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May 8, 2015  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

From the ‘Song of Self’ to the ‘Song of All’

By RABBI DANIELLE UPBIN Cong Beth Shalom, Clearwater

“From a distance we are instruments
Marching in a common band
Playing songs of hope, playing songs
of peace
They’re the songs of every man”
- Bette Midler

If your ‘selfie’ had a song, what would it be? You know, a personal “theme song” – not just your favorite song, but the one that expresses your greatest hopes and dreams (remember Ally McBeal?). My selfie comes with a song. If you stick with this article I’ll share it with you at the end with the hope that it helps guide you to think about your own.

But what makes having a special song so important? What does Bette Midler mean “the songs of every man”? To answer this I turn to one of my favorite pieces of Jewish literature, “The Four Fold Song” by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine, and one of the greatest poet-philosophers of the 20th century. In this short colorful work, he paints the ideal vision of community: one in which every individual’s “theme song” is valued and recognized, but also celebrated as part of a larger symphony.

Kook then urges us to link our personal song beyond ourselves, to the choir of the people of Israel. We exemplify this second fold, when we sing the “Hatikvah,” a song of hope for our people in our homeland, or “L’dor Va Dor,” linking the past generations to ourselves and onto the next.

But he doesn’t stop there. He urges us further to join in the orchestra of humankind; to sing the songs of freedom in every language for all people, as Bette Midler does in “From a Distance.” Having done that, Kook encourages us to link our song to the symphony of the universe, singing the song of birds and spinning orbits, the song of the wind and the ocean.

In creating this vast symphony with all our fellow Jews, humanity, and the world, we manifest the “Song of Songs” to our Creator. Participating in this shared score reminds us that there is more that unites us than divides us, whether we are singing about spirituality, politics, religion, or whatever “hot topics” arise. May our collective songs nurture our communities to grow in peace, strength, and love.

An Excerpt of Rav Kook’s “Four Fold Song:”

“There is one who sings the song of his own life, and in himself he finds everything, his full spiritual satisfaction.

There is another who sings the song of his people. He leaves the circle of his own individual self, because he finds it without sufficient breadth, without an idealistic basis. He aspires toward the heights, and he attaches himself with a gentle love to the whole community of Israel. ...

“There is another who reaches toward more distant realms, and he goes beyond the boundary of Israel to sing the song of man. His spirit extends to the wider vistas of the majesty of man generally, and his noble essence. ...

“Then there is one who rises toward wider horizons, until he links himself with all existence, with all God’s creatures, with all worlds, and he sings his song with all of them. ...

“And then there is one who rises with all these songs in one ensemble. And they all join their voices. Together they sing their songs with beauty, each one lends vitality and life to the other. They are sounds of joy and gladness, sounds of jubilation and celebration, sounds of ecstasy and holiness.”

The song of the self, the song of the people, the song of man, the song of the world all merge in him at all times, in every hour. And this full comprehensiveness rises to become the song of holiness, the song of God, the song of Israel, in its full strength and beauty, in its full authenticity and greatness.

The name “Israel” stands for Shir El, the song of God. It is a simple song, a twofold song, a threefold song, and a fourfold song. It is the Song of Songs of Solomon, which means, peace and wholeness. It is the song of the King in whom is wholeness.

(Lights of Holiness, Vol. II Translation, Ben Zion Bokser, in Abraham Isaac Kook, Paulist Press pp 228-9)

My theme song is an upbeat melody of “Ivdu et Hashem B’simcha,” “Serve God in Joy” from Psalm 100.

What’s yours?

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the board.


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