The Eurovision Song Contest takes place every year, but in these times of Covid-19 it will be a live, non-competitive show instead. What does the Torah say about music and its ability to uplift people?
Music is the prerequisite for prophecy. It was when the harpist played that the spirit of prophecy rested upon the bands of prophets.
This is how Saul, who also suffered from depression, attained the lofty goal of prophecy as a young man; it prompted people to question whether Saul was also among the prophets.
Years later, his son-in-law David soothed his troubled spirit by playing on his lyre. David’s own compositions are suffused with pain and tribulation, darkness, celebration and ecstasy.
The Psalms serve to focus into meditation and uplift the soul for billions of human beings daily. Many and varied are the instruments used to accompany the psalms. The Psalm for the Shabbat day is played on the ten-stringed “assor”, on the lure and on the harp.
Other psalms are accompanied by an eight-stringed instrument, the sheminit, and Psalm 150 is filled with mention of an orchestra of instruments with which to sing Hallelujah to the Creator.
Music is key to the reading of Scripture itself; the “trope” or cantillation notes, devised by the Masoretes at least 1,300 years ago, throughout the Hebrew Bible govern not only how to chant, but also how to read according to tradition.
The Kabbalist Hayim Yosef David Azoulay, known by the acronym Chida, cites his teacher, who exclaimed that of the two lofty palaces in the heavens, Torah and Music, we could not know which is the loftier until we get there.
Indeed, here on earth we only attempt to copy the Kedusha delivered on high by the angels.
To deliver a service worthy of the holiness of angelic choir, earthly choirs must form. We have a four-part choir at Princes Road synagogue, and look forward in our congregation to music’s spiritual uplift, transporting us to a happier realm.
May that day come soon, and may Eurovision comfort us with togetherness in a time of much separation.
- Rabbi Abel serves Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation and is padre to Merseyside Army Cadet Force