Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Sivan 5764 - June 9, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Sing a New Song

by Yochonon Dovid

Itamar is an academician who became a baal teshuvoh just recently. He is brimming with a desire to learn and to know more and more. And he is full of questions, as well.

He has embraced a new practice of accompanying the rabbi home from shul on Friday evenings after prayers. As they make their way leisurely to the far end of town, Itamar poses his questions and the rabbi answers them. No one is in a rush and sometimes, they even linger for a while in front of the rabbi's house to finish their talk.

Itamar finds it difficult to wrench himself away, and when he finally does proceed homewards, he is full of thoughts and ideas. En route, he reviews all the details of the conversation, in order to be able to tell his wife, who is an avid audience for anything new to her in Yiddishkeit.

Let us listen in on Itamar as he presents his current question to the rabbi:

"In the many lectures I've heard in the various seminars and the talks I've heard on Yiddishkeit, I've gotten the clear impression that Judaism zealously preserves its hold on the traditions transmitted through the generations, guarding and revering the old and ancient precepts established in its foundations by the Patriarchs of the nation and its ancient Sages from time immemorial. Their wisdom fills the ancient, most sacred works of Judaism. The general impression that arises from this attitude is what we call today conservatism, in its general, not religious, connotation; a reverence for all that is ancient as opposed to what is new, modern and so- called progressive.

"We believe that the ancient truth is solid, immutable and eternal, whereas the new and modern is shaky and irresolute. Whatever is good and true has already been established centuries and millennia ago, while what is current is dubious and dissatisfactory. I am talking about my general impression without really getting down to the details of definitions and designs.

"However, lately, in my recital of Tehillim and those psalms which are included in our daily prayers, I seem to discern a seemingly different direction. Let me quote several examples: `Sing unto Hashem a new song; sing unto Hashem the whole world.' `Sing unto Hashem a new song, for He has wrought wonders.' And again, `Sing unto Him a new song; play skillfully with shouts of joy.' `Sing to Hashem a new song, His praise in the assembly of faithful followers.'

"In Tehillim, Dovid Hamelech pursues the same theme, `And He shall put in my mouth a new song, a praise to our G- d.' `Elokim, a new song will I sing unto You, with the harp and ten-stringed osor shall I sing to You.' And in our Shabbos zemiros, we sing longingly, `Yiboneh hamikdosh . . . veshom noshir shir chodosh.' From all this is expressed a deep yearning as well as the call to innovate and rejuvenate the spiritual bond between us and Hashem. And I cannot help but wonder: is there anything lacking in the ancient songs and `poetry'-prayers composed by our forefathers that there seems to be such an urgent, unending call to sing anew?"

The Rov slowed down his steps as he thoughtfully said, "A good question. A very good one! Is there anything lacking in what we already possess? What is wrong, what is missing? Interestingly, this week I happened to ask a similar question, myself. I was asked to talk with a young man, intelligent and talented, who seemed to have lost all zest in life. We spoke at length and I saw him to be deep thinking and logical. And I kept on asking myself: What is he missing? What's wrong here? It took a long time until I was able to formulate and define the answer. He lacked renewal. Everything by him was trite, insipid, banal and tasteless. Old, dried out, routine, devoid of freshness and flavor.

"This man gets up every morning reluctantly, half asleep, in a torpor. He gets up because that is what is expected of him. He expects to pass another day with the boring repetition of the previous one. He has nothing to look forward to, nothing new, nothing hopeful. And thus does he while away another day and yet another day, devoid of vitality, zest, joie de vivre, on a downward spiral of interest and involvement.

"He is going through the motions, plodding the treadmill, keeping pace without getting anywhere. Like a robot, mechanically, doing what society expects of him but without an ounce of energy and interest. Without a hint of a smile on his face; no sparkle in his eye. No joy. Nothing.

"And I can't help but be reminded of elderly people I know in the world of Torah. What especially characterizes them is the constant sense of renewal, of vigor, of constant rejuvenation that pours a vitality in their veins and spurs them to innovate in every area of their activity. By them, the daily prayer of one day is totally different from that of the previous one, and the page of gemora of today does not repeat itself dryly on the following day. Even the diurnal activities that are repeated day by day have a freshness and newness to them, a purpose that is different today than it was yesterday and not a repeat routine performance that is arbitrarily imposed upon them to execute through empty motions.

