Soul Transportation

This weekend has a special name: “Shabbat Shirah” – the Shabbat of Song, so called because this week’s Torah portion contains the song sung by Israel after the parting of the Red Sea. Accordingly, this week’s essay addresses the soul of song – the power it has to transform our lives.

What gives music its power? How does it have the ability to transport us to another time and place? To lift a broken spirit? To bring a tear to a happy soul? Why does a song have the capacity to reach the depths of our heart, bring old memories alive, awaken our deepest aspirations and naturally cause us to dance to its beat?

What type of language is this language of song, and where did it originate? We learn the spoken language at home and at school. But who taught us how to sing?

What is the soul of song?

The mystics explain it this way:

How do souls travel? Bodies move about on legs or in vehicles. But what moves a soul? A soul doesn’t have legs and cannot be contained in an automobile or other vehicle. What carries our souls from one place to another?

The Kabbalah offers a fascinating answer: The only way a soul can move about is through a song. Without song the soul remains stuck in one place.

In the Holy Temple in Jerusalem there were fifteen steps corresponding to the fifteen Shir HaMaalos (song of ascents) in the book of Psalms (120-135), which the Levites would sing as they stood on the steps. In order to climb from one step to the next a song had to be sung.

In our material world we can convince ourselves that we are mobile – movers and shakers – even if our souls never budge an inch. There are people who chalk up millions of frequent flyer miles, others who move around in all the high circles, and yet others who are climbing the corporate ladder. But are they truly moving? Their bodies may be traveling places, but are their souls in flight? Then there are people who perhaps sit in the same place, praying or meditating, but spiritually they are moving millions of miles.

But in the spiritually intact Holy Temple, where spirit met matter and the physical was seamlessly aligned with its inner purpose, you simply could not move from one step to the next unless your soul was lifted through song.

Why do songs have this power? Because they are the language of the Divine.

A parable:

When G-d created the universe, He consulted the angels: “Should I bestow upon the human race the gift of music?” The elitist angels unanimously replied with a resounding “no.” “The human race will not appreciate the sublime power of melody. They will abuse and commercialize it. They won’t know how to appreciate angelic, divine nature of song.

“Give us your gift of music,” the angels said, “and we will sing Your praises, we will sing Your songs. We will know how to use the power of melody to reach great spiritual heights.”

G-d considered their opinion, but then overruled them. “No. I will give the gift of music to humans. Because I want them to have something to remember Me with.

“Sometimes life will be difficult. In such times the pressures can be overbearing. Man can feel depressed and hopeless. I therefore want them to have song to remind them, that even you’re stuck in the dire straits of material existence, even when you are experiencing existential loneliness and “quiet desperation,” you can break out in song, which will lift your spirits.

“Sometimes life will be comfortable, too comfortable. Let man then sing to remember that there is more to life than instant gratification.

“Yes indeed,” G-d concluded, “I will give the human being My unique tongue – the language of music and song, so that he can use it to discover transcendence.”

The reason song has the ability to transport the soul is because its true nature and the source of its power is its Divine language: Song is a dialect from another plane. If the conventional word is the language of man, music is the language of the Divine.

Songs, therefore, are the wings of the soul. They have the ability to lift our spirits to unprecedented heights. They allow us to fly; to soar away to far-away places – places that are beyond pedestrian life and mundane monotony.

Song is spiritual transportation. As one Rebbe put it: The spoken and written word is the “quill of the mind;” Music is the “quill of the heart.” If a soul looks like a flame, it sounds like a song.

Ahh, who hasn’t been drawn by the wish to just go out and sing, unfettered, unbound, to the open heavens. To get away from it all and sing away, with your hands waving free, like there is no tomorrow. To close your eyes, and allow the music to take you to unknown places beyond the anguish and pain of life’s tribulations?

This may explain the compelling power of music in the last 50 years. Why youth today are drawn to music – in ways that are unprecedented in history. Being a language of the soul, music fills the deep spiritual void left by corrupt or irrelevant religion and other belief systems. For good or for bad, music has become the “hymns” of today’s souls and concerts their cathedrals. Starting back in the 50’s music represented the voice of rebellion, the expression of individuality, the challenge to the status-quo of the conformist “man in the grey flannel suit.” The soul found its expression in song – to free itself from the materialistic bondage of the body; a way for us to dialogue with G-d (whether we know it or not).

