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connecting song with prayer

08/30/2018 03:39:05 PM


Cantor Phillips Fogelman

The Chasidic master Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer, known as the Baal Shem Tov, recounts a story of a boy who brought his flute to synagogue on Yom Kippur. The boy didn’t know the prayers, but was moved by the music and the spirituality of the service. At first, he sat in quiet frustration, unsure of how to express his connection with the liturgy. Towards the end of Neilah, the final service, the boy took his flute out of his pocket and blew a long and powerful note.

Days of Awe: in Agnon Tov continued to pray with more fervor than ever before addressing the congregation as follows, paraphrased by S.Y. ShemThe congregation was startled by the sound of the flute, staring at the boy disapprovingly. The boy’s father was mortified. But the Baal

“With the sound of his flute this child lifted up all the prayers and eased my burden. For this child does not know anything but… the prayer’s holy spark kindled an actual fire in him, and the flame of his longing burned higher and higher until his soul nearly expired… Now, the clean breath of his lips was very acceptable to Him, and by this means all the prayers were lifted up.”

The Baal Shem Tov’s words teach us many things that can enhance our High Holy Day worship. Whether we are singing the prayers, reading the texts, or just simply being, our contributions matter. As individuals, we each have the ability to lift our prayers and the prayers of the congregation to heaven. Although the boy in this story was unable to pray in a conventional sense, his deep kavanah, or intention, allowed him to commune with the divine.

On Rosh Hashanah morning, we read the story of Hannah, which discusses the evolution of spontaneous prayer. Hannah’s husband mistook her seemingly odd way of praying as a drunken stupor. Her heartfelt desire to be a mother, expressed through song as opposed to prose, was met with the birth of her son, Samuel.

For both Hannah and the boy in the Baal Shem Tov’s story, music was the conduit that facilitated a connection with prayer. Over the course of the High Holy Days, you will hear many different styles of music that will evoke various memories and emotions. From the majestic “Avinu Malkeinu” by Max Janowski to the contemplative “Meditation” by Marshall Portnoy to congregational favorites like Jeff Klepper and Danny Freelander’s “Shalom Rav,” the diversity of our High Holy Day music allows us to look at our liturgy from many angles, both as individuals and as a community.

My hope is that that the many sounds of the High Holy Days will give you a chance to raise your voices in joyful song and to explore the many different facets of our liturgy.

Fri, September 22 2023 7 Tishrei 5784