Songs fill my mind’s ear this week. I had the good fortune to attend not one but two concerts at Madison Square Garden in the past ten days, both with their own power and magic. Billy Joel played his 139th night at the venue; Ishay Ribo played his first. Billy’s guest was Kevin Bacon; Ribo’s included Avrohom Fried and Israeli singer Amir Dadon. Joel’s crowd appeared to be fairly homogeneous; Ribo’s ranged from hasidim to secular Israelis with dreadlocks.
It’s easy to contrast the characters of Billy Joel’s songs (Paul, the real estate novelist or the beat-walking, bartending Sergeant O’Leary) with the exuberant kohen gadol of Ribo’s Seder HaAvodah. But such an exercise isn’t really fair: Ribo writes to spiritually uplift his audience; Billy Joel writes music, he has said, that he finds interesting. Their goals as artists are utterly different. But songs, no matter what their emotional quality, have a completely unique way of getting inside our heads and our hearts.
Songs aren’t just at the Garden. “And now, write this song and teach it to the People of Israel,” ve-ata, kitvu et ha-shira ha-zot ve-limda et B’nei Yisrael, says God in Vayelech, the second of this week’s two Torah readings. Ramban explains that this command was given jointly to Moshe and Yehoshua: the two, student and teacher, would teach this song together.
As we begin the school year and think about transmission of information and inspiration, the image of a teacher teaching students alongside his own former student is stirring. This is every teacher’s dream, but it’s also our dream as parents: we one day want the child sitting next to us to be sitting with their own child, passing on our songs to another generation – just as they were passed on to us. (And we learn from our kids, too: I enjoy introducing my kids to Billy Joel just as much as they enjoy sharing Ishay Ribo with me.)
The coming high holidays are moments where we can sit beside our children and teach that connection to God. We need not be intimidated: as our parasha tells us, al tir’u, “don’t be afraid,” ki karov elecha ha-davar me’od, “this thing, this goal, is within your grasp.”
May this be a year for all of us to share beautiful songs with our children.