Unfortunately, like any powerful force, music too, untamed and unfocused, can be hijacked and turned into another hedonistic vehicle of indulgence rather than transcendence, narcissism rather than selflessness, entertainment instead of inspiration.

But at its heart song has a hold on our souls because it is ultimately Divine language – the natural language of the soul. (No accident that music is called “soul”).

Our challenge is to recognize the true nature of song’s power and the reason this gift was given to us: To allow us to touch the Divine and integrate it into our lives. Now just to listen to the pleasant harmonies and dance to its beat, but to allow the soulful language of music to refine our personalities, strengthen our commitments, connect with our higher calling, help us build healthy homes and families and illuminate each of our respective corners of the world with our unique light.

We live in a dichotomous, fragmented world. Matter and spirit compartmentalized make it terribly difficult to hear the music of our souls.

Instead, we fabricate a superficial language to maneuver in our mundane lives. Music then becomes an exotic escape to an island. In search of some relief from the quotidian, you plug in your headphones, and block out the world around you – and you soar on music’s wings. But then you have to return, and then the music dies…

In truth, however, an inner hum fills all of existence. Every creature, every molecule, every atom emits its own unique sound. Every soul pulsates and purrs. Even when the “rush hour” of our lives with all its extraneous noise drowns out the “gentle, subtle voice” within, the music continues to play (even if you’re not plugged in).

In a seamless world all our experiences would sound like a song, all our movements would look like a dance. If our insides and outsides would be aligned, we would be singing all the time, and we wouldn’t be able to move unless we had a song to sing us along (as it was in the Temple).

Imagine: What would it be like to hear the music of the cosmos? How would it feel the song of your soul? Of other souls? How would life be different if you could generate a song at will?

Every time you experience a moment of truth – an experience that resonates – we are hearing the inner music of existence.

How do we access the music within at all times? By getting in touch with your life’s purpose, and recognizing that every moment of your day, every activity, every interaction is a spiritual opportunity. You are charged with the mission to realize each of these opportunities by ensuring that all the material gain is simply a means to express higher spiritual truths and bring more virtue into this world.

This attitude taps into the very fabric of the harmonic chords of existence, which allow us to hear the music within.

In every life experience you have two options to choose from: To serve your own needs, or to serve a higher cause. When you touch the surface of the experience it usually will result in narcissistic results. But when you tap into the inner meaning of the experience, its music will play.

In every experience we can either just ride through the experience, or we can learn to play the inner chords that release a song.

There are people in this world that turn every thing they touch into music, every thing they come into contact with into a dance. They are alive, brimming with energy. They are electric, and everything that they touch becomes electrified.

Some people deaden every thing they touch. Some people bring every thing alive.

Imagine a world in which music is playing all the time. Imagine hearing a song in every breath you take, in every step you make. Imagine a life in which every move you feel the inner rhythm.

As we enter the “Shabbat of song” we are imbued with the power to turn our lives into one extended symphony.

High time to start singing.

Will you electrify your corner of the world or will you dampen it?

* * *

Question for the Week: What does music mean for you?


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17 years ago

Song means Happy to me. I sing to myself all day long. Some recognizable melodies, some just ningunim. My own ningunim.

Anne Amiel
17 years ago

Thanks a lot for such a beautiful and inspiring text that made me thrill. Yes, a song and its music can make me dance like celebrating life, joy, happiness and feel like singing more and more loudly!! And then, I can feel much better like much in love with life and all the beauties it can bring. Its one of the best therapies I know with laughter to feel healed and happy to live. It does make me enjoy life! Forget and get rid of everydays problems. What would be a world without music? We just cant imagine it, can we??

Ros Koonin
17 years ago

Beshalach is my elder sons Barmitzvah Parsha (19 years ago).

Music is indeed the song of the soul. I have always believed this. I began playing the piano at the age of 3, picking out songs I heard by ear and playing them. I studied music at the Royal Conservatory in what was then Rhodesia. I sang in a choir throughout school.

