Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tune In, Tune On, Tune UP! (or, "FEEL the vibes...")

I have a weekly seder (study session) in Tzav V'Ziruz (Reb Kalonymos Kalman's "personal diary") that usually takes place on Shabbos morning before shacharit (the morning prayer). The sefer is unique in that it gives us an inside look on the inner workings of a tzaddik (righteous man), and allows us to see the effort, challenges, and even turmoil that your standard hagiography wouldn't allow.

Learning the sefer (in either language) is more often than not a visceral experience that breaks down the barriers of awkwardness and other defensive structures that people erect to shield their innermost feelings. It is by far one of the most inspiring seforim that I have had the z'chus (merit) to study. I learn one entry a week, and ruminate on what I can take out of it for the duration of the time, looking for ways to apply the lessons.

In one of the more emotionally charged entries that chronicles the rebbe's son's illness, recovery, and death a few years later, there is a passage that I found to be so stirring, I knew I had to share it:

Why can I not express my heart's rumbling in song and the flames of my soul in tune? Enough that we cannot see the visions of the holy prophets, but why are our very own souls beyond our ken? Our spirits are storming like myriads of singing angels, yet we remain deaf to it all. Sweet songs of God are singing within us, yet we remain unaware of it all. *

The rebbe's frustration is so palpable here, it's frightening. This idea that we have these powerful urges, ideas, burning passions for God roiling underneath the surface - dying for release, but lacking the ability to articulate them, to even recognize them for what they are - hits so close to home on so many levels. Too often I find that I lack the vocabulary - my own simply isn't sophisticated enough - to express myself in any medium - prose, poetry, or music.

On many occasions, I'll plug the tape cassette adapter in my car into my iPod and only get warbled sound and static. What I think is a terrible recording usually turns out to be the connector not being fully plugged into the jack. The moment that I push it in all the way, I get clarity, and a beautifully robust stereo experience.

That very problem is analogous to what Reb Kalonymos Kalman is opining, in essence: the music is there, but we simply aren't plugged in properly (an especially sobering thought is how often we believe that we are in fact plugged in the right way, and we miss the whole point entirely). That's part of our job on this existential plane - to make that connection, to figure out how to tap into that life-song that resonates through every fiber of our being, coaxing delicious strains of melody out of experience. The unfortunate reality is that we have created a cold world, a world that is seemingly barren of any vitality or vibrancy. A world where we seem distant - from each other, from our true selves and ultimately from God (God forbid).

At points throughout the amidah (the silent prayer) of Rosh HaShana, I found myself pausing for extended periods of time. Under the safety of my tallit I hugged myself as I tried to listen to the notes of my soul - clumsy, amateurish, childish as they may be - and I begged HaShem to allow me to feel - to feel His Presence in my life, to recognize His imprint on everything, to hear what my soul is so desperately trying to tell me. I prayed for this, and I prayed that everybody should merit this feeling as well...

* English courtesy of Rabbi Yehoshua Starrett's To Heal The Soul: The Spiritual Journal of a Chasidic Rebbe

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