Music Gives Wings to Words

Posted on October 7, 2022 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck

It should come as no surprise that I don’t sleep well during the holy day season, but not for the reason you might think. For sure, the responsibility of preparing for the services and sermons weighs heavily upon me. But there is another significant reason my sleep is compromised – one that resonates with our parashah for this week, Ha’azinu. I can’t get the songs out of my head. I can’t silence the stirring melodies of these holy days.

The connection is that our parashah, Ha’azinu, is presented in the form of a song – one of two songs that comprise Moses’ final words to the Children of Israel. Why did Moses choose to leave them with songs? It seems a curious way for him to conclude his career, especially considering how it began. When God called Moses to confront Pharaoh, Moses demurred, saying:” I am not a man of words… I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”

Ironically, the person who said “lo ish d’varim anochi…” I am not a man of words – went on to produce a series of speeches that were so powerful that they were preserved as a book called sefer d’varim — the Book of Words, best known to us as Deuteronomy!

Some of the most consequential words of all time are contained in this book, including the declaration of God’s unity, Sh’ma Yisrael; the v’ahavta prayer, “You shall love the Eternal your God with all your heart…”; the searing command “Tzedek, Tzedek tirdof,” “Justice, justice, shall you pursue;” the call to “choose life,” that we just read on Yom Kippur morning, and many, many more. The man who was slow of speech was somehow transformed into one of the greatest orators of all time. He became an epic preacher who left a legacy of precious words.

Because Moses was such a great teacher our tradition calls him moshe rabbeinu, Moses our Rabbi. But in fact, he chose to end his life by taking up the mantle of the chazan, a singer of songs. And with good reason. A good speech can have great impact – and his most certainly did. But if you want to touch the hearts of your audience and leave and indelible mark on their souls, teach them a song. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote: “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.”

Moshe Rabbeinu left us inspiring visions for life in magnificent words that will endure for all time. But in closing them with song he taught us how to give them wings, and for that we should be forever grateful.

Shabbat shalom!

Rabbi Arnie Gluck