Music, perhaps more than any other medium, has the unique ability to express and mirror the full range of human emotions, consciousness and experience. Its appeal on one hand is universal, transcending race, religion, culture, and era, while on the other hand nothing captures the particular essence of a specific culture, religion, era, or individual better than music. It allows the soul to soar to heavenly heights, giving wing to man's most glorious aspirations and dreams. It expresses as well man's greatest pain, sadness, and existential loneliness.
Who has not experienced themselves singing full volume in the shower or along with every word of a song on the car radio or at home while all alone? Who has not been depressed or lonely, joyous or happy to be alive and found in a tape or CD the very songs to express these moods? Who has not sat around with friends and experienced through song and melodic harmony a unity of soul and purpose as voices and instruments joined together?
Who has not felt the raw power and mystic connection at a concert where everyone is locked into the same beat, the same vibrational field? Or the connection at a large public event where hundreds or thousands of people are all connected and focused through the same song? And who has not felt in the special melodies used during the various Jewish holidays the essence and intrinsic meaning these days are meant to impart to us?
Music without words plays on the chords of the heart and the fantasy of the mind. Music with words expresses the deepest longings, challenges, and hopes of a human being. Not only does it move the soul to joyous laughter or deeply felt tears, but the body as well is caught up in its driving beat. Music is a cosmic language that unites the physical and spiritual, body and soul, universal and particular, while simultaneously transcending time and temporal space altogether...
Throughout Jewish history, music and song have been employed as an instrument to bring people together in an effective and powerful expression of community. The prayer services in our synagogues are meant to capture the sense of awe and community which existed in the Holy Temple. Especially in a fast-lane, technological, 24/7 world, where people feel more and more isolated and lacking in direction and purpose, a feeling of Jewish community and sharing takes on a new immediacy and importance. So many people, especially the young, who want to connect to their Jewish roots but cannot find a sense of community or spiritual connection to Judaism, are being attracted to the invigorating freshness and depths of music and prayer connecting in a communal setting.
Another way that music has been used throughout the ages is as an aid to meditation. Jewish meditation is practiced in many forms, including the enhancement of prayer and study. Meditation has many of the elements of prayer and music, and at times the three unite in perfect harmony. This idea was also emphasized greatly by the Baal Shem Tov and is an important component to the teachings of the Chassidic movement.
A niggun (wordless song), a prayer, or a verse of Torah sung over and over again can focus the mind and bring the ego to a state of self-nullification. Music can take us soaring to unimaginable heights of inner peace and ecstasy. Alternatively, music can be used as a catalyst to focus one's mind on particular intentions, emotions, or concepts, allowing new insight and revelation to manifest themselves. Ultimately, music is a potent vehicle to feeling at one and at peace with God. The act of unifying with God is the deepest drive of the Jewish soul, and prayer and song have been used throughout Jewish tradition and ritual as a means to achieve this lofty state of consciousness.
The period prior to the Messianic era is referred to as the "footsteps of the Messiah," implying that as the era draws near we will experience events that are like the sound of faint footsteps in the distance, growing louder and louder as they get closer and closer. The renewal of song and joyous prayer in our day, as more and more Jews are moving to Israel, reminds us of the tenth archetypal song the exiles will sing as they return to their ancient homeland. We cannot yet hear the full song, but the faint outline of the tune is getting perceptively louder. May we merit to hear and sing it quickly in our days!