Naso ~ The Blessing Is In The Music

We are at Naso, the Book of Numbers roughly 4-7.  Reading this portion, which I do always before I read commentary (although I cheat and read it on the Chabad website in the Rashi commentary version just so I can have a little more understanding), it seemed to go on forever. 

There were some very compelling themes.  The first one that interested me were the rules of restitution; a fundamental idea of justice.  The second that struck me (yes, o.k., I am a lawyer) was the notion of presuming innocence (in the adulterous women section).  The third theme that made me think was the theme of abstinence for G-d, of choosing a period of offering and abstinence to show faith.  And then I came to the priestly benediction.  It is beautiful and somehow very comforting.  The commentary makes it clear that this is one of the most ancient texts in Torah and is clearly one of the most ancient in continuous use by humanity.  Then I read a commentary that talked about all the things we humans do in the name of our need for blessing.  This too is a very compelling idea.  But once I read the words of the benediction I was stuck.

I did not grow up in a religious home.  We did not go to Temple except for special occasions and I did not learn much about religious ritual until my now husband and I decided to enter into a covenant to create a Jewish home and raise a Jewish child and we both became involved in formal Judaism.  At that time we went to a very tiny synagogue congregation in Massachusetts where my husband converted and that had its own kind of magic.  But soon after we moved to New Mexico.  Our congregation there was filled with music.  I wrote about music in another blog this week. 

Music for me is the place I am most able to express myself, it speaks to me and for me.  I love other art forms but music is inside me.  So what I got stuck on was the sound of the priestly benediction as my then Rabbi and Cantor sang/chanted it.  They never recited it, they sang it, one speaking, one singing.  That is how I think of that ancient benediction.  It became almost like a lullaby for me, like the Hashkivenu melody that I love, it calms me.  As I settle into Shabbat and become quiet, these melodies speak for me, quiet me, fill me with prayer and reverence.  That is what I think about music and that is what this week’s Torah portion brought me to.  It hasn’t much to do with Naso but for me each week it is what the portion makes me think of.  The quote I posted elsewhere this week follows:

“Bach gave us G-d’s word, Mozart gave us G-d’s laughter, Beethoven gave us G-d’s fire and G-d gave us music so we might pray without words.”

I can’t attribute it because I don’t know where it came from.  But it says what I mean.  The priestly benediction brings us the joy of knowing that G-d loves us, it spreads itself over us and says that we can be happy and at peace.  And the music, well, it is peace.  Shabbat Shalom.

American Idol as Music, Not Contest

Last week it was the duets.  This week it was the “second songs”, the songs that were chosen for the contestants by the judges, rather than those they chose for themselves.  Usually it is all about the contest, who will win, who will lose, and the tension of that permeates each episode of American Idol.  Yes, I am an Idol fan, big time, get over it.

What feels different to me this year is that I listen to it, I look forward to listening to it, just for the music.  Last week I was transfixed by the duets.  They were astonishing, just to listen to, as music.  I found myself looking forward to each and every performance of everyone remaining just because I think they are good singers and musicians; even Casey, who I think is fluff, is a really nice singer.

This week there were three.  And  I was really sorry to see Big Mike go home.  He is a good singer and a really good guy, that was obvious.  But I don’t think he will actually be going home, I think his life is changed and he will be going on ~ which is why I am an American Idol fan.   And the first three performances were just okay.  It seems always to be that when the contestants get to just choose a song, without topic, theme or mentor, they don’t do so well.  They seem to choose what they just happen to like and not necessarily what is the right thing for them.  Isn’t that just like we all do, choosing what we like but not always what works.  But I digress (as usual).

This week it was the “second songs”, the songs the judges chose for the three remaining singers; they chose what they thought would be great and great they were, all three!  Casey sang Daughters by John Mayer and it was beautiful.  Mama Sox sang Baby I’m Amazed by Paul McCartney and it shook the house.  Lee sang Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen and it brought the house down.  I found myself just listening to the performances, not thinking at all about who would win and who would lose, just listening to the performances.

So that is what I love about American Idol, it is real people trying to accomplish their dreams.  And this year, because these last four or so contestants have stayed remarkably true to themselves and their own styles, it really is about the music.

“Bach gave us God’s word, Mozart gave us God’s laughter, Beethoven gave us God’s fire and God gave us music so we could pray without words.” ~ Anonymous