Re-Awakening Our Spirits Through Song
We’re in the middle of Iyar, known by Kabbalists for the acronym of אני ה’ רופאך, I am Hashem your Healer. As well, Iyar is a month with special days felt uniquely in the land of Israel, from Yom Hazikaron to Yom Ha’atzmaut, Lag Ba’omer to Yom Yerushalayim. These weeks, amidst the counting of the omer, are a time of flux between commemorating and praising, memorializing and mourning, singing hymns and honoring heroes. Each of these days is accompanied by unique songs, often a mizmor of Tehilim, aligned with the energy and mood of the period, some sad and somber, some cheerful and celebrating.
While psalms are always relevant, modern songs can arouse our hearts and lift one’s spirits in a meaningful way. A woman from my community recently shared with us how Yaakov Shwekey’s “Ma’amin Benisim” (Believe in Miracles) song of emunah became the soundtrack to her harrowing hospital stay and complicated rehabilitation in recent months. They sang the song while she was on the gurney to be prepped for surgery along with darbukas and clapping. They played it from a cell phone when she was sedated and intubated, and the nurses, doctors and professors watched as the lyrics came true and The Creator of the world sent her a miracle.
While every story has a different ending and no two journeys are alike, the idea of the potency of song is a timeless message and can be seen in Sefer Haredim by Rabbi Elazar ben Moshe Azikri (1533-1600). He cites there (chapter 7) how Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai — Rashbi — emphasized the mitzvah of loving Hashem, ואהבת את ה’ אלקיך (Devarim 6:5) and as Rabbi Azikri expounds, it is a precious practice to sing enthusiastic songs reflecting those feelings of desiring closeness to Hashem, as he says:
“בהתלהבות החשק ישיר האוהב שיר ידידות לפניו”
He includes in Sefer Haredim an alphabetically arranged “love song” which would be sung by contemporary kabbalists to stir the soul in love for The Holy One. Some verses of this poem were later developed into the well known song by Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, בלבבי משכן אבנה (and the tune was later composed by Rav Shmuel Brazil) expressing in first person- I will build a mishkan, or dwelling place in my heart and dedicate an altar for the Divine service, offering a fire for the eternal flame, and devote my unique soul to God. The song movingly articulates this sense of total devotion of mind, body and spirit to a life dedicated to serving Hashem.
As we approach the 18th (“chai”, life) day of Iyar, we are invited to re-awaken our souls with song especially after many have refrained from listening to music during this time. On this day of Lag Ba’omer when Rashbi physically passed from this world, he gifted us with profound messages on how to fully live. He divulged hidden depths of Torah through the Zohar and Rabbi Shimon’s message on how to deeply connect to the spirit resonates with so many.
Each new day unfolds with it a blessing of a new song to sing to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, as it says in Tehillim, (33:3) sing Him a new song, שִׁירוּ־לוֹ שִׁיר חָדָשׁ. In the merit of Rashbi may we seek the fire within and strive for a life of passion, love and connection with the Almighty, harnessing the power of song to be the impetus which helps us focus heavenward. Just as the dancing flames always point upwards, swirling higher and higher, so do the songs of our soul, whether melancholy or joyous, the shirah can open our hearts and bring us closer to our Beloved, our Creator, our Healer.
©️ Adina Ellis, Dancing Flames, 2022, Acrylic on Canvas