My younger son is a musician as well.

Your article reminded me of what is missing in my life. Its time to sing and play music again.

Thank you.

Miriam Jaskierowicz Arman
12 years ago

Simon, a deeply stirring article – The Voice is the single most spiritual and essential connection which we humans have to Hashem. Our song brings us to the doors of Schamaim and the sound of our voices opens those doors to allow Hashem the sharing in our joy of His Crestion. Only through song can we reach these heights because Hashem loves the song (Tehillim) and only through our singing can we entreat Hashem to give credence to our pleas. Of coure you know my connection to the work with the voice – Bringing it to the level of the deepest arousal is the dedication of my life – I might mention that in the 4th editon the chapter Hashem, The Voice and You is dedicated to this conversaton and I think you would much enjoy it. I am always happy to read your writings of deep, soul rooted subjects. Sending Brachot from the Holy City of Tiberias – Shabbat Shalom.

12 years ago

the quote is music is the quill of the soul,…but the quill of the heart changes the meaning completely, no?

Rosalie Gerut
12 years ago

Rabbi – How beautifully said – your words are a song –
Gut Shabbes,
Reyzl Gerut

12 years ago

music for me is life. w/o music i am a dead person. i like to sing and i feel that when i sing with others in harmony the angels are around me singing with me. i feel high than. i was singing in a group as a child in israel. but sometimes i feel that it is forbidden for me to sing…. as a women. being afraid of jealousy… but i will never stop singing , because i want to be alive no matter what.

Robb Gordon
12 years ago

I always look forward to Rabbi Jacobsons words, but rarely has anything spoken to me like this piece. It is an inspiration to see somebody describe musical worship as I experience it.

ruth housman
12 years ago

Such a beautiful piece of music: this article. it resonated for me, in beautiful ways. Yes, sound mind/sound body. This symphony has a conductor. A long time ago the words music of the spheres was written in connection with our universe and its very true. I love what you wrote about those among us whose lives are pure in song. I love what you wrote about how soul rides on song. I love it that the word sing can be reversed in terms of letters to be sign, because the signs are everywhere that G_d is in that whirring of wings, and that world itself is whirrled, and that the hum of universe itself, one verse, one chord, A chord, is also accord, that we should sing together that universal OM, that is about love, that is peace itself. Thank you! Beautiful actually stands alone. I was just inspired to comment.

12 years ago

Through music I transcend the little self that I am, with its worries and its pain, and unite with that which is pure in me, in union –Yehood- with the highest of the highest, our Creator.

Shira Song
8 years ago

Music to me, is having a song with every breath I take and every step that I make, this is my souls desire.
Upon reading, each one of the expressed desires in your wonderful spoken article, I hear the music, of a great messianic choir being assembled, turning our lives into one extended symphony. What joy, what peace, what songs, what music. May our songs power allow us to touch the Devine.
Thank You Rabbi

Gail Van Luvanee
7 years ago

What a wonderful article. Thank you for it.
. I’m VERY sensitive to the elements of music, for better or for worse —- similar to how music off pitch is actually physically painful for a person with perfect pitch.
. For me, music using the anapestic rhythm, electric guitars, bass, woofers, etc is actually VERY REAL torture …….. and when pastors started using music with these elements during services, services became torture for me. What made it even worse was the way the pastors abused me when i tried to talk to them about it. As a result, i can’t sing any longer …. i can only look forward to being in heaven when i will be able to freely sing once again.

7 years ago

Music means transcendence for me. It lifts me up, it calms me down… I can’t live without music, it’s really part of my soul.
Beautiful article! Thank you.

Mark Novak
7 years ago

If you would, could you give the citation in the Zohar for the soul moving through song? I’d love to look at it.
Thank you, and Shabbat shalom,

Mark Novak
7 years ago

If you would, could you give the citation in the Zohar for the soul moving through song? I’d love to look at it.
Thank you, and Shabbat shalom,

Joseph Lerman
7 years ago

This Shabbat ט״ו בשבת
The trees blum it also a form of a song. We react the this day in songs and dance.
We feel inspiered by the rental Shabbat Shira.

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