For the week ending 23 June 2012 / 2 Tammuz 5772

Sing Along

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Benny

Dear Rabbi,

Perhaps you can help me. Singing seems to be a pretty important part of Jewish custom. I mean, the Shabbat meals all revolve around singing, as do a lot of the prayers, and also events like bar and bat mitzvahs, or brit mila and other joyous occasions. So my problem is that I never really liked to sing, and that’s probably because I don’t have a good voice. And that means that I don’t really feel comfortable singing with everyone else, and I end up feeling left out or not a part of things. Do I have to sing? Does it look strange if I don’t participate? Do you have any advice about how to deal with this situation? Thanks.

Dear Benny,

There was a very charismatic and controversial personality and musician/singer in recent times. During his lifetime he pioneered a genre in traditional Jewish folk music that became very popular among many different segments of Jewry, uniting them all with moving, heart-felt music and inspirational stories. Needless to say, he drew many followers, and, particularly after his passing, his songs have been incorporated into a special Shabbat service that is practiced in many places.

Once, a close follower of his mustered up the courage to ask him the following question: “Rebbe, your music and singing has certainly been a great influence on so many people. But, let’s be honest, you don’t have the nicest of voices. So why has your singing been so successful?” He smiled and answered, “That’s exactly the point. If my voice were so nice, people would listen to my singing, but not sing themