Drums, Mysticism and Chanukah Light
Upon hearing about our drumming event last night,
a friend asked me (in Yiddish): “Vos, bistu mishuge
gevoren (did you go crazy)? What’s this thing about
drumming? Why don’t you stick to traditional teaching
For those of you that
may not be aware of what I am talking about, last night, December 24th,
the sixth night of Chanukah, our organization hosted a unique Chanukah event
called The Sound of Light: Interactive
Drumming, Music and Mysticism. It featured
African drumming, mystical teachings, song and menorah lighting. It was a
highly interactive experience, in which everyone attending drummed together
and participated in a true celebration of spirit.
So, what indeed is this
The short answer is this:
We are living in a time of religious crisis. For many people, the religious
experience in general, and Judaism in particular, is divorced of personal
relevance. It simply does not speak to many people’s hearts and souls, does
not address their most intimate issues. When dealing with personal and psychological
challenges, even devout people do not necessarily know how to find answers
in religious texts. Thus, the large vacuum that inevitably results in the
search for spirituality outside of one’s religious tradition.
The situation has only
been exacerbated by the onset of the information age and the technological
revolution. Serious competition exists today to capture our minds and hearts.
We are under a constant barrage of information coming from the media, television,
the Internet and every company’s marketing strategy, all demanding our attention
and inundating us with promises of youth, wealth and pleasure. The entertainment
industry, clubs, galleries, museums, theatres, including high-quality programs
in music and the arts, have in some ways become the temples of our times.
It’s nothing less than an onslaught, an attack on our psyches. Under these
circumstances, even healthy religion would be hard pressed to get our attention.
How much more so when faced with irrelevant – or even negative – religious
experience: It simply cannot compete with all the “products” beckoning us.
What is necessary is
not to create a new religion, but to find innovative ways to access and excavate
the deeper resources of tradition – to uncover its profound, personalized
spirituality. We need today nothing less than a revolution in the religious
One way to do this is
to find ways to bridge people’s current life experiences and spirituality.
We need to build upon points of reference, and demonstrate to people how G-d
can be found not just in the synagogue on Yom Kippur, but also in music, art,
science, business, and… drumming.
Hence, last night’s drumming
event, which concluded our five-part series, The Sound of Light, exploring the
of light, and its parallels
in physics, psychology and mysticism, all applied in our personal relationships.
When I was first introduced
to the idea of drumming, I initially rejected it in my mind. But then I thought
to myself: Hey, why don’t you experiment and see what it’s about. To my surprise,
the primal sounds elicited a profound resonance of rhythm that paralleled
so many ideas in Jewish mysticism that I had studied. Chassidic teachings
discuss the rhythm of existence – the dual pulsating energy called “rotzo
and shuv.” Existence is essentially Divine breath, which is constantly recreating
existence in a cosmic dance that is continuously inhaling and exhaling.
Our heartbeat too reflects
the cosmic expansion and contraction that pumps energy into the arteries of
life. Everything alive, everything that exists, is a dynamic flow traveling
back and forth.
And then I remembered
the poignant words of the Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak: “We must listen to the lichtelech”
(the flames, lovingly called “lichtlelech,” flame’elech). What better way
to listen to the sound of the light than to actually combine it with the sounds
of drums and songs.
And so, on the sixth
night of Chanukah I had the honor to see the light of sound emanating from
the synergy of over a hundred and fifty people beating on drums.
We then lit the Chanukah
menorah, and experienced the sound of light – we were able to listen to the
lichtelech. The flames tell a story – first and foremost: the story of our
own restless lives. The story of yearning and returning, of tension and resolution,
of dreams and realism, of a transcendent soul in search of grounding.
So, though the world
of the spirit transcends the senses, today more than ever we must learn to
bridge the sensory world – our over-stimulated sensory world – with the supersensory.
We must use our eyes and ears to see and listen to things that defy the eye
and the ear. To help us along we reach into a place in the soul where the
two intersect and you can actually hear the sights and see the sounds.
Whenever you experience
true love, true unity, all the senses melt into one seamless whole, sight,
sound, smell, taste and touch, all fuse into one all encompassing experience.
