alternate textWhat would you like to do on your last day, the hours before you die? Different people will have different responses to this question. Some people would want to spend time with their family. Others, perhaps, would want to be alone, and make sure all their earthly affairs are in order. Some people may prefer to have an exquisite meal where they can eat all the food they want. Others may want to do something extreme – “bucket list” activities – that they have never done before. On his last day, Mosheh (Moses) did something that many people may not have realized: He composed and sang a seventy line song! This song is the longest piece of poetry in the entire Torah. And it was sung on possibly the saddest day of Jewish history – the day on which the great leader, Mosheh, passed away. What is more, the song was sung by this leader himself – perhaps together with Yahushua (Joshua) as some kind of duet, because in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 32:44 it is written: “Then Mosheh came, with Yahushua son of Nun, and spoke all the words of this song in the hearing of the people.”

Many people may feel it is not fitting to talk about songs and singing just one day before the introduction of Yom Kippur – a Day that is generally considered to be the saddest and the most solemn day of all the Scriptural feast days. But then one may ask: Was it fitting for Mosheh to sing this astonishing song on his dying day? We often sing the same song (in part) when we sing: “Ascribe greatness to Yahweh the Rock; His work is perfect and all his ways are just.” I believe it is not coincidental that Devarim 32, containing this song of Mosheh, is basically the main part of this week’s Torah Portion, the same week in which Yom Kippur takes place! There is something most significant in this unusual combination and we need to find out what it is!

If one studies this song of Mosheh in Devarim 32, it soon becomes evident that the song is not only about Yahweh’s greatness – the fact that He is like a Rock and that his works and his ways are perfect and just. For the greatest part, the song is about the disobedience of the people Yahweh had chosen as his own. In the song we hear, among other things:

(They) forsook Eloah who made them, and scorned the Rock of their deliverance (15).
They moved Him to jealousy with foreign matters, with abominations they provoked Him (16).
(They) neglected the Rock who brought them forth, and forgot the El who fathered them (18).
They provoked (Him) with their worthless matters (21).
They are a nation lost to counsel, and there is no understanding in them (28).

The song is not only a tribute to Yahweh’s faithfulness. It is also a sad reminder of the stubbornness and sinfulness of a people that has to be considered as the most blessed nation on the face of this earth! It is a song that emphasizes the need for pardon and forgiveness and reconciliation – exactly the kind of things that constitute the backbone of Yom Kippur. In fact, in the very last line of the song, we hear these words: “He avenges the blood of His servants, and returns vengeance to His adversaries, and He shall pardon His land, His people” (43). The word that is translated here as “pardon” is the Hebrew word “kaphar” which means “to cover, to atone, to forgive and to pardon”. This word, “kaphar” is the very same word that we hear in the name of the Day that many people feel is a day in which singing is the last thing on anybody’s mind – the Day of Yom Kippur!

We should not be too quick to point fingers at the people of Israel – the ones who provoked their Elohim with abominations and worthless matters and scorned the Rock of their deliverance. We are pretty much in the same boat and we all realize this all too well! We too, are in need of pardon, atonement and forgiveness! We too, need to embrace Yom Kippur and what it stands for. Do we have reason to sing – one day before, and even on the Day of Yom Kippur itself? Yes, we have, because Yahweh has promised that He will pardon his land and that He will pardon his people! Previously, we have not been part of his people. But by the mercy and the favour of Yahweh, we have been joined up with his people and have been put in a position where we can say, like Ruth said to Orpah: “Your people is my people, and your Elohim is my Elohim.”

There is something very special about song and singing – something that is difficult to pinpoint, even beyond our human understanding. Talking, as in a sermon or a teaching, is informative, factual, appealing to the reason and the intellect. Sometimes it goes deeper, touching the heart, stirring up a desire to change or to commit oneself to do something significant. But words that are merely spoken, cannot achieve the same as singing and music. A song allows for a deeper kind of expression, a purer form of delight and joy and a level of understanding that goes beyond the normal functions of the intellect. That is why you can’t listen to the same sermon or the same teaching twice in a row, but you can sing the same song over and over again!

Words are the body or the building blocks of language. Music, on the other hand, is the soul of language. Language needs a soul, for without a soul our communication will always remain limited and even superficial. Someone has said: Music is both the soul of language and the language of the soul. It is the soul of language because it brings life to language and allows for things to be said in a way that is almost impossible when one is just speaking forth words and sentences. And it is the language of the soul because there are many emotions, feelings, memories and attitudes of the soul that cannot properly be spoken with words alone. One could also say like one commentator on Devarim 32 had said: “A song is the pen of the heart. It expresses to ourselves and to others the deepest parts of our hearts and souls, that which cannot be expressed through the medium of finite syllables.”

Let us never become a group or a people that is without music and song. Let us never stop writing new songs and singing regularly and wholeheartedly with joy and emotion. And even if we do not sing out loudly, there should always remain a song in our hearts. Other people should be able to notice the presence of this song. Because that which is in the heart and the soul of a person, will surface somehow, some time or other. If it is a joyful song, or a song of commitment, or even a song of repentance that is within us, we will bless others if we do not keep it to ourselves but sing it out and let it become known.

It is recorded that during the Holocaust, some of the Jews sang the traditional song “Ani Ma’amin” on their way to their deaths in the gas chambers. I have searched the internet and it seems that there are more than one versions of this song, both as far as the words and the music are concerned. The words, however, are basically the same and, if translated, boil down to the following:

I believe with complete faith; In the coming of the Messiah, I believe; Believe in the coming of the Messiah; In the coming of the Messiah, I believe; Believe in the coming of the Messiah

And even though he may tarry; Nonetheless I will wait for him
And even though he may tarry; Nonetheless I will wait for him

Nonetheless, I will wait for him; I will wait every day for him to come
Nonetheless, I will wait for him; I will wait every day for him to come

What about us? Are we not believing and waiting for the coming of Messiah, too? If we are, we have reason to sing, no matter what day of our lives it is – even, and especially, on the last day of our lives! But even if it is not the last day, and even if our circumstances are not perfect and even if we become aware of our own shortcomings and our sins – let us use the powerful medium of music to relate to our heavenly Father, to reveal what is in our hearts and to provide those who are looking at us, with something that will make them think twice before they turn around and walk away from what we believe.

Let us leave behind a legacy of singing for our children, just as Mosheh has given a legacy of singing to the generations after him. Someone has once said:

If what you want for your children is a burden to you, They will wish to be free of it.
If what you want for your children brings you great joy and vitality, They will wish to outdo you in it.

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