Holy and Secular – Just as I was leaving my car, the announcer began a curious monologue. It was a little before eight o’clock in the morning, and my radio was set to Reshet Gimmel, a station which proudly declares that it broadcasts only Israeli music. “I have my doubts whether I should share this with you,” she said, hesitating. “Dozens of times this week I received a new song in e-mail which is not being broadcast on the radio. I listened to the song, and it is very bad and even repulsive. It is at a very low level, and its theme is callous and crude.” After giving some details about the song, she continued, “Compared to this terrible song, every other song that is broadcast appears as if it comes from the Tanach.”
At the end of her speech, the announcer said, “Now, in order to clear the air from this filth, let us listen to the new song, ‘To you, my G-d’.” And beautiful music came from my radio, as a liturgical poem written by Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra filled the air, sung by Meir Banai.
“To You, my G-d, goes my passion, my desire and my love is for you / My heart and my kidneys are yours…
I will moan for You and I will not be silent, to light up my darkness…
I will shout to You, I will be attached to You, until I return to the earth..
Royalty is Yours, exaltedness is Yours, it is good to praise You / You provide help at a time of trouble, help me in my troubles…
What am I, what is my life, what power do I have / As a straw in the wind, pushed here and there, how will You remember my sins…
Let the hidden light before You be my hiding place and my dwelling / Let my place of dwelling be under the shadow of Your wings.”
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Two phenomena have appeared at the same time in Israeli culture, one ugly and painful and the other pure and clean. The ugly phenomenon is a lack of modesty, a callous shallow approach that is typical of many of today’s works of art. The Israeli media are filled with a coarse and shallow approach. This is a wide ranging phenomenon which includes shameless advertisements, insensitive songs, and ridiculous television programs.
The other phenomenon is the remarkable way that creative artists are coming closer to the roots of Judaism. There was a time when the name of G-d was heard mostly in terms of denial (“He never… commanded us” and “No miracle happened to us”, and so on) or in a cynical way (“The prophet Yechezkel was a whopper of a prophet” and “He didn’t intend for it to be dark”). But now G-d’s name appears in an honest and blessed way, expressing complete and direct submission to Him.
A prominent musical critic claimed that the words of the above poem, “You provide help at a time of trouble, help me in my troubles,” are as powerful as the request, “Put me under your wings and be a mother and a sister for me.” But in the previous generation, in such songs as the second one, “Put me under your wings,” the desire for a safe haven referred to love between a man and a woman. Today this type of love does not appear in our culture, and a request for a haven is more likely to be addressed to the Almighty, who is great and powerful. The desire for contact with G-d is becoming stronger and stronger.
These two phenomena are connected. The shallow approach that has appeared in some of our culture highlights the need for a higher level of values and meanings. The announcer on Reshet Gimmel demonstrated this link in a remarkable way. It was her disgust and revulsion of the shallow culture that led her to connect an ancient liturgical poem to today’s Israeli society.
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“Our generation is wonderful,” Rabbi A.Y. Kook wrote more than a generation ago. The people of his time were instilled with ideals that kept absolute truth hidden from them. Today, idealism has withered, and our generation has been left with an empty spirit. It is not at all surprising that our generation is in pursuit of meaning and significance. The conclusion is that the current generation is wonderful too.
The shallow approach to which Israeli culture has descended has led to an opportune moment to search for depth and greater meaning. Will we succeed in helping Israeli society find its way back to true Jewish traditions?
Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il). Translated from the Hebrew by Moshe Goldberg. To subscribe to receive the complete version of Shabbat B’Shabbato please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.