Like a child in its mother’s womb, all the child hears for nine consecutive
months is its mother’s heartbeat. But it’s not just a sound; it’s a womblike
This experience was somewhat
recreated when we sang maos tzur and haneiroit halolu, to the
beat of the drums. The flickering flames, the yearn and return rhythm of Chassidic
melodies, was echoed in the call and response of the speaking drums. As I
think back to the magic of the evening, I realized that these parallels all
fed into each other, and fed us all in one glorious Chanukah celebration.
As a finale, our assistant
dean, and acclaimed songwriter-pianist,
Phillip Namanworth, graced us with several original Chanukah compositions, including
a brand new hip-hoppish song inspired by the rotzo and shuv-give and take,
written specifically for this event, ‘Trying to Get The Balance Right.’
As we stand at the close
of Chanukah 2003, it behooves each of us to listen to the flames. To listen
to the sound emitted by light. Each soul also has its own hum. To help achieve
this, sing a song, drum a beat – through the tune of music and the drumbeat
you may be able to hear the sound of your soul and the deeper sound of the
Learning how to speak
to yourself in a new way can then help you speak
with and listen to others in new ways, accessing the power of "rotzo
and shuv" – the dual pulsating forces that contain the secret of a balanced
Each of our souls ticks
to a perfect rhythm. A newborn child is aligned with the soul’s inner rhythm.
Material life, with all its distractions, throws our rhythm out of sync. All
our lives, all our seeking, all our aspirations and ambitions, are searching
to realign ourselves to our inner rhythm
Chanukah light has another primary theme: Its ability to
illuminate darkness. The miracle consisted of finding pure
oil and rededicating the Temple after the Greeks had defiled
the Temple and its oil. We light the menorah after sundown,
facing the street, in order to illuminate the night and
the world outside.
As such, our weekly workshops
(and the articles in this space) for the month of January/Tevet will explore
The Sound of Darkness, how to uncover the deeper light within the shadows
of our lives (see details below).
Drums, music, art, physics
– spirituality and mysticism. The list goes on. They are all one world, driven
by one driving Divine force.
Judaism offers us infinitely rich resources to understand
ourselves and the role we play in the universe. We need
not look for new and original “systems.”
After a lifetime of work a professor presented his grand
theory to the academy of the wise, eagerly awaiting his
peers approval. After a few weeks the academy gave him their
mark: “Your paper,” they said, “is both
good and original.” The professor was elated. But
before he could celebrate they continued, “the problem
is this: the part that’s good is not original; and
the part that’s original is not good.”
Truth is never new. Musical
notes always remain the same. The ways we discover truth may be new, we play
the musical notes in infinitely new combinations, but truth itself is by definition
timeless and eternal.
The call of our times is not to create new musical notes,
but to learn how play the original ones in creative ways
that allow us to relate to them and integrate them into
We here at the Meaningful
Life Center are dedicated to this calling: Our goal is to help people integrate spirituality in innovative
ways that excite both the senses and the soul.
Blessings for an illuminating
Chanukah, one that illuminates your entire life.
January/Tevet at the Meaningful Life
THE SOUND OF DARKNESS
In the month of December/Kislev we explored the nature
of light and its affect in our lives. Next month join us
as we excavate the metaphysics of darkness and uncover the
deeper light within.
From light to… darkness to… deeper light
We all have dark areas in our lives – moments of loneliness
and fear, times when we just feel that there is no hope, lurking shadows in
our psyche. What role do these forces play? What is their true nature? Above
all, how can we overcome their threatening presence, and transform them into
Join us for a four part
series, culminating on January 21st in a dynamic dialogue between
the Jacobson brothers, Simon and Yosef Yitzchak.
Did you know ..
that darkness is really another form of light?
Learn how to access that light revealed to us by ancient
mystics. Explore new ways to view the shadows of your life,
and transform darkness into opportunity.
Did you know..
that there are two
types of darkness?
These two dimensions exist in the darker recesses of our unconscious. Discover the two levels of darkness, and how they are reflected in our daily experiences.
Did you know..
that darkness contains
Like a black hole, darkness is a powerful force that is trapped in its own
Access the power of the night and Free this enormous energy.
Learn how to discover the light not just at the end, but
inside the tunnel
The series will take place on consecutive Wednesdays beginning
December 31st and concluding on January 21st.
8:15pm at 346 W89th St. at Riverside Drive. Location for
January 21st event to be announced.