A few weeks later, my brother’s good friend, Isaac, (now of blessed memory,) came over to jam. I recall one of the songs they were playing: “More Than a Feeling,” by Boston. For some reason, I can’t recall much about my brother’s playing. But Isaac… oh, how he effortlessly plucked those strings on that D chord.
What left the deepest impression on me to this day, is how I felt watching Isaac get totally immersed in his music. He seemed at one with what he was playing.
Several weeks later, I watched Isaac play a kumzitz (Jewish sing-along) on a Saturday night for a Jewish youth group. His eyes were closed and the smile on his face reflected the joy in his heart. And that did it!
It was then that I bought MY guitar and began to take lessons.
When Isaac heard of this, he lent me his index cards to copy (no scanners back then). Each card had the chords of a Jewish song written on them. “Shema Yisrael.” “Bilvavi.” “Erev shel Shoshanim.” “Scarborough Fair.” “Dust In the Wind.” “Adon Olam.” Ok, mostly Jewish. I kept those index cards in my guitar case so they’d be with me wherever I played since. In this sense, I continue to be moved by how Isaac was so congruent while playing.
Music draws us to feeling. Yet, it is more than just the feeling for which we aim. It’s the inspiration from music that invites us to act.
Since then, I have found that musical events, or incorporating music into a presentation or a class creates an atmosphere where the heart and soul are more attuned to receive messages of timeless values.
We have lost much of the genuine spiritually energizing sounds that accompany Jewish experiences. In Temple times, the Levites were the singers and players, accompanying the daily rituals. Without loud speakers, their voices and instruments were heard and felt throughout the streets of Jerusalem. We don’t yet have that in our lives.
Much of Jewish prayer is comprised of the Psalms of King David, melodies that overflowed from his connection to G-d and his circumstances. Yet, few are the communities that sing these Psalms with joy and understanding during prayer. In many communities they are read in an undertone. Or skipped. And one must make a concerted effort to find an opportunity to experience sweet chazzanut, Jewish cantorial melodies.
So what are some initial sound opportunities we can introduce into our daily lives that can help us feel moved and inspired in our Jewish experiences, and in our relationship with ourselves, others, and G-d?
Here are two sound habits inspired by two nice Jewish boys, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. And as with any good habits that we wish to develop, our success in keeping them lies in our daily choice to implement them.
1. The Sound of Silence: Each morning, before embarking on the day’s journey, give yourself permission to have 90 seconds of silence. This means being in a quiet space (for many, it may be in the car) and asking your thoughts to wait until you are done. Just listen to yourself breathe. It’s the sound that reminds us we are alive. It is the sound of our soul. It reminds us of our most precious gift from God and that others have their unique sound.
2. Homeward Bound: Invite meaningful Jewish music into your home! English, Hebrew or any language you understand. Start with a different Jewish song of your choice, each day, for a week. Crank it up for the kiddies and neighbors to hear! So many beautiful melodies use the timeless sweet words from our Torah and Psalms. (Turn! Turn! Turn! By the Byrds is a direct quote from Ecclesiastes 3).
Surround yourself with meaningful sounds. You may very well experience much more than a feeling.
RABBI SHMUEL MILLER IS the Chief Operating Officer of Irvine Hebrew Day School and is a contributing writer to jlife magazine.