This past Sunday, with the help of Hashem, I merited to release my first professionally recorded single, a song entitled “Journey.”
(Click above to watch the lyric video on YouTube and here to listen to the song on SoundCloud.)
“Journey” is a song I wrote in 10th grade as a young teen trying his very best to weather the treacherous storms of adolescence. The lyrics capture the tensions of that struggle as well as the spirit of hope and confidence with which I emerged that has carried me to this day.
Since its release, “Journey” has reached and inspired thousands of people all over the world, and the feedback has been overwhelming. While many of the comments I received both personally and on social media referred to the remarkable musical production (Mendy Portnoy of the Portnoy Brothers) and the heartbreakingly beautiful string arrangement (Yoed Nir), the majority relayed how the lyrics spoke to their personal struggles and how much strength people drew from the messages they hold.
In order to enable listeners to appreciate the full depth of feeling I invested in this particular song, I thought it might be useful to go through the lyrics, line by line, and explain my intention.
Verse 1: The life I know so well has left me here, standing on the edge, standing on the edge
There are times in life when a person feels like he or she has reached a breaking point. Whether it be in the realms of relationship, career, or religious growth, the growth process seems to culminate in a giant abyss – a place where everything we thought we knew fails us, leaving us broken, frustrated, and gasping for air.
Familiar faces gone, and I’m alone
In this moment, we feel as if we have been abandoned; alone in our struggle, alone in our pain. Nothing anyone is able to do can help us here anyway, on the edge. In this moment we are faced with the hard facts of an immovable reality – the reality that we have failed, that we don’t have the strength to succeed, that we’ll never make it.
Toe behind the line, the line of right and wrong
Although we have tried so hard for so very long to do the right thing, the brave thing, the noble thing – actions which are rooted in the very nature of the goodness we hold within, we begin to falter here, alone, on the edge. Suddenly, we find ourselves toying with the option of crossing the line into the realm of “wrong”, to give up on what we see as being a pointless commitment to the right and the holy.
Throw myself to the wind, and hope for the best
At this moment we are faced with a momentous decision: do we give in, give up, surrender to the forces of despair that pull so strongly on our spirit? Do we allow the urgency of our mission to become obscured and forget what is at stake so that we may leap into the abyss, throwing ourselves to the winds of what feels good instead of remaining firmly bound to what is good?
Or do I take what I’ve got, and hold it tight forever, because I’ve only got one chance
Or do I cling to what I know, deep down, to be true, and step away from the abyss – realizing that life is too precious to simply surrender, regardless of how difficult the circumstances may be? This tension between “throw myself to the wind” and “or do I take what I’ve got and hold it tight forever” is encapsulated in the following, heartbreaking composition by Chazal: “Oy li m’Yotzri, oy li m’yitzri – Woe is to me from my Creator, and woe is to me from the yetzer hara.” These words touch the essence of the anguish of a Jew’s struggle in this world of darkness. Though drawn after Hashem and His service, we feel as if we are pulled by the yetzer hara as well and suffer the anguish of ignoring his seduction – “Oy li m’yitzri”. Still, no matter how far down the path of spiritual rot the yetzer hara has managed to drag us, we are always in the magnetic forcefield of Hashem’s light and the ultimate truths of our tradition – “Oy li m’Yotzri”.
This “oy li m’Yotzri – Woe is to me from my Creator” is what keeps the second option, “or do I take what I’ve got etc.” ever relevant. Choosing this shining option in the face of awesome darkness enables us to reach true greatness. This is the option willed by God, regardless of how dark our lives may have become, no matter how close we are to the abyss of hopelessness. “There is no despair in the world at all” taught Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. No despair at all.
Chorus: Weeping willows line the path, but I don’t hear their cries – this journey’s mine, all mine
Once we have made the difficult but proper decision to remain committed to what we know to be true and face a new beginning, we come to realize that the key to our success is to remain ever focused on our inner voice. There will be many “weeping willows” along the path; haters, discouraging remarks, the Amaleki spirit of sarcasm and sardonicism. The only way to reach success is to shut them out; to have unshakable faith in Hashem’s unshakable conviction that each Jew has the ability to fulfill his or her purpose in life. The only way to reach the prize of a life properly utilized is to realize that we are on a journey and that it is our journey – tailor-made for our unique capabilities.
I can move mountains, piece by piece, all I need is a shovel and some time
Another important ingredient to success is the realization that growth is an often long and complex process. We neither can nor are expected to reach the greatest levels in one day – it takes time. Additionally, we neither have nor are expected to attain tremendous power tools to aid us in moving mountains with our efforts. Whatever tools our life circumstances have provided us with are the only tools we need for our particular task. If we remember these two ideas, we will have confidence that with the passage of time, we will be able to move mountains, piece by piece, using the simple shovel of our seemingly unremarkable abilities.
Master of the world, shine Your light into my life, let me spread my wings and fly – to the deepest place inside
Lastly, we must always turn to prayer, asking Hashem to sanctify our efforts and the process of growth. It is His light that enables us to soar above the obstacles strewn across the path toward closeness with Him and fly – to our deepest essence where this world holds hands with the next.
Verse 2: The lonely child inside holds his head high his smile frozen in time, his smile frozen in time
Every human being contains an “inner child” within. This element of our existence represents untouched innocence, untainted humanity, and unbridled wonder and passion. Though, over the years, this child may grow silent as we lose touch with that element and tiredness, apathy, and cynicism sets in, the child remains ever smiling, head held high above the clouds of pain that conceal him.
His shattered dreams live on in polished ice, still within his grasp, beyond the pink sunrise
Although his expectations for life and the goodness of mankind have been shattered, they yet live on, frozen, preserved, waiting for the sun of redemption to rise and melt the ice to reveal his dreams once more and bring them to actualization.
Questions fill his clouded mind, echoes of years gone by
From time to time the concealment proliferates, rooted in the traumas of youth and the pain of realizing that the inner child’s world of wonder is yet broken and torn apart.
Hands reach for the skies
When it does, the only proper response is to lift our hands in prayer, begging God for the strength to hold on tight to those dreams and our conviction that the end is always good, thus allowing us to firmly deny that our current state is the culmination of history and the destiny of the human race.
He wasn’t ever alone for a moment, and there are no wasted cries
In clinging to prayer, we come to the realization that we were never alone, no matter how many times in life we “stood on the edge”. Every detail of our journey is planned meticulously, and challenge, struggle, and even failure have a purpose, enabling us to demonstrate our commitment to that which is true and right and strengthen our conviction to grow closer to the Master of the world. No tear is wasted, every ounce of effort is immeasurably valuable to our Father in heaven. The tzaddikim teach that every effort, regardless of whether or not it results in concrete accomplishment, is stored and comes to our aid in future struggles. “There are no wasted cries.”
Back to Chorus.
Of all of my compositions, this song has been my greatest shelter in the years since it was gifted to me from the heavenly Hall of Music. I have often escaped to its beautiful message and used its lyrics to remind myself that there is always a way out, that we can and must choose light over darkness, life over death, and hope over despair. It is my fervent hope that this elucidation will shed new light into this song and enable you to take strength in it along your personal journey to greatness.
To read more about my musical journey and to partner with me in bringing deep, soulful, quality Jewish music to the world, please click here!