Something that I find really healing during personal prayer is singing, singing a song or just a nigun, a song without words. A song of faith, of longing, or a happy song to lift me up. Music can take us out of all of the pressures and negative emotions we might be experiencing and bring us to a powerful, deep connection with Hashem and with our souls. What is so powerful about music? What is so healing about it? How is it able to express the deepest places in our soul?
Rebbe Nachman teaches in the book Advice (Likutei Eitzot) that by singing a song of holiness, a song that expresses faith and connection to Hashem, a person can obtain the aspect of prophecy. That is how powerful song and music can be. The main way to cling to Hashem is through song. He also teaches in the same chapter about music, that hearing a song from a singer or musician who is singing for the sake of Heaven is very great. Through listening to this type of music a person’s bad perceptions and impure desires are subdued and purified. They are able to distance themselves from sadness and merit happiness. Furthermore, their mind and their memory are protected, and they are able to understand the hints that God is sending them every day to come closer to Him. (Advice, Song, 3rd teaching and 8th teachings)
We see that real music is something very spiritual. It has a strong influence on our soul. Reb Noson, the Rebbe’s main student, expands upon Rebbe Nachman’s teachings about the transformative power of music in his book, Likutei Halachot. He teaches that the main way to connect two things that are far from each other, so much so that they are like two opposites is through music. Being here in the physical world in a body can create a great distance from Hashem. Therefore, the main way to cling to Hashem and connect to Him from this lowly, physical world is by way of song and music. Reb Noson says that we can see this clearly. Even a person who is sunken in a very low place spiritually, through holy music his soul can be awakened to return to Hashem. All of the songs that we sing to praise Hashem, in the prayer book, in our own words or in the book of Psalms are an essential way of truly connecting to Hashem. King David’s book of Psalms contains within it all of the ten types of song. Reb Noson also teaches that the main way to draw down the spirit of life, of holiness, is through singing and playing music about our faith in Hashem. (Otsar HaYirah, Likutei Halachot, Music, teachings 1 and 3)
There are singers who are able to channel through their music faith in Hashem and longing for Hashem. They stir our souls and awaken the holiness that we have inside of us. After hearing their songs and music we just cannot ignore our own souls. One of them was Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach z”l. I heard recently in one of the growing number of yahrzeit events marking his passing that once he said he did not write his own songs. He never said down to write a song. Reb Shlomo said that he received them from above; they are songs that come from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. He was drawing them down from a high place. The service in the Holy Temple was accompanied by music, by the songs of the Levites. In the past year or so, I have ‘rediscovered’ Reb Shlomo’s teachings and music. I feel that I am able to appreciate much more their amazing depth after having become connected to Chassidut. His songs seem very simple, just a few chords, but they express the deepest longings of the soul. I have been singing his songs a lot to myself recently in personal prayer. They are really helping me get through this challenging time of lockdown and quarantine. They help my soul feel more at peace. They help me remember what is important in life. Sometimes it is hard for me to listen to a class online or to open a book to learn something, but I always find a song that I want to listen to. A song that speaks to me at that moment.
There is certainly a lot more which we can learn and discuss about this topic, but for now, I want to end by sharing the lyrics of a beautiful song written by Michael Shapiro, a teacher and musician living in Arizona. The Aish Kodesh community in New York and Rabbi Shlomo Katz released a compilation of his songs, sung by different artists, about two years ago. This song touches me so deeply. It expresses our desire to return home and be close to our Creator. Returning home to serve Hashem. Do not be afraid of the journey!
“Don’t feel so far from your home, it’s not such a long journey. The path is inside of you; it waits, but don’t wait too long. The mind’s so far from the heart, they think and act as strangers. Make peace and be as one; love and serve the One King.
Refrain: Don’t be afraid, His love surrounds you, though you may feel alone. And within, a soft voice calls you: ‘Return Home.’
And on the way back home, the soul rejoices deeply. Creation sings in joy as she returns to harmony. When light is revealed, the most precious treasure, then sorrow has no place and joy abounds forever.”