Eyal Bitton
Cantor, composer, lyricist.

The High Priest Waits For You

Imagine you are standing in the court of the ancient Temple, surrounded by your fellow Israelites, waiting to hear the spoken name of God from the high-priest, the Kohen HaGadol. As he speaks the holy name with reverence, you and the rest of the people bend the knee, bow down and prostrate yourselves on your face, exclaiming, “Baruch shem kevod malchuto l’olam va’ed” –  “Blessed be the NAME of Him whose glorious sovereignty is for ever and ever!” This ancient custom, preserved in the Yom Kippur liturgy (“V’hakohanim”), is a fascinating glimpse into the religious practices of our ancestors and holds valuable lessons for building a spiritual and harmonious community.

At the heart of this custom lies an interplay between the religious authority and the public. The high-priest was the spiritual leader of the Israelites, tasked with the solemn responsibility of speaking the holy name of God. Yet, even in his exalted position, he could not complete the utterance of God’s name without the input of the people. He had to listen to them, and complete his utterance only when the people were ready. In this way, there was an equitable relationship between leader and follower, one that recognized the importance of listening and attentiveness on both sides.

Just as the high-priest had to listen to the people to complete the utterance of God’s name, we too must listen to one another to build a community that is harmonious, respectful, and supportive. We are all responsible for creating an environment that nurtures and uplifts us.

Music has always been a powerful way to bring people together, to create a sense of harmony and unity that transcends our individual differences. Musicians will attest to the fact that music is created not just by playing or singing the notes, but also by listening. 

When musicians listen to their fellow musicians or to their conductor, they are able to create a sound that is greater than the sum of its parts. Similarly, when we listen to one another with open hearts and minds, wholeheartedly, we create a space for empathy, understanding, and mutual respect. We can, then, build a community that is stronger, more vibrant, and more spiritually fulfilling.

As we approach Yom Kippur and contemplate the new year, let us remember the ancient custom of the spoken name of God, and let us strive to listen to one another with the same attentiveness and respect. Let us come together as a people, united in our commitment to building a spiritual and harmonious community.

About the Author
Eyal Bitton is the cantor of Congregation Neveh Shalom in Portland, Oregon where he incorporates Sephardi/Moroccan music, Ashkenazi music, popular adaptations, and original compositions into the service. As a composer and writer, his theatrical works have been produced in the US, Canada, Kenya, and China.
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