Orly Krupp, Baltimore, Maryland
Picture this: You’re on a shabbaton—school, camp, NCSY, CTeen, Machon Maayan, whatever you’re into. It’s undeniable that one of the most impactful parts of Shabbat is the singing after Seudah Shlishit (the third meal of Shabbat). It’s the part of the shabbaton that always leaves you wanting more. Why is this? What’s so special about singing on Shabbat, and why do we connect so intensely to such a repetitive activity?
In my Philosophy of Shabbat class, we spent a lot of time discussing שבת זמירות, songs we sing on Shabbat. Rav Davidson explained that there are three ways of connecting to Hashem on Shabbat—through our body, through our intellect, and through our emotions or spirituality. The first two are pretty easy to accomplish—eat good food during a chavruta and you’re already two for three. But what about connecting through your spirituality? The Radak says that the extra neshama we receive on Shabbat helps us connect to Hashem on a higher level than we can during the week, and that when we channel this power into song, it takes us to a holy place only accessible on Shabbat. We use song to express emotions that are impossible to put into speech. Singing is the language of our souls, the medium through which we connect with feelings and beings greater than ourselves. Song is unlike intellect. When learning information, you always want more, always want to learn something new. You jot down some notes on one topic and move on to the next. But think about it—you don’t listen to a good song once and move on. We create emotional bonds with songs and associate memories with certain tunes, so the more you know a song and connect to it, the more you’ll want to keep singing it. The Ramban comments that one of the purposes of the בית כנסת, the shul, is for all of us to gather and celebrate Hashem through song.
So think back to the shabbaton that I asked you to recall earlier. Think about the oneness that signing on Shabbat creates. Think about that indescribable feeling you get when you sing Shabbat songs with friends. Think about the potential that we have in this room—the potential to make this moment more than a fleeting memory. We can make this time a moment that stays with us long after the shabbaton is over. So, if this is your 500th time singing these songs, use the emotions and memories you associate with them to bring new energy and meaning to them today. And if you’re still getting to know the זמירות, invest yourself in the songs and make this one of the moments that you’ll look back on when you need some inspiration. I hope that together we will create an atmosphere that will carry us through the rest of the week and the rest of the year.