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Song of my Soul

Riki Goldstein

The power of a niggun to wake our hearts is a blessing

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

T

he rarefied atmosphere of the Yamim Noraim, a blend of awe and longing and intense prayer, is closely tied to the solemn tunes and the stirring words. The power of a niggun to awaken our hearts is a blessing which comes into its own at this auspicious time of year. 

 

Which song or niggun creates that special Yamim Noraim feeling for you?

 

Author and educator: Rabbi Nachman Seltzer

MBD’s “Vehayah Bayom Hahu” — composed by the previous Skulener Rebbe and originally recorded on Pirchei’s first record back in 1964 — can really bring a person into the Yamim Noraim mode. The arrangements are simple — a lot of piano — and you can really feel the song and almost see the vision. Hillel Paley’s “Ochila LaKeil” is a natural power source, whether for davening or any time you want to access the mood. And on Yom Kippur, Yigal Calek’s “Emes Mah Nehedar” is a classic that shakes the beis medrash.

But the tune that epitomizes Yamim Noraim for me is the powerful nusach of the Kaddish leading into Mussaf, when the entire congregation, poised and ready to daven this key part of the day’s avodah, joins the chazzan and sings in a glorious crescendo “Baagala u’b’zman kariv, v’imru… Amen!”

 

Mishpacha’s US editor Rabbi Eytan Kobre

For me, it’s the strains of Eitan Katz’s emotion-packed niggun “Lemaancha” that signals the arrival of the Yamim Noraim period. Can it really be that an entire year has gone by? Wasn’t it yesterday that I stood right here before the Creator acknowledging my utter emptiness of deeds and merits, pleading for His embrace, for His sake if not for mine?

As Selichos begins, we say, “Kedalim uke’rashim dafaknu delasecha — we knock on Your door as paupers bereft of all merit.” We continue doing so through the days of Selichos and the intense days of reflection and return that follow.

Then, the culmination, the awesome day that European Jews called simply the Yom HaKadosh. And on that night, we say “Asei v’lo lanu, r’ei amidaseinu k’dalim uke’reikim.” After all we’ve said and done in these last days, we’re still just empty-handed beggars at the door of the palace. Our bodies, our souls, they’re all Yours; please let us have them for another year.

 

Lecturer/Educator Rabbi YY Rubinstein

That question is easy: The niggun is “Rozhinkes mit Mandlen.” It wasn’t written by a frum Jew, but the melody of this lullaby immediately touched Jewish hearts when it was composed around 1880. The Yiddish lyrics were understood as a metaphor to Klal Yisrael in this bitter galus.

I am very fond of my father-in-law, who is now in his nineties. That decade tends to diminish a person’s memory somewhat, but once I played him this famous niggun and tears rolled down his cheeks as he sang along. It transported him back to his own childhood.

It’s written in the sefer Tomer Devorah that Hashem looks at all of us on Rosh Hashanah as the little children we used to be — His little children, like the child in this song. Hashem focuses on that and is willing to forgive the mistakes we made later on.

 

Agudah Executive Vice President Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel

The niggun I most enjoy singing around our Rosh Hashanah seudah table is “Mechalkeil Chayim,” which I learned as a young boy listening to Modzitzer Favorites Volume 2, and which I had the zechus to sing alongside Reb Ben Zion Shenker a”h in the presence of the Modzitzer Rebbe at a gathering hosted a few years ago by my friend Reb Shmuel Dovid Spira. The niggun is intricate, beautiful, majestic, and inspiring. We say this tefillah three times a day, but Klal Yisrael has a special minhag to sing “Mechalkeil Chayim” on the Yamim Noraim, reflecting our acknowledgement at these critical moments of Hashem’s awesome power and loving-kindness. Singing the remarkable words of our daily Shemoneh Esreh to this particular niggun brings out the grandeur of the Yamim Noraim like no other niggun I can think of.

 

CEO, MET council; past NYC councilman David Greenfield

For me, the most moving part of the Yamim Noraim is when the chazzan sings Unesaneh Tokef. It’s not just the weight of the niggun and the piyut itself but also the backstory of Reb Amnon of Mainz — who was brutally punished by the powerful archbishop for refusing to convert to Christianity — and the vivid reminder of how everything in this world can change in an instant. 

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 726)

 

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