Written for Temple Gates of Prayer Bulletin, Late Autumn 2010
Each time we return the Torah to the Aron HaKodesh, we sing the familiar melody “Etz chayim hi lamachazikim ba”. At the end of this beautiful prayer, the music climaxes at the final three words “chadesh yameinu ke-kedem”. Have you ever stopped to reflect on these three words?
I notice that in each melody we use, the music seems to point out to us the importance of the text – a musical midrash, if you will. The easiest example to understand is the prayer “Avinu Malkeinu”. Sing the familiar melody to yourself for a moment. What is the dramatic climax of the melody? “Aseh imanu tzedakah va-chesed”, right? We are asking God through this particular melody to treat us with justice and righteousness. There is another melody we all know for this same text written by Max Janowski, and made famous by Barbara Streisand. If you don’t know it, I highly recommend buying it on iTunes or in a record shop (you may also enjoy my rendition on my recent album, “Imrei Fi”). What is the climax of this melody? “Avinu malkeinu chadeish aleinu shanah tovah” – Our father, our king, grant us a good new year. The same text with two different melodies, each one with its own interpretation of the text and a different message.
Now back to Etz Chayim Hi. We end this melody with the dramatic Chadesh yameinu ke-kedem, which we all subconsciously sing slightly differently, creating a beautiful harmonious sound in our sanctuary. And how aptly does this climax lend itself to this season of reflection, repentance and renewal. “God, turn to us and we will return; Renew us as in days of old.”
Yom Kippur is often thought of as the end of the season of repentance and renewal. This year, let us challenge ourselves to treat this most holy of days not as an endpoint, but as a starting point for renewing our souls, renewing friendships and renewing the important things in life. May our sukkah this festival be a shelter in which we reach to the depths of our souls and allow God to turn to us, and allow ourselves to return to God. May our blessings this year be as numerous and sweet as the seeds of the pomegranate, and may we leave this holy season as upright as the most pristine lulav.
This year, let us allow God to turn to us in our hearts and in our souls. May we be wise enough to let God into our lives and renew us for another year of health and goodness. Each time we sing this familiar melody, may we make a little more room in our souls for God to turn to us, and may we allow ourselves to take one step closer to returning to God. When we enter the sukkah, may it be a sukkah of peace. And when we leave the sukkah, may we be renewed to take on the challenges of one more day.
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