I woke up at 09:30 this morning after getting at least 10 hours of sleep which I badly needed. Went to the Lemba Synagogue to teach around 11:00 am. George picked me up—he had waited for gas from 3-6 am. I had 8 students, three women and five men. We discussed the idea that as community prayer leaders it was vital to know about the meaning and context of prayers. They learned that the siddur literally means “order,” and is written in the order of our daily prayers. They are using the Koren siddur which is very nice. I taught that the siddur contains sections of Tanach (acronym for Torah, Nach-Prophets, and Ketuvim, the Writings—includes tehillim which are the psalms of David). But also there are piyutim which are poems written and added to the prayer book in addition to biblical quotations.
We talked about what Kabbalat Shabbat means literally and in the spiritual sense. The basic piece was learning that Kabbalat Shabbat in Hebrew means receiving Shabbat and that is what we are doing--it started with the Kabbalists dressed in white in Tsfat Israel in the 16th century standing on the mountain receiving Shabbat. So the first prayer in their siddur is “y’did nefesh” pretty much a love poem to God. They know the “traditional melody” which includes the niggun at the end. At that moment I discussed the word niggun (melody without words) and taught about the Baal Shem Tov (BESHT) who founded Hassidism. The poor were not able to study because of time and monetary obligations, so the BESHT taught that we did not necessarily need to be a scholar and if we didn’t the words we could use our hearts to sing God in a melody. I challenged Hamlet Zhou, the composer laureate of the Lemba to write their own niggun! I pointed out that y’did nefesh was a piyyut written in the 16th century in Tsfat. The first letter of each of the verses spells “yud-hey-vav-hey” God’s holiest name. It also is a love poem, and so I talked about our relationship with God. I spoke about the verse from Hoshea that says “I will betroth you to me forever, in justice, in kindness, in mercy and faithfulness..and then I will know God.” When we are able to emulate those above mentioned qualities then we become “btzelem Elohim” in the image of God. God in Her love gave us the Shabbat the greatest gift of all.
We continued by noting that the beginning of Kabbalat Shabbat is six psalms, representing the six days of the week, follow by Lcha Dodi and then the psalm for Shabbat and the psalm for Friday.
For L’chu Neranana (psalm 95) I taught them the Abayuday version—they LOVED it and were singing it pretty instantly. I taught about the chatima the final “signature” of the prayer, which in their siddur has an arrow. The role of the sheliach tzibbur (literally messenger of the community—to God) is to start of the prayer and end with the last few lines—although there are exceptions to this rule. Also in the Koren siddur the number of the psalm is written at the end of the first line. It is in Hebrew so we discussed the concept that each letter of the Hebrew alphabet is assigned a number—we talked about 18, which consists of chet (8) and yud (10)—the word chai is life —just like when we say l’chaim!
For Psalm 96 everyone Carlebach’s melody to Ki Va Moed and so we sung it—but utilized the niggun — so we started at the beginning and skipped down to the hatima. In between we sang the niggun and at the end. I asked everyone “how did it feel singing the niggun—did it have more meaning and spirit than the words?” and all answered a resounding “yes!”.
Pslam 97 we sang my reggae version of Or Zarua—the group picked it up very quickly and we had a blast!!!!
Psalm 98 we learned Craig Taubman’s Romemu—note here—when I asked do they have a melody for Romemu the response was the melody from the Torah service. it was a perfect opportunity to say that the source for the romemu words in the Torah service are from Psalm 98—we learned Craig’s version and it was, once again, a blast!! Everyone sings so beautifully and intuitively!
You will note that there is a pattern with the psalms—95-98. The next psalm in 29. Why is that? The very mystical and numerically minded Kabbalists liked the idea that Psalm 29 has God’s name mentioned 18 times —representing chai the word for life (see above). Also the word “kol” voice is mentioned seven times in honor of the seventh day, Shabbat. I taught that the poetic nature of psalms means that all of nature “sings” to God, and that God’s voice speaks to nature. This occurs many times especially in the psalms that begin “sing a new song unto God, sing a new song all the earth.”
We went to Lcha Dodi and people knew several melodies. I taught the Abayudaya version. I also pointed out that this piyyut was written by Shlomo Ha’Levi, spelled out in the first letters of the verses. We also talked about Shamor v’Zachor—two different ways the fourth commandment was written in Shemot and Dvarim. How can this be? The Kabbalists say the these two words were spoken “b’dibor echad” as one word—something that only Hashem can do.
We sang Carlebach’s mizmor mizmor shir for the 92nd psalm and for the hatima we sang the Israeli melody for Tzadik Katamar.
Pslam 93 for Friday we sang Nava Tehilla’s Mikolot Mayim Rabim.
Then we discussed the sections of Mishna that are studied at this point. The rabbis knew that since we had everyone in shul, we could get in some Torah learning. Also the sages said that even five minutes of Torah learning is better than not studying at all. Hence in several places in the siddur a section is there for study. I pointed out that also on Saturday’s musaf has such a place. At the conclusion of the study there is the Kaddish d’Rabanan. We talked about the five different kaddishim—Kaddish d’Rabanan; Hatzi Kaddish (between sections of the service); Kaddish Shalem (between sections were there is ha-tefilla, the Amida); Kaddish Yatom, the mourner’s kaddish and Kaddish D’etchadatah (at a funeral and the conclusion of study of a tractate of Talmud). Musaf for Shabbat is a perfect example. We looked at the Hatzi Kaddish before the Amidah. The Kaddish Shalem after the Amdah. The Kaddish D’Rabanana after studying Mishna and Talmud and the Mourner’s kaddish after aleinu. Four out of five of the kaddishim in one short span.
We took a break, and agreed that we did a lot of learning and we would continue tomorrow Friday. However the women would have to be home preparing for Shabbat—so we would meet at 11:00 am, just the men. After that Hamlet and I will lay down some tracks for new recording.
The learning session was fantastic—I told them that they would have to be sponges, and that them teaching others what I taught them would be my greatest joy—just as I have learned from others and was teaching them.
But more fantastic was having a jam session with Hamlet on guitar and Moderick and his wife Brenda on mbira. It was truly a global blend!!
Tomorrow night I spend Shabbat at Moderick’s home. Erev Shabbat is spent at the home celebrating with family—it is too hard and expensive to come to synagogue two days (just like in Ol Kalou). Saturday morning I will get to hear how the Lemba do their services.
I probably will not write again until at least Sunday. Shabbat Shalom.