(Torah Portion Ya’Yailech) The Greatest Song
G-d instructed Moshe to write and teach The Shirah – The Song – to the Jewish people. The Song that G-d was referring to is the Torah. However, the Torah is a book of law of significant size; it contains 54 portions and 613 Mitzvos. What is its connection to song?
Rabbi Yosef Sholom Elyashiv o.b.m. explains: Suppose a noted and accomplished scholar is coming to speak about nuclear physics or some esoteric philosophical findings. You can bet that only intellectuals who appreciate this type of academic stimulation will attend, for this lecture has no appeal to the average Joe.
However, suppose a brilliant song and music writer performs in town. Everyone will make an effort to attend this event whether or not they understand or appreciate the genius of the composers. Everyone will enjoy the song or music on his own level.
Says Rabbi Elyashiv, this is what G-d was conveying to our leader Moshe. “In order to ensure that the Torah you are teaching will be absorbed and remain forever with the Jewish people, present it as a song. Through the feeling that you apply to the teachings of the Torah, each person – on his own level of intellect, will recognize and realize the sweetness, pleasantness, beauty, worth and significance of Torah, just as everyone appreciates a song.”
An elderly gentleman shared with me that in his youth, he prayed in a synagogue in the Bronx. The rabbi had a beautiful and melodious voice and would often lead the services. There was this one man who would always sing along – but was totally off tune. During one particular prayer his singing was so disturbing and bothersome that the rabbi who was known for his sharp wit, couldn’t contain himself and waved his hand in the direction of the man and shouted, Sha! (slang for Shhh!)
There are two ways a song can sound off key to us. Sometimes the singer is off tune, but often there is no flaw in the song yet we don’t hear it properly, either because the acoustical system is not working properly, or because our ears or mindset is at fault.
G-d promised us that the Torah that he entrusted us with will never be forgotten. What assures its eternity is the way Torah is taught, conveyed and appreciated. Even deep and abstract Torah concepts when taught and delivered by someone who respects and is firmly attached to the Torah, become contagious, like a melody and sweet song that are contagious to those who hear it. Yet at times there is interference to the sound and message. The one conveying the message or the one listening may have preconceived notions that distort the song.
The Torah is associated with song for another reason. Were we to stop and think how many tunes and songs are stored away in our brain – it is actually mind boggling. No matter how many years go by since hearing a tune, if one hears it again, there is almost an immediate recollection. This is the unique nature of song. It is not surprising that a popular mnemonic for memorization is linking words with a tune.
Torah knowledge is vast and immeasurable, yet one’s ability to recall its terms, laws, traditions, prayers and concepts can be pretty impressive. This extra special ability to retain so much information can be attributed to the Torah’s connection with song.
This Shabbos is called Shabbos Shuva – Shabbos of Return. This name comes from the beginning words of the Haftorah, which state, “Shuva Yisroel Ad Hashem Elokecha – Return Israel to Hashem your G-d.”
Based on this verse, our Sages tell us that repentance is so powerful it reaches all the way up to G-d’s Heavenly Throne. Our Chasidic Masters add that repentance reaches the highest levels – even for one whose sins have been so severe that they reached G-d’s Heavenly Throne.
The Prophet Hoshea taught that no matter how distant one has become from G-d, every person has the chance to take advantage of the energizing, refreshing and invigorating gift of Teshuvah – repentance – and reconnecting to G-d!
There is a concept in Jewish thought that things are impacted by the way they end off. Thus, the way we upgrade and enhance this week’s Shabbos observance will add tremendous merit toward our final judgment on Yom Kippur.
Wishing you a restful, peaceful and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks and family