Shabbat Message: It is the Songs that Stir Our Soul

Posted on September 25, 2020 by Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck

Every year after Yom Kippur I hear friends and relatives react to their rabbis’ sermons on the Holy Days. And guess what. Not one of them has ever said the rabbi’s sermon was too short. If all goes well, a rabbi’s words from the pulpit are challenging, moving, important and instructive. These are the standards that guide rabbis in shaping their messages. Brevity is not a hallmark of the rabbi’s craft. Effectiveness is!

If the tendency to speak at length is common among rabbis, we have a significant role model to blame for this: Moses! Our Rabbi and teacher, moshe rabbeinu!

The entire book of Deuteronomy is a series of lengthy sermons given by Moses in the last days of his life. The Israelites will enter the Promised Land without him, so he’s getting his last licks.

So many of his words are stirring, like the Shema and the v’ahavta, the Ten Commandments, and my favorite, the passage we will read on Yom Kippur telling us that God has placed before us life and death, blessing and curse, and calls us to choose life.

Having reached such a high note, you might argue that the Torah should have ended there. But it doesn’t. There are two more brief parshiot – This week’s parsha, Ha’azinu, and the final words we will read on Simchat Torah, V’zot hab’racha.

And here’s the interesting thing about both of them. They’re songs, lyric poems that were set to music.

After 31 chapters of verbal discourse, Moses, our rabbi, ends his career as a chazan, a singer of songs. It’s an interesting move — and one that makes a lot of sense. People are likely to forget the speeches, but they will remember the songs.

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it: “Intellect alone does not inspire in us the passion to change the world. To do that you have to take thought and turn it into song.”

One day in my early years here at TBE a 63-year-old congregant walked into my office and started singing his bar mitzvah haftarah from memory. The words weren’t exactly right, but the melody had nested in his soul. For the fiftieth anniversary of his bar mitzvah he chanted his haftarah again.

The Holy Days offer us powerful ideas and images, but without a doubt, the soaring majesty and power of these days is conveyed by the music.

We Jews tend to attribute our survival to the sacred books we’ve carried with us on our journey. I will be the last to deny that. But it may just be that the last word of our story is the song we have carried in our hearts from generation to generation- the melodies, the tunes that stir our souls; that take our words and give them wings to soar on high.

May the melodies of this season give wings to your words of prayer and lift your spirits to the heights.

G’mar chatima tova, may you be sealed for a year of good health, joy, and blessing!

Rabbi Arnie Gluck

Click here for an audio clip of Yom Kippur melodies played by our own talented accompanist, Kathy Shanklin.