #12 on your song sheet)
2. Rav Hutner loved listening to opera.
Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, Orot HaKodesh II, p. 444
There is a person who sings the song oI his soul. He Iinds everything, his complete
spiritual satisIaction, within his soul.
There is a person who sings the song oI the nation. He steps Iorward Irom his private
soul, which he Iinds narrow and uncivilized. He yearns Ior the heights. He clings with a
sensitive love to the entirety oI the Jewish nation and sings its song. He shares in its
pains, is joyIul in its hopes, speaks with exalted and pure thoughts regarding its past and
its Iuture, investigates its inner spiritual nature with love and a wise heart.
There is a person whose soul is so broad that it expands beyond the border oI Israel. It
sings the song oI humanity. This soul constantly grows broader with the exalted totality
oI humanity and its glorious image. He yearns Ior humanity's general enlightenment. He
looks Iorward to its supernal perIection. From this source oI liIe, he draws all oI his
thoughts and insights, his ideals and visions.
And there is a person who rises even higher until he unites with all existence, with all
creatures, and with all worlds. And with all oI them, he sings. This is the person who,
engaged in the Chapter oI Song every day, is assured that he is a child oI the World-to-
Come.
And there is a person who rises with all these songs together in one ensemble so that they
all give Iorth their voices, they all sing their songs sweetly, each supplies its Iellow with
Iullness and liIe: the voice oI happiness and joy, the voice oI rejoicing and tuneIulness,
the voice oI merriment and the voice oI holiness.
The song oI the soul, the song oI the nation, the song oI humanity, the song oI the world-
they all mix together with this person at every moment and at all times.

And this simplicity in its Iullness rises to become a song oI holiness, the song oI God, the
song that is simple, doubled, tripled, quadrupled, the song oI songs oI Solomon-oI the
king who is characterized by completeness and peace.
ENJOY YOUR LEARNING!

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