Too Sacred to Sing

אֲסַפְּרָה כְבוֹדְךָ וְלֹא רְאִיתִֽיךָ, אֲדַמְּךָ אֲכַנְּךָ וְלֹא יְדַעְתִּֽיךָ

 

“I shall describe your Glory, though  I have not seen You; I shall envisage your Face, I shall name your Name, though I know You not.”

There is an imagination, call it fancy, or fantasy, that looks inward, like a mirror, delighting in the unreal fabrications of its own psyche; there is an imagination, call it inventive, that turns outward, to the uncreated new, to the world of the potential, toward that which can perhaps be real; and there is an imagination, call it sacred, that seeks to peer through the veils between the known and the Unknowable, that attempts to draw close to that which is truly Real.

The saintly rabbi Judah of Regensburg, whose mystical words are quoted above, did not strive to compose a beautiful hymn depicting a private vision of the celestial spheres; he did not seek to build great theological systems for others to study in generations to come. But he did see the Glory, did name the Name, and of the Nothing that lies beyond he did not speak.

Let us honor his reticence and ponder on his words in silence.

@2012 Jonathan Omer-Man

 

10 thoughts on “Too Sacred to Sing

  1. But you can only honor the song by not singing it if you already know the song. And I don’t know it.

  2. Jonathan, thank you for permission to not do this amazing prayer out loud. Too often it’s led by a child with no understanding, and responded to by congregants who only want to rush through it to get to the Kiddush.

  3. i beg to differ. Shir ha-Kavod is a beautiful poem and it SHOULD BE SUNG and explained. Reb Zalman has a nice English rendition which can be sung but I fondly remember singing the original as a child. In the Conservative congregation I go to it isn’t sung anymore. The Kinder do Adon Olam. I have spent years finding the hidden mystical prayers in our”faith”. Most are edited out of prayerbooks except Artscroll and a very few others(except Breslov of course). Of course Lekha Dodi is reduced to a cute ditty and not comprehended. We need to bring these jewels out of the shadows and explained.

  4. In our dry wastelands of the vast distracted preoccupations that we call our lives, our souls and flesh thirst and yearn for You, O One.(Tsama Lecha Nafshi, Kama Lecha Besari, B’erets Tsiya VeYaveish, B’li Mayyim.)

  5. Is “kadosh kadosh kadosh,” the holy vision of Isaiah the prophet understood? The Rabbis were trying to *normalize* mysticism, so that the masses could perhaps catch a glimpse of the Transcendental, if it was part of the regular liturgy.

  6. I don’t think that the “masses” (whoever they may be) need the rabbis to catch a glimpse of the Transcendent. But that inspiring piece of liturgy can help one to contextualize the experience within a Jewish worldview.

  7. May I suggest that the song is too sacred to be sung badly. R. Jonathan’s post can spur us to refine our approach to sacred music, both in the composition and the kavanah.

  8. Indeed, one must maintain a high consciousness and mindfulness when singing to avoid lapsing into party-mode. And yes, I think there is a place for silence instead of song. Knowing when to do which is the challenge.

  9. Thank you Naomi and Sarah Jo. The point I think the rabbi was making is that the way these songs are often sung (party mode) is disrespectful to their content. And thank you Rabbi J.

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