David Wolpe
David Wolpe

A Tradition of Song

In synagogue we do something that people in society rarely do – we sing together. Our greatest heroes composed shirim – the Hebrew word for psalm and also for song. Moses sang, Miriam sang, and King David was the “sweet singer of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:1). When the children of Israel cross the sea, they cry out, “The Lord is my strength and my song” (Exodus 15:2). The spirit of song runs deep in the Jewish people.

There is a small midrash text called Perek Shirah, the chapter of song. It depicts the entire world singing to God, beginning with the heavens and earth, moving to the animals, birds and fish and even to plant life. Everything has its song. So central is song to redemption that the Talmud says the reason Hezekiah did not become the Messiah was that despite the miracles God performed for him, he did not sing to God (Sanhedrin 94a).

Judaism is a tradition of study and ritual, but also of song. “Your laws are songs for me wherever I may dwell,” says the Psalmist (119:54). No Sabbath is complete without Shabbat songs; the Torah is chanted, not merely read, and the tradition of chazzanut, the melodies of prayer, is ancient. As Rabbi Yehuda HeChasid put it many centuries ago, “I sing hymns and weave songs because my soul years for You.”

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.
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