Toward the end of this week’s parasha, the Torah compares itself to a song or poem, and calls upon us to write a Torah (or the Torah) for ourselves. “Therefore, write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, in order that this poem may be My witness against the people of Israel.” [Deuteronomy 31:19] Not just a written text to be read and studied, the Torah is a song to be chanted and sung. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) offers a beautiful meditation on songs and the way that we sing them. I’m pleased to share it with you.
There is one who sings the song of his soul, discovering in his soul everything – utter spiritual fulfillment.
There is one who sings the song of his people. Emerging from the private circle of his soul – not expansive enough, not yet tranquil – he strives for fierce heights, clinging to the entire community of Israel in tender love. Together with her, he sings her song, feels her anguish, delights in her hopes. He conceives profound insights into her past and her future, deftly probing the inwardness of her spirit with the wisdom of love.
Then there is one whose soul expands until it extends beyond the border of Israel, singing the song of humanity. In the glory of the entire human race, in the glory of the human form, his spirit spreads, aspiring to the goal of humankind, envisioning its consummation. From this spring of life, he draws all his deepest reflections, his searching, striving, and vision.
Then there is one who expands even further until he unites with all of existence, with all creatures, with all worlds, singing a song with them all.
There is one who ascends with all these songs in unison – the song of the soul, the song of the nation, the song of humanity, the song of the cosmos – resounding together, blending in harmony, circulating the sap of life, the sound of holy joy.
The song of the soul, the song of the nation, the song of humanity, the song of the cosmos all merge in him/her at all times, in every hour.
This utter fullness rises to become the song of holiness, the song of God, the song of Israel, in its full strength and beauty, in its full authenticity and greatness. The name “Israel” stands for shir-el*, the song of God. It is a simple song, a twofold song, a threefold song, and a fourfold song. It is the Song of Songs of Solomon, shlomo, which means peace or wholeness. It is the song of the Sovereign in whom is wholeness.
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, The Song of Songs, Orot ha-Kodesh 2:244-245; translations, Daniel Matt & Ben-Zion Bokser