"It is like a healthy person who eats today, not because he ate yesterday and knows he must eat to keep on going -- but because he has a healthy appetite and wants to eat now! He takes pleasure in eating today. Such elderly-youthful veterans always look happy. The renewal lends a sense of joy to the future, to what lies in store, to new challenges and opportunities as opposed to a dull repeat of the past. The kaleidoscope of life does not recycle itself for them but takes on fresh color and shape. And they march forward, keep ascending.

"The young man who sat before me this week looked like he was declining rapidly, going downward in contrast to those other men I know. He is growing old, effete, stale and spiritually depleted."

"What, actually, causes rejuvenation?" asked Itamar. "What can a person do to create a sense of freshness, if he is lacking it?"

The Rov reacted immediately. "Renewal is not an independent, external entity which a person expects will suddenly appear and spread its wings over him. He must create it himself, from within. It is an expression of his will. It is his conscious effort that produces the will to live which is expressed through rejuvenation and renewal. Routine without reinvigoration is lacking in vitality, and the depression and despair which follow are a tacit negation of and resignation from life. Renewal is identical to the very will to live."

"But how does this all connect to my original question?" asked Itamar.

"Hischadshus of the spiritual bond between us and our Creator is one of the central tenets of Judaism," replied the rabbi. "While the foundations and form of this bond were established by the Ovos of our nation even at its inception, without a constant renewal, this connection would wither and disintegrate altogether, like a plant without water.

"Let us concretize this through the example of an average boy in his teens. Whatever he possesses, from the very fact of his being alive and down to his clothing, meals and everything he uses, were given to him by his parents through love, kindness and good will. Ask him when was the last time he said `thank you' to his mother or father and he will raise his eyebrows in wonder, not understanding what you want of him. What he takes for granted is perfectly natural to him, like the immutable laws of nature. If his parents were aware of the value of true chinuch, they would aspire that he thank them, not because they need his acknowledgement but because they want him to be a mentsch, a decent fellow, a person with a sense of gratitude, which is the very basis of all good character traits.

"Make an attempt in these coming days to find within the prayers, the blessings and the written texts the fact that our Creator wishes us to thank Him for what we receive, that we be aware of the constant, unending giving of His and our need to thank Him for it. This is the proper bond expected of us, the basic requirement of the Jewish soul towards its G-d. The form of this bond was indeed established during ancient times by the founders of our nations. But all this is conditional to the fact that a Jew be aware and acknowledge what he is receiving all the time, in a constant stream.

"Whoever is blind to that endless giving and whoever thinks that everything that he is accustomed to getting must necessarily and naturally continue to be channeled to him feels absolved of the duty of gratitude and thanksgiving and is completely severed from the Giver, for he doesn't see Him at all. Opening one's eyes to see what he is getting -- this is the renewal that is demanded of every single person in order that the song his lips should be constantly murmuring be a new song, a fresh, spontaneous, genuine song full of feeling and vitality. This rejuvenation is what preserves the bond between the created and the Creator, between the soul and its Source, between earth and heaven.

"Each new day is a new creation that has never seen the light of that day. Each day brings in its wake a new sky, new light, a body that functions upon all of its marvels, that renews itself each day with the restoration of the soul to a lifeless body. A Jew must be aware of all these phenomena. He must introspect; he must exert thought and feeling. One who never saw the luminaries in the sky cannot possibly move his lips in heartfelt thanks to the Creator of those heavenly orbs.

"A Jew worthy of the name opens the shutters each morning to behold the marvelous cerulean blue of the skies, the sun illuminating the entire world, sees the green vegetation opposite his window and hears the twittering of the birds and in the distance, sees the horizon where heaven meets earth -- and cannot help but be overcome with emotion: These hands and feet of mine are moving. I am breathing oxygen-saturated air that vitalizes my whole being. I have been given a new day as a gift. A new day in which I can do marvelous things and progress in the fulfillment of my mission on earth. How wonderful this is! I am alive!

"His heart swells with feelings of gratitude towards the Creator Who gave all of this to him, today, together with a brain to fathom His will. He will barely contain himself until he reaches the synagogue to pour out his soul and express his feelings in the ancient words that were chiseled for his sake by the Ovos hakdoshim and established in our prayer book.

"True, he is a conservative, a traditionalist, a throwback to the ancients. But, nonetheless, he has been born anew. He is alive to a new day! He is alive!"

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