Music was my first introduction to spirituality. Chassidic philosophy was my second.
I choose music like I choose friends: I stay close to good vibed, good hearted and truth telling artists, inevitably dipped in the blues, rock, jazz and grit. My inner soundtrack has riffs of all of the above influences and more. My soul’s DJ is an edgy, rockin’, folky, R&B, touch of Rasta-pop-Jewess-Chassid and that works for me.
The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that there is something to learn about the service of G-d from everything we encounter. He and his disciples were known to draw holy instruction from thieves, inn-keepers and beggars alike… culling lessons from the simple and the imperfect, they encourage us to use the raw material of this world to help us connect to places of spirit and divine service.
Music is a huge part of who I am; who a lot of us are. For those of us high fidelity folks who straddle the Jewish and non-Jewish world, I’ve collected sparks that have found home in some of the “holiest beggars and thieves” of rock n’roll as I imagine Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach might have called them. Music who’s roots lay in a non-Jewish world but who’s message transcends it. Not every truth is dressed in a beard and yarmulke – sometimes truth wears dreadlocks, sometimes truth has substance abuse problems and smokes too much… My intention is to highlight the common threads between modern musical expression and core biblical values, and ultimately, to share music that can help us connect to something higher.
Simply put, this blog is about the fusion between modern, multi-genre music and the service of G-d as expressed through the Jewish calendar.
Disclaimer: There are plenty of G-d loving and G-d fearing folks who have no need for the commentary and suggestions made in this post. Maybe you stay away from “secular” or non-Jewish music all together. Maybe the elements, energies and ideas expressed in the music below don’t speak to your mission in this world.
I respect that.
I respect you.
This blog post is not for you my friend. (Although you may appreciate tracks #4 and #6).
For those of you who do listen to multi-genre music and get “nachas” from it – this is for you my little rockers.
This is for you.
What follows is a brief intro to a short playlist I curated- inspired by a few central themes in the Jewish month of Elul; the month that leads us to the Days of Awe.
Elul is a time of self-reflection, of soul accounting and of return; return to self and return to G-d. The first song is ultimately about “teshuva,” return. It helps me tap into the kind of passion and raw emotion I want to have when I come before my Creator demanding an inscription in the Book of Life for myself and all those that I love.
If I could pray the way that Otis Redding sings, I don’t think I would ever stop.
The Alter Rebbe (first Rebbe of Chabad) famously describes this month of Elul as a time when “The King is in the Field.” It is a time when G-d Himself is intensely accessible, without the formality of dress-up and role-playing. He offers Himself to us as King in plain clothes. In the words of King Solomon, as a lover to his bride to-be, offering courtship, connection and love. The second track was selected with all that in mind.
Evitar Banai is the author of the third song on this playlist, a Hebrew ballad called “Yafa K’levana.” He croons as I imagine G-d croons to us, that we are all as pure as white – perfect just as we are. The chorus says:
“I won’t ask anything of you.
You don’t have to prove anything to me
Take off your lipstick and wash the dust off your feet”
The forth song is a simple, sweet and catchy reminder that everything is better when we come from a place of gratitude. And a great way to thank G-d with “all your heart” is to start by thanking the people that He’s placed in our lives. (Head’s up to all you boychicks: this week’s installment of gratitude is brought to you by a maidel’eh).
Every year about a week before Rosh Hashana, we read the Torah portions, “Nitzavim and Veyelech.” This year, we read them together. Their names essentially translate to “Standing firm and Moving forward.” The fifth track is a soulful high-five to this week’s parsha(s) and an important truth: supporting – standing by – a loved one is not a static act, but inherently an active one.
The simplicity of King David’s words coupled with the purity and sweetness of Aron Razel’s voice takes us home, in the sixth and final track…. with the epic psalm 121: “I lift my eyes to the mountain, from where will my help come?”
So, my friends… pour yourself a tall drink of something fabulous, invite your kids to join you if you like, crank up your speakers…. and by all means, enjoy.
(If you are opening this playlist from a mobile device, you’ll need the YouTube app in order to play it as a complete playlist).
(This piece was originally published on Hevria).