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Jewish Hajj and the Songs of Uplift

This article was posted today on the well known Muslim web site Islamicity.

In Biblical days the Hebrew word Hag was pronounced Hajj. The two major times of Biblical Hajj were the 7 day Spring Hajj of Passover; and the 7 day Autumn Hajj of Harvest Festival Sukkot. As the Jewish pilgrims walked up the hillside of Mount Zion toward the city of Jerusalem and its Holy Temple, they would sing a special group of 15 different songs of Uplift (Psalms 120-134).

Although there are many similarities between the Jewish Hajj and the Muslim Hajj one major difference is the Qur’an’s opposition to singing verses of the Qur’an. The Qur’an forbids Muslims from indulging in religious music. “So abstain from the pollution of the idols and abstain from false vain words.” (22:30 ). The Arabic word “Zoor” has several meanings which include falsehood and musical expressions. But for Jews and Christians song uplifts the religious soul.

The Qur’an teaches us about Prophet David and his Book (Zaboor): “And your Lord is most knowing of whoever is in the heavens and the earth. And We have made some of the prophets exceed others [in various ways], and to (Prophet) David We gave the book [of Psalms]. (Qur’an 17:55)

“And We certainly gave to (Prophets) David and Solomon knowledge, and they said, ‘ Praise [is due] to Allah, who has favored us over many of His believing servants.’And Solomon inherited (from) David. He said, ‘ O people, we have been taught the language of birds (to sing like birds), and we have been given from all things. Indeed, this is evident bounty.’ (Qur’an 27:15-16)

And the Qur’an informs us: “We subjected the (Zion) mountains to exalt [Us], along with David and [also] the birds.” (Qur’an 21:79) “And We certainly gave David from Us bounty. (saying), ‘O (Zion) mountains, repeat praises (of Uplift) with him (David’s songs), and the birds [as well].’ (Qur’an 34:10)

Three of the 15 Uplift songs are Psalms 126-128. They are still sung to this day in most of the synagogues throughout the world. Psalm 126 uplifts believers with the knowledge that those who were forced into defeat and even exile may someday be able to return to visit, or even be able to reconstruct their lives. The Hebrew word for return also means to repent and redirect oneself in a better direction.

Psalm 126 A Song of Ascents.

1 When the Lord returned the returners of Zion we were like dreamers.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the (non-Jewish) nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
4 Return our returners O Lord, like wadi flash floods in the Negev.
5 May those who sow in tears, reap with shouts of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
(The last three verses indicate that this Psalm was an Autumn Hajj Harvest Festival for Sukkot.)

Psalm 127 A Song of Ascents for Solomon teaches us that without faith in God and hope for the future, we can become defeated by depression, negativity and despair.

1 Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps
watch in vain.
2 It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, (without faith) for he
(God) gives sleep to his beloved.
3 Children are indeed a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth.
5 Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate (trying to avoid conflicts by compromise).

Psalm 128 A Song of Ascents uplifts believers to always be optimistic and positive.

1 Happy is every human who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways.
2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; be happy, and it shall go well with you.
3 Your wife is a fruitful vine in your house, your children are like olive shoots around your table.
4 Thus shall a man be blessed who fears the Lord.
5 The Lord bless you from Zion. May you see goodness in Jerusalem all the days of your life.
6 May you (live to) see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!

All that is left alive of the Jewish Hajj today are the 15 Songs of Uplift.

For Jews and Christians singing together in worship helps us express our praise of God, creates a space for us to offer ourselves to God, and binds us to one another as a sacred community.

Or as is often said in Church and Synagogue: those who sing their prayers; pray twice.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 450 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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