Jewish tradition teaches us that there are only ten true Songs in the history of the world. Each one of these Shirot expresses the harmony of Creation as well as marking an important event in Jewish history. They are therefore Shirot – Songs – harmonious and perfect.
What a beautiful thought! To think that one song could be so glorious as to capture the moment of creation. For any music lover, that moment of glorious perfection in music is a personal and powerful moment: Jussi Björling & Robert Merrill singing the famous Pearl Fishers duet; the first Movement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto as performed by cellist Jacqueline Du Pre with Daniel Barenboim in 1967; the last vincerò in the aria, Nessun Dorma, from Puccini’s Turandot, as sung by Luciano Pavarotti in 1979.
The most recent moment for me happened this past year as I was conducting the choir. The voices, piano, and prayer came together in such perfect harmony and sound that chills ran through my body. I truly felt as though somehow the music had been touched by God.
Music has that ability to transcend people and moments. Our people have known this since the beginning. The first mention of music can be found in Genesis, Chapter 4. We are all familiar with the story of Cain and Abel. After this story, the chapter concludes with a whole list of begets and begats and hidden among those, in verse 21, we find mention of Jubal: He was the ancestor of all who play the lyre and the pipe. (Gen. 4:21)
David was the sweet singer of Israel and the 150 psalms are all attributed to him. And, also in Torah, we find one of the ten True Songs! In Exodus, Chapter 13, we find Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea. This is the Song that the Children of Israel sang after they crossed the Sea of Reeds, and watched Pharaoh’s armies covered by the waters. It is a song of celebration and praise and is considered so important that the Shabbat on which this portion (B’shalach) is read is called Shabbat Shirah.
This year, we are going to celebrate Shabbat Shirah with a special Service of Song on February 17, in honor of Rabbi Birnholz’s 72nd birthday (4xChai) and 30 years at Congregation Schaarai, We will be singing the music of Bonia Shur, former Director of Liturgical Arts at Hebrew Union College, and Rabbi’s favorite Jewish composer. The Koleinu Choir will be leading the music, and I invite anyone who would like to sing, to join with us in this very special event. We will hold four rehearsals for this Shabbat, and both printed and recorded music will be handed out to help you prepare the parts.
It is my personal hope and prayer that each person will have one of those special, perfect moments of music – one that will touch the soul and uplift the spirit.