The Blessing for Music
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Yesterday was Rosh Chodesh (the new month) Av. The beginning of Av marks the beginning of nine days of mourning leading toward the commemoration of the ninth of Av, a day of solemn remembrances of tragic events in Jewish history. The ninth of Av is marked by a fast, listening to story of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the same mourning practices one would have for the death of a loved one. It is a solemn and very sad time which comes during the hottest period of the summer.
Rosh Chodesh, the celebration of the new month, any new month, is a happy time. As noted in an earlier post on this blog, there are no particular customs associated with this monthly event, but in the synagogue it is marked by saying the part of the Hallel, a collection of Psalms of exaltation. Hallel, recalls the the exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea. These vivid moments are recalled through song as we collectively recall and rejoice for the gifts of freedom.
In thinking about the Hallel, it is a liturgical moment where music and song triumph. The Hallel is the act joyous singing, a community event marked by resonating sounds. As we participate in this half Hallel we raise our voices and revel in the power of the music. Being part of the community helps to magnify this feeling as voices join together in song. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks brilliantly writes about the power of music in his description of the portion Ha'azinu,
"I once watched a teacher explaining to young children the difference between a physical possession and a spiritual one. He had them build a paper model of Jerusalem. Then (this was in the days of tape-recorders) he put on a tape with a song about Jerusalem that he taught to the class. At the end of the session he did something very dramatic. He tore up the model and shredded the tape. He asked the children, “Do we still have the model?” They replied, No. “Do we still have the song?” They replied, Yes.
We lose physical possessions, but not spiritual ones. We lost the physical Moses. But we still have the song."
I wonder about this intersection of music and song with prayer. I wonder in our vast liturgical system and roadmap of blessings, collective memories, praises of creation and the Creator and requests to that Creator, why there is not a blessing specifically meant for hearing music or making music? Music, like prayer, is the language of the soul. We only amplify its gifts by accompanying it with a blessing. Perhaps scholars well versed in Jewish law would say that we bless only what God creates, but although music is not created by God, the creativity that stems from it is. With that thought in mind, here is series of thoughts about what a blessing on music might mean.
There are blessings for apples and pears
Bananas and grapes
Bread and jam
Donuts and yams
Cookies and ice cream
Whiskey and wine
Where is the blessing for music?
There are blessings for new clothing
For seeing kings
For rainbows and thunderstorms
For meeting an important person
For greeting a lost friend
For candles with one or many wicks
But no blessings for music?
We bless what we eat
We bless what we drink
We bless our words, our actions
We bless what we see and hear
We bless what we remember, what we experience
We bless through words assigned to us long ago
I search for a blessing for music.
There are blessings for hearing the shofar
Maybe that is close to music?
Or hearing good news
Which is like music to our ears
There are blessings upon hearing thunder
That vibrates through our bodies
What could be our blessing for music?
There are blessings for seeing the ocean
And for brides and grooms
There are blessings for babies and for death
And for the moon and the sun
Blessings for the morning and the evening
And the rain and the dew
There needs to be a blessing for music.
Can we find language to express how we feel when we hear a flute?
Or how our heart pounds in rhythm to the pounding of a drum?
Or how we are elevated when hearing an aria soft and sweet?
Or our thrill at the reverberating sounds of an orchestra?
The combined voices of a choir whose voices reach skyward?
The tinkle of chimes gracing the air on a July afternoon?
How can we put that music into words?
There must be a blessing to show how our soul softens when we hear a guitar
Lazily picking a tune?
Or how our core bounces with the vibrations of a tuba boisterously bellowing?
There must be an affirmation of how music raises us from the depths
Or lowers us gently to the ground
Can we put into words our gratitude for the feelings music evokes?
Can we give language to the song in our hearts?
How would that blessing sound?
Thank You for the great gift of music.