SINGING THE BLUES
For over three months, with Jennifer’s assistance and support, I have been preparing three videos a week on Facebook for the benefit of Tiferet congregants and others. I have done so undaunted and without trepidation… until now. With Tisha B’Av looming at the end of this month, I will be preparing a video of me chanting Eichah or the Book of Lamentations , where the holy city of Jerusalem and is residents are mournfully and sorrowfully depicted . Because HaShem did not bless me with a singing voice, I do not look forward to preparing such a video. This daunting, trepidatious undertaking has also caused me address a human behavior that far too many of us take for granted. While few would question singing to express happiness and joy, how do we justify singing, when recalling a lugubrious chapter in our people’s history?
A modicum of research provided me with the answer: Humans use song to express emotions. Singing provides us the opportunity to connect with our neshomehs or souls. When we sing, we release pent up emotions of happiness or sadness. Long before, mental health professionals fulfilled their role by asking troubled souls “do you want to talk about it”, any number of those troubled souls chose to sing about it instead. It was through song that Vera Lynne, who died less than a month ago, at the age of 103, guided countless frightened and unnerved citizens of the free world through World War II with her signature song “We’ll meet again.”.It was through song, that Hirsch Glick, an inmate of the Vilna Ghetto, gave assurance and hope to our people, with his Partisan Song, encouraging fellow Jews never to lose faith in humanity, and never to despair in beating the odds and making it out alive through Hitler’s hell.
The Hasidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, was not as direct in handing down a somewhat similar directive . Known for his exhortation, G’vald Yidden, zeit zich nisht m’yei’ish – For heaven’s sake! Jews do not despair, Rabbi Nachman penned a plea expressing the very same sentiments. Written during most difficult and trying times for our people, Rabbi Nachman assured fellow Jews, that the enemies of our people will sooner or later meet a black or miserable end. Leave their punishment to the one above. In the meantime, what can we do to alleviate our pain and suffering? Let us dance! Implicit in Rabbi Nachman’s plea was let us make music. And because a fiddler may not have been at hand, the Jew created his own music, straight from the soul. More often than not with Hassidim, it was a niggun or a song without words that filled the air as they danced.
Wonders never cease. On a whim, I googled the joint Hebrew term “mahpach-pashta”. Lo and behold, the internet also dabbles in trop, otherwise known as cantillation. While reading from a Chumash, it ought to be apparent that there are various cantillation characters or trop signs inserted, either over or under each word. Among these trop signs, there is one known as “mahpach-pashta.” These trop signs take on one specific sound for Torah reading and another specific sound for Haftorah chanting. Yet, another specific sound is accorded to the chanting of Eicha or Lamentations for Tisha B’Av. Unsurprisingly, the trop for the chanting of Eicha or Lamentations, is of a mournful and haunting nature. While I admittedly know nothing about music notes and music composition, I do not in any way feel that I would be overstating it, if I were to say that Marty Robbins of Country Western recording artist fame, was not in any way the first to lay claim to “singing the blues.” Our people have been singing the blues for centuries, with the chanting of Eicha at the top of the list.
I pray that my chanting of Eicha turns out better than I fear. Come July 29th in the evening, I pray that there will be those who read along to my chanting, so that Tisha B’Av, the day when we commemorate the destruction of both the first and second Holy Temple in Jerusalem, will take on a profound meaning. Most of all, I pray that the time comes, when the sad chanting of Eicha will replaced with the celebratory singing of redemption.