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Sermon or Song?

Friday, 14 October, 2016 - 10:22 am

So Yom Kippur has come and gone.   Hopefully, it was moving, inspirational and meaningful.  Hopefully, I am – at least in some measure – a different and better person.

But, let’s be honest. That was a lot of sermons.  The rabbi just did not stop speaking!

So, let me pose this question: Which do you prefer? A sermon or a song?

***

This week Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Apparently, songs have officially been characterized as literature. As the Nobel committee explained, he earned it for “having created new poetic expressions.”

Bob Dylan is a music legend. But he’s also a Jewish boy whose real name is Robert Zimmerman. And he is very proud of his Jewish identity. Years ago the quiet spiritual seeker got involved with Chabad. He’s participated at numerous Chabad Seders, Shabbat and holiday services and had a unique, personal relationship with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The famously private star would often show up in Brooklyn wearing a hoodie to visit with the Rebbe incognito.

Perhaps his songs stimulated his spirituality. Or maybe his music was driven by his spirituality.

Bob Dylan Tefillin.jpg Bob Dylan Rebbe.jpg

So, what is it about music and lyrics that stirs so many?

A speech might be motivational, but I can probably only hear it once... Barely.  A song, on the other hand, I often listen to again and again. I might even find myself humming the melody without even realizing it.

A speech, or a book, is communication between people. At times, the words speak to you and make a deep impression.

But songs don’t simply speak to you. They speak to your soul.

Songs are spontaneous, compelling and never seem to tire. There is something magical about the way they bring ideas and people together. The founder of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, explained it this way, “Words are the pen of the heart, but music is the pen of the soul.”

It’s no wonder that octogenarians and toddlers can find so much common ground when singing; that struggling students can suddenly discover their place through music; that memories can be evoked so readily and effortlessly via melody.

***

Perhaps this is the answer to the enigma in this week’s parsha, Haazinu. It’s the second-to-last parsha in the Torah. And it occurs on Moshe’s last day on earth.  He has delivered a 36-day speech, which is the entirety of the Book of Devarim/Deuteronomy.

Hashem instructs Moshe – on his last day – to write a song, called Shirat Haazinu, and teach it to the Jewish people. Songs are nice, but did G-d need to wait until Moshe’s last day for this? Didn’t Moshe have more important things to take care of (such as instructing his household and saying goodbye) during his final hours?

*

When we think of Torah, we often think of it in terms of speeches and sermons. We think of the contract between G-d and man. We think of the blueprint of creation. We think of duty and purpose. We think of tradition and conscience.

As Moshe passed the baton to Yehoshua (Joshua) and future generations, G-d wanted to redefine our relationship with Torah; to take it to the next level. It isn’t enough to commemorate Judaism. We must celebrate it!

The future of Judaism depends on studying the words of the Torah. But the proof that we have truly internalized it and are inspired to share it with our children, is when we sing and dance to the tune of the Torah.

***

As we take leave of the High Holy Days – an appropriate indulgence of sermons – it’s time to break out our dancing shoes and rejoice in the music of G-d.

This year, embrace the progression from Days of Awe to Days of Joy. Revel in the spirit of Sukkot, the Festival of Our Rejoicing. Celebrate the Torah on Simchat Torah!

Happy Sukkot!

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