AV – אב
THEME: HEARING, MUSIC, BALANCE
QUOTE: “Through prayer, our needs and wants become the source of our greatest blessing – closeness to God.” ~ Heshy Kleinman (Praying with Fire)
PSALM 59: God-my-Tower-of-Strength
CREATIVE EXPRESSION: Find ways to illustrate and express the theme and what you are learning and experiencing this month.
At the start of Psalm 59, we see that young David is in a life-threatening situation. As he flees the murderous rage of King Saul, he cries out to God for help. From this place of terror we see how, in the mere 18 lines of the Psalm, he moves to a place of serenity. His cry of despair transitions into a song of grateful praise! How does this happen?
When a person finds herself in an overwhelming situation, feeling time constraints, stressed by overpowering demands, feeling totally out of control and not able to manage, the first step to a transition is to recognise what is happening and to name it. Then she can cry out for help, knowing with full assurance that our Father hears our cries!
The enemy is described as howling, ravenous dogs that are intent on causing disturbance and to maul their victims. David knows, however, that our G-d is mightier than they and He scorns the evil among the nations. In verses 10 and 11, David uses personal adjectives to describe God. Ozi – my Strength; Misgavi – my Haven; Chasdi – my Lovingly-faithful One. Such is He to all His children and we can happily run into His Presence as into a Strong Tower. Then, like David we can take a deep breath of relief and rest. Selah!
CE: Write out the verses that resonate with you and express your responses to the Psalm.
PARTS OF THE BODY – EARS
And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.
And after the fire the sound of a low whisper – a still, small voice. (1 Kings 19:12)
The volume of noise in the world, on many levels, is overwhelming. Together with the physical din, there is constant mental chatter going on in the surface of our minds from TVs, radios, cell phones, etc., etc. Imagine you are in a noisy, crowded room – maybe at a wedding, or party, or convention, and you want to speak to someone and to hear what they are saying. What would you do? Our immediate reaction is to raise our voices and to yell over the noise. It is proven, rather – in order to protect your vocal chords and to be heard more successfully, it is far better to lean in close to the person and whisper! We may consider the “still, small voice” God uses to speak to us in the midst of the cacophony of the world. When things seem out of control, as they did to Elijah in the account recorded in the first book of Kings, God did not yell at him in the whirlwind, or earthquake. Rather, He spoke in a whisper and brought calm and enabled Elijah to voice his fears, upon which He was able to reassure him. However, we need to be able to attune ourselves to His whisper, His still, small voice – to know how to hear it, to recognise it, and then we will be able to respond to it.
The noisy clatter in our own heads may be loud, demanding voices that deliver messages that make us feel afraid, or defensive, or negative and fill us with doubt of our own ability to cope. It’s likely that the prophet Elijah was being plagued by some of these voices when he was on the run from Jezebel! The messages may be ones we internalised from childhood experiences, from society and the culture we grew up in, and they may contain half-truths which confuse us. We should, logically, be able to refute and ignore them, but their strident, distracting urging claims our attention. God’s voice of truth, on the other hand, whispers reassurance and its message instils quiet confidence. Once our ears tune in and hear it, a sense of peace and calm will settle over us like a warm tallit (prayer shawl) and the other voices simply fade away.
The more we become adept at listening for and recognising our Father’s voice, we will discover the beauty and power it conveys and then we will be able to walk in the peace, reassurance, and confidence it imparts. As we align ourselves with it more and more, we we will be able to share His soft whisper, like a gentle rustling in the leaves of a tree, and create more moments of peace, comfort, and confidence, amid the raucous clatter of the world. May it be so!
POEM: A PRAYER FOR PRAYER by Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman
O my God
My soul’s companion
My heart’s precious friend
I turn to You.
I need to close out the noise
To rise above the noise
The noise that interrupts—
The noise that separates—
The noise that isolates.
I need to hear You again.
In the silence of my innermost being,
In the fragments of my yearned-for wholeness,
I hear whispers of Your Presence—
Echoes of the past when You were with me
When I felt Your nearness
When together we walked—
When You held me close, embraced me in Your love,
Laughed with me in my joy.
I yearn to hear You again.
In Your oneness, I find healing.
In the promise of Your love, I am soothed.
In Your wholeness, I too can become whole again.
Please listen to my call—
help me to find the words
help me find the strength within
help me shape my mouth, my voice, my heart
so that I can direct my spirit and find You in prayer
In words only my heart can speak
In songs only my soul can sing
Lifting my eyes and heart to You.
Adonai S’fatai Tiftach— open my lips, precious God,
So that I can speak with You again.
MUSIC AND RECEPTIVITY
What is the extraordinary power in the gift of music that God has given us? In some ways, music and song are more effective than speech in expressing our thoughts and emotions. Medical science has proven that even a baby in the womb responds to both instrumental music and the sounds of voices, particularly that of its father. It has also been observed how, with patients suffering the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s, their musical gifts and abilities are what endure the longest. Children love to be sung to and to learn to sing childhood songs. In Israel there is a popular song, Lo Nafsik La’Shir! – Don’t Stop Singing! It is a joy to hear someone singing or whistling as they work or simply humming a happy tune as they walk. It is the sign of a happy heart. Doctors say that singing is good for one’s health, so keep singing, even if it’s in the shower!
The Bible emphasises the power of music. Young David would play his harp and sing to quieten King Saul’s spirit when he was disturbed. It soothes the soul to hear pleasant music. It also is inspiring to the spirit. When the HolyTemple was standing in Jerusalem, the Levitical choir would be singing God’s praises day and night in the form of the Psalms and melodies composed by King David. We read in Isaiah 51:3 how, when the Lord redeems and restores the result is thanksgiving and joyous song.
