Jewish Journal

Holiday Music & Jewish Wisdom

Posted on Dec. 30, 2009 at 1:03 pm

As seen in The Jewish Week

Shorter days, colder weather and “Jingle Bells” aren’t the only harbingers of the holiday season - classic rock also tends to drift in this time of year. At parties and in cozy cafes, Top 40 hits from the ‘70s and ‘80s always seem to make a comeback. Although secular on the surface, you don’t have to dig too deep to find Jewish values at the roots of this rock and roll. In that spirit, we asked our resident pop culture Rashi- Rabbi DovBer Pinson- to give us the Jewish take on these “holiday” classics. Rav Pinson who is a direct descendant of the 12th century Rashi, is a prolific author and spiritual mentor. He offers unique learning and life experience at his IYYUN Center in NY (www.iyyun.com). Tell us what you think at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

“Lean on Me” (Bill Whithers, 1972)
Inspired by West Virginia coal miners, this song was recently performed at the Obama inauguration.

Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

Life can at times be painful and bitter, yet we need to make sure we don’t become bitter ourselves. Otherwise, when tomorrow comes and new possibilities open up, we will not be equipped realize them. When the recently freed nation of Israel journeyed from Egypt they came to Marah, and as the Torah says, they were not able to drink the found water because “they were bitter.” (Exodus 15:23) They can refer to the waters, or as Reb Mendel of Kotzk teaches, they can refer to the people themselves. They were bitter, thus any water they tasted was bitter. As the verse says, “All the days of the afflicted [seem] wrong, yet, one that has a merry heart (full with hope for a tomorrow) enjoys a continual feast (everything seems right).” (Proverbs 15:15)

“Imagine” (John Lennon, 1971)
“Imagine” was ranked as the third greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine behind The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” and Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

The utopian dream is the Messianic era. The great Maimonides (Rambam) writes of the time of the Messianic era: “In that time there will be no famine or war, no jealousy or rivalry since there will be abundant good and all the delicacies will be as plentiful as the dust of the earth. The only occupation of the entire world will be to know the Creator.” (Rambam Hilchos Malachim)

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

Everything new begins with a dream. “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Yet, as the Zohar teaches, “Under the sun there is nothing new, but under the moon there is.” (Zohar) Sun represents rigidity, predictability, what was will be. The moon, the night, is the place of dreams, dreaming of a better tomorrow, a tomorrow that is radically different than today.

“We are the World” (Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, 1985)
A charity single recorded by the supergroup USA for Africa, this may be the ultimate tikkun olam song of the 1980’s.

Send them your heart
So they’ll know that someone cares
And their lives will be stronger and free
As God has shown us by turning stones to bread
And so we all must lend a helping hand

The mere fact of showing that you care brings healing. The Talmud teaches, “One who visits the sick takes away one-sixtieth of his pain. (Nedarim 39b) Simply by visiting and showing that you care about the other alleviates their pain.

When you’re down and out, there seems no hope at all
But if you just believe there’s no way we can fall
Well, well, well, well let us realize oh! that a change can only come
When we stand together as one

We are all in it together. A Chassidic parable illustrates this point. Once as a ship set sail one passenger took out a knife and began drilling a hole under his seat. When rebuked by his fellow passengers to stop and not endanger the ship from sinking, he responded, “I paid for my seat and I am only making a hole were I am sitting.” As we navigate the seas of life we need to be acutely aware that we are all in one ship.

We are at 770…  and no image. This fits and should work at this point. Not sure how lyric size may add more column space. Only if there is room in layout add the song below (170—becomes 940)

“Don’t Stop Believing” (Journey, 1981)
Despite lead vocalist Steve Perry’s initial hesitation, “Don’t Stop Believing” was used in the final scene of Sopranos.

Working hard to get my fill
Everybody wants a thrill
Paying anything to roll the dice
Just one more time
Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh the movie never ends
It goes on and on and on and on

Indeed, it may seem that some people win and some people are destined to lose. The truth is that life’s journey extends beyond our present incarnation. Each of our souls needs to reach its completion and full articulation. A person who is wealthy in this lifetime needs to work on kindness and giving while those who are less fortunate materially work on learning to receive – each person wrestling with his own area of struggle. In the next life, or in the previous life, it was the opposite, and the wealthier person was the one working on the attribute of receiving

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