Musical Settings: Eilu D'varim
‘These are the things without measure.’ Prayer and study are intertwined -- they are expressions of one another. “These things which have no measure,” which are recited as a part of our opening prayers each morning serve as a reminder that with sincere preparation and prayer, any of us can access this holiness that “has no measure” for it is infinite.
Listen In this first musical example, we hear Eastern European weekday nusach—musical motives that are tied to specific times of day and specific days of the year. Reflective of the liturgy itself which often consists of texts excerpted from Torah and Talmud, we elevate these texts in the context of prayer from simple study recitation to expressions of our yearning to open our hearts. The nusach of this prayer is an embellishment of the Lern-steige moder: the Jewish style of chanting or musical intoning that was and still is used in meditation and study. The broadening of this motive here serves to highlight the strong value connecting music with learning, and with the expression of sacred text. Listen to its musical simplicity, reminiscent of the blessing for study or for reading Torah. It is this simplicity that enables us to commit this text and its perspective to memory in our hearts and minds as we begin our day.
The next composition is inspired by the experience of chevruta, the traditional method of Jewish learning in partnership. Derived from the Hebrew word chaver, meaning friend, its partnership is a special relationship where partners take turns reading a text aloud between them and then embark together on a journey of exploration and discussion. Chevruta partners will share reactions, formulate insights and partake in an exchange of ideas that encourages freedom of expression and stimulates creativity. Involving human qualities of emotion, imagination and intuition, it can be viewed as a holistic form of study that involves all of the self. The composer of this setting is Cantor William Sharlin, a graduate of the first class of the School of Sacred Music at HUC-JIR in 1951. He is a renowned cantor, composer and arranger of Jewish sacred music, a former professor at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles, and the Cantor Emeritus at Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles. This excerpt is a vocal duet, with the two voices interacting with one another, as if in conversation and study. Listen As you listen, take note of the musical dissonances present in the composition; an edginess which finds some resolution melodically at the end, which reflects the nature of human interaction, in study and in life. We know that we may have differing understandings and opinions from our chevruta partner,but it is in that striving together that we find meaning in the text and in learning from one another.
The third musical selection is by Cantor Jeff Klepper. Cantor Klepper, a graduate of the School of Sacred Music at HUC-JIR in 1980, was one of the first cantors to use a guitar in Jewish worship and has been instrumental in expanding the sounds of American synagogue music. Listen here for a more contemporary rhythmic idiom—the use of guitar and drums, and pop harmonization in a folk-rock style, while the minor key keeps that ‘Jewish’ flavor. Listen The upbeat tempo of Klepper’s work reflects the joy of study, and of the presence of Torah in our lives. Musically, it serves to connect us with the essence of this text; that these mitzvot and Torah learning are beyond measure. The joy of connecting our deeds in this world to pure reward and fulfillment in the next world leads us right into the next rubric of our worship, P’sukei D’zimra, which is our eternal praise of the Holy One of Blessing.
The variety of musical illuminations and expressions of this text in our worship direct us to a greater awareness of blessings in our lives through the elucidation of the Jewish value that learning leads to action. Engaging ourselves through music in words of Torah at the beginning of our service challenges each of us to continue our personal quest for ways to live according to the Torah, creatively and abidingly.
Susan Caro has served as adjunct faculty at HUC in Los Angeles and works as a hospice chaplain for Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles. She is the current President of the American Conference of Cantors.