For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.
To appreciate the constant song of the spirit one’s ears must be awake and listening in order to receive it. Hearing is stressed in Judaism’s most important and most often recited prayer – Shemah Yisrael – Hear O Israel.
In every Hebrew Torah scroll the ayin, the last letter of the word Shema – שמע, is enlarged, as is the last letter of the word One – echad – אחד, at the end of the sentence. Together they spell the word עד – ed, meaning ‘witness’. This illustrates that when we hear fully, i.e., hear, are receptive, and understand in our hearts, we become witnesses to the presence of God and to the truth of His Word.
Another interesting fact is that when the two enlarged letters are removed, the four letters that remain can be arranged to spell esmach – אשמח, which is the first word found in Psalm 104:34, and means, ‘I will rejoice!’ Those who Shema – hear, and give thanks and proclaim the unity and presence of God daily, will be filled with joy. This indicates that our faith in God strengthens our joy and, when we are joyful, our faith is strengthened. There are 248 words in the full Shemah – the same number of positive mitzvoth, or commandments. There are also 248 parts to our skeletal frame, indicating that when we use our body to serve God positively, we will be able to serve Him joyfully. Indeed, as His people, songs of joy and praise should be constantly on our lips. An inspirational illustration is found in the fact that the Hebrew letters of Israel – ישראל can be rearranged to spell the words Shir El – שיר אל – the Song of God. God wants to sing His song through us to the world!
Finally, another amazing aspect of music is the fact that not only humans are affected by it but so too are animals and plants. Greenhouse experiments have shown the effect of music on plants. When classical, jazz, or folk music is played in their environment, plants grow and thrive but those exposed to heavy metal or hard rock music wither and die! Many people have noted a spurt in growth in their garden plants when they speak encouragingly to them!
The common element in people and other living things, apart from breathing, is water. You may have heard of the Japanese researcher and author Masaru Emoto who wrote the bestselling book The Hidden Messages in Water, and also The Secret Life of Water. His fascinating studies and experiments have recorded the pronounced effects speech and music have on water. The effect of loving, positive words and a happy, pleasant environment produced beautiful, balanced crystals in the water, while hateful, negative words and a stressful atmosphere caused chaotic forms and distorted shapes. A great lesson to be learned as a result, is that, as our bodies are comprised mostly of water, we are also powerfully affected – either for good or ill, by the words we hear and speak and the environment surrounding us.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the illustration of happiness as reflected in water.
As a teacher I know how important this is in regard to how one speaks to children. Parents, too, should be extra vigilant in their words and in being aware of the speech and atmosphere children are exposed to on TV and in movies and video games.
We may understand that all of Creation has a song, and is waiting for the full redemption of all things, when – as we are told in Romans 8:20 ff: “…the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” Just as we sometimes do, all Creation can groan but it also can sing when it is valued and cared for and hears the harmony and balance of words and songs of love.
1. Photo – Shutterstock
2. Photo credit – Masaru Emoto – The Secret Life of Water.
THE TEN SONGS
The Sages of Israel describe ten archetypal songs that, beginning with Adam, are echoed and sung throughout history.
- The first song of ADAM was one of teshuvah, repentance. All restoration and healing begins with repentance. Through revelation of God and true repentance we can sing the song of Shabbat, which is the sign and gift of restored relationship with God.
- The second song is the Song of MOSES, MIRIAM, and all Israel when they were redeemed and set free from slavery upon crossing the Reed Sea.
- The third song was sung by ISRAEL when they miraculously received water in the wilderness when “…the Lord said to Moses, “Gather the people together, so that I may give them water.” Then Israel sang this song, “Spring up, O well!—Sing to it!” (Numbers 21:16-17).
- The fourth song, HA’AZINU – GIVE EAR, was sung by MOSES at the end of his life when he gave a review of mankind and Israel’s history and gives prophecies of the future. Nachmanides (the Ramban) and other Bible commentators consider that this song connects the days of Moses with the time of Messiah. (Deut. 32:1-43)
- The fifth song was sung by JOSHUA after God gave him the victory by miraculously stopping the sun and moon. (Joshua 10:12-14)
- The sixth song, recorded in the book of Judges, chapter 5, was sung by the judge and prophetess DEBORAH and her general BARAK after they enjoyed a great victory over Jabin, the king of Canaan, which resulted in forty years of peace in the Land.
- The seventh song, sung by HANNAH, the mother of the prophet Samuel, is a beautiful song of praise and thanksgiving to God. (Samuel 12:1-10)
- The eighth song, also a powerful song of thanksgiving, was sung by KING DAVID on the day He finally delivered him from King Saul and from all his enemies. (II Samuel 22:1-51)
- The ninth song is the SONG OF SONGS – Shir HaShirim, written by King Solomon. It is believed that he composed it at the time he inaugurated the First Temple after being inspired by the awesome presence of God and was overwhelmed by his love for Him.
- The tenth song is the SONG OF MESSIAH, Shir HaMashiach, which will be sung at the full and final Redemption of Israel and the world. We will “sing a new song” to God. This song of deep joy will express a totally new understanding of life in all its completion, purpose, wholeness, and holiness. It will express the beauty and harmony of the holy gift of music itself; the music that crosses boundaries and reaches hearts and brings healing and unity. The song of eternity.
~ Keren Hannah
MUSIC ON A JERUSALEM ROOFTOP
This was such a sweet experience… friends from the UK were spontaneously singing on a rooftop in the Old City of Jerusalem. A few lovely young Jewish people sang along and a Rabbi and Orthodox Jewish family came along to listen.