Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Jewish Heritage
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Ha'azinu/Yom Kippur) Heart and Soul!
Traditional songs and tunes are an integral part of our prayer service, especially during the High Holidays when they evoke and stir within us penitent feeling. Just think of the hallowed tunes of Kol Nidrei, Kaddish, Avinu Malkainu etc. Surprisingly when the congregation in unison recites Viduy – confession – on Yom Kippur, it is also sung in a tune. Why is a pleasant tune attached to our confession? Wouldn’t a somber wail be more appropriate?

The Chasam Sofer offers the following amazing insight: The Talmud tells us that if one repents out of fear of Divine retribution, his intentional sins transform into inadvertent sins. However, if one repents out of love of G-d – which means he regrets sinning because it caused him to be separated and distanced from the Almighty and he now sincerely wishes to reconnect with G-d – then his misdeeds are transformed into positives and merits!

Based on this, says the Chasam Sofer, we recite our confession with a tune since we are delighted that through our repentance out of love for the Almighty our sins are going to be transformed into merits!

An additional reason is, that the Medrash explains the verse “Let our utterances be considered like sacrifices,” as referring to the Mitzvah of confession. This means that confessing is like sacrificing offerings on G-d’s Altar, which effects true repentance. Communal sacrifices on the Altar in the Temple require the accompaniment of the Levites singing songs. Therefore, when we confess as a congregation, which is as though we are offering sacrifices in the Temple, we recite it with a tune!

We all experience at times a special elevated feeling when customary and traditional tunes and songs are sung. What about tunes stirs us so intensely?

Our Neshama – soul – is accustomed to song from the time it was in Heaven when it basked in the songs sung by the ministering angels. When tunes and songs are sung it awakens us with a spiritual yearning even when our Neshama is now attached to our physical body. Ma’avar Yabok explains that not only does song elevate our spiritual yearning, there is a chamber in Heaven that can only be penetrated through the energy given off through song.

There is something unique about songs and tunes that many years may go by without hearing them, but there is almost an immediate recall when they are heard again. This is not the case with lessons, lectures and things we study where our recall is more limited.

This coming week’s Parsha, Ha’azinu, contains a poetic song delivered by our leader Moshe right before his death. These concise prophetic and holy messages were formatted in a song so we will never forget them. The source of the universally known Mitzvah of reciting blessings when one is called to the Torah and our daily blessing over Torah study is one of the stanzas of the Ha’azinu song.

If the blessings over the Torah are included in the song of Ha’azinu, we can imply that all the Torah we study and produce on account of reciting the blessings, has the thrust and power of song. This means that just as a song can be recalled, so too, the Torah that we absorb and study can be recalled.

Anything that we acquire, absorb and achieve in the spiritual realm becomes part of our core and essence and can never be taken from us, and if it is performed lovingly and cherished, it is like a song, making it possible to be evoked through a reminder.

I am reminded of story that I had heard in my youth that captures the sincerity and earnestness of a simple expression of devotion to G-d. A young Jewish boy who had limited background of Judaism found his way to a synagogue on Yom Kippur and was extremely taken by the spiritual aura that enveloped the synagogue. Not being able to formulate the letters to the words contained in the Machzor – Holiday prayer book, he began to chant the independent letters of the Aleph Bais aloud. This surprised many of the congregants who initially thought of silencing the young lad. The great and holy Rabbi of the congregation turned around and motioned that no one say a word and they should allow the young boy to continue his expression.

Later on, the Rabbi spoke and told the congregants that it was his intuition that all the prayers the congregation recited throughout Yom Kippur were accepted in Heaven on the coattails of the young boy’s sincere recital.

“Although they we just random letters that were being chanted, G-d took each of those letters and formulated them into words that expressed the sincere thoughts and feelings of connectivity that were going through this boys mind and heart!”

On Yom Kippur – we are likened to angels and G-d wishes to hear of our love, sincerity and yearning for Him. Through our stimulation through song, repentance and heartfelt prayers – we will be guaranteed to merit a sweet blessed year in the Book of Life!

Wishing you a most meaningful, uplifting and inspiring Yom Kippur!
Rabbi Dovid Saks