Community Blog An Opening Blessing
This blessing was delivered at the cantorial ordination ceremony for Cantor Kate Judd, Can’15 on January 24, 2016.
I was thinking back …… almost thirty years ago, in 1988, at our old campus on Hawes Street in Brookline, several of us sat down to meet with then president of Hebrew College, Rabbi Sam Schafler. His picture is now on the steps of the library here. We began discussions that led to the creation of a Jewish Music Institute at Hebrew College. It was exciting and inspiring and, most importantly, it happened! We started off slowly and eventually we became the School of Jewish Music here on Herrick Road at our new campus in Newton. Many of us who were there at the beginning are still connected to the college. Many of our dreams have been realized. Many possibilities still excite us. Things that we could not have imagined possible are now simply accepted as reality. The cantorate has changed and we have been able to grow and change with it. We sang, or as the song says “Moses and the Children of Israel sang” (az yaSHIR) and we still will sing as Moses also says he “will sing” (a-SHIR-rah). We celebrate what we have accomplished, while continuing each day to be in the moment and to make things better with each step we take into our Sea of Reeds – into our lives – our work – our music – our college.
Just yesterday we chanted Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea. We celebrated with joy that we had crossed the Sea safely and were now free. Yes – we were there too! The celebration, naturally, was with music – with singing and instruments. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain says: “There is an inner connection between music and the spirit. When language aspires to the transcendent and the soul longs to break free of the gravitational pull of the earth, it modulates into song” …[he continues by] quoting Goethe, “Religious worship cannot do without music….” and Sacks concludes: “Words are the language of the mind. Music is the language of the soul. So when we seek to express or evoke emotion we turn to melody.”
We already know this – we know it in our eyes, in our ears, in our hearts, in our voices and in our souls. We know it because we are the vessels that invite God into the sacred space of our communities. We ourselves have been invited into this life that pushes us to experience holiness and further pushes us share it with others.
I like the songs in the Torah – not a surprise! Having just sung Shirat ha-Yam, I am reminded also of Haazinu at the end of Devarim:
“HaaZInu ha-shaMAyim va-adaBEI-ra
V-tish-MA ha-A-retz imrei-FI
Give ear, O Heavens, that I may speak;
Hear, O earth, the utterance of my mouth. [continuing] Let my teaching drip like rain, let my words flow like dew…”
[translation: Everett Fox]
I love Rabbi Louis Jacobs’ drash on this parasha. Seems like I am connected to British rabbis these days! (p 205 Jewish Preaching)
In these words, Moses is comparing his teaching to both rain and dew. Of course if there is no rain, it is terrible, but if there is too much rain, it can destroy the land. Jacobs says: “the gentle dew, on the other hand, is always welcome…. [He goes on,] Judaism is compared with both rain and dew. Like rain, it is needed on life’s great occasions, the rites of passage – at birth, bar and bat mitzvah, marriage and death. On these occasions we confront the mystery of existence and are closer to the divine than at any other time. The same applies to the special seasons of the Jewish year…..” Jacobs then moves to dew, saying that this “represents the other aspects of Judaism – Judaism in the daily round, less spectacular than the other aspect, but no less significant….”
We do it all! We do the big things – the rain – you know what I mean. We help guide people through these moments of transcendence, sacred times, both joyful and sad. That is part of our calling. We help people to connect with the Holy. We also do the dew – we are there for the simpler, daily, regular activities – the religious school service, the bar or bat mitzvah lesson, helping a high school student prepare some Torah for a winter institute, having a meeting in the library, preparing a choir rehearsal. There is God in those moments too and the music makes them richer.
The music center of this school was started almost thirty years ago! Some things take time – the Israelites wandered for forty years in the wilderness before they came to the Promised Land. We are getting better as we travel the wilderness of Brookline and Newton. As a School of Jewish Music, we also celebrate both the rain and the dew – the big, grand moments (like today at an ordination) and the regular, daily activities in class, in minyan, in relationships.
What a gift – what a joy – what a treasure we have.
May you, Kate, go forth from this day, as our newest ordained cantor.
May you continue to go forth with joy and share this gift, this treasure.
May we all learn from Rabbi Shefa Gold’s teaching on the words from last week’s Torah portion:
Ozi v’zimrat Yah, vay’hi li lishua which she translates as
“My Strength (balanced) with the Song of God will be my salvation.”
May we here today find our strength as we also listen to the song of God, and in combining these two, may we find our salvation.
Cantor Louise Treitman is an adjunct instructor of Jewish Music at the School of Jewish Music at Hebrew College.