Understanding Prayer: The Soul’s Language (10/10)

Posted By on November 23, 2019

Kol Nidre, the haunting
melody that begins the Holy of Holies of Jewish time. What is it about Kol Nidre that speaks so powerfully
to the Jewish soul? It isn’t the words themselves, dry, prosaic, not poetry,
not even a prayer. They’re actually a legal formula
for the annulment of vows. So how did they come to
have the significance, the power, that they do? I’ve written an essay on
the history and meaning of Kol Nidre in the Koren machzor, and I’m not gonna to try
and summarise it now. But there’s another answer that has nothing to do with
history or custom or law, or the meaning of the words. Could it simply be that
Kol Nidre speaks to us – at least to us Ashkenazim – so powerfully because of the music? That haunting, evocative, sad yet defiant, tune that
instantly takes us into the mood of this intensely holy night. Perhaps that’s what prayer,
faith, spirituality really are: more like music than like speech, more like poetry than prose. There’s something profoundly
spiritual about music. When the Israelites crossed the miraculously divided Red Sea, they didn’t speak, they sang. When Moses was about to die, one of the last things he did, was to teach the people a song. When Hannah finally had a child, she sang. When David wanted to express
his innermost thoughts, he sang. When Jews celebrated at
the Temple, they sang. Words are the language of the mind, but music is the language of the soul. When we aspire to transcendence, and the soul longs to break free of the gravitational pull of the earth, it modulates into song. “Music,” said Jean Paul Richter,
“is the poetry of the air.” Tolstoy called it the
short-hand of emotion. The story of the Jewish spirit
is written in its songs. One of the most moving
testament is to this is the psalm King David sang to God, “You turned my grief into dance. You remove my sack cloth
and clothe me with joy, that my heart may sing to you, and not be silent.” When the spirit soars, the soul sings. And when we gather to pray, and our voices join those of others, the music opens our heart,
and releases our emotions, and unlocks our minds, and for a moment we forget our
narrow devices and desires and are brushed by the
wings of the Shekhinah [Divine Presence]. And afterward we return
to earth cleansed and re-energized. That is what prayer is, our song to God, who lifts us when we fall, who forgives us when we fail, and never ceases to believe in us, giving us the strength to continue and the power to grow. In the coming year,
may we sing God’s song, may His blessings flow
through us, to the world.

Posted by Lewis Heart

This article has 13 comments

  1. Such beautiful thoughts – truly song and music the language of the soul. Thank you for sharing these magnificent and divine ideas

  2. היום היה לי הזכות לשמוע את 10 ההרצאות הקצרות שלך בנושא התפילה וכו׳ רוצה להודות לך רביי יקר על הפשטות ועומק ההעשרה ישר כוח. תודה

  3. G'mar Chatimah Tovah Rabbe Sacks 💙 Just finding your beautifully fantastic series! Toda raba, you are a blessing to us all! B'H!!!
    I Need a Rabbi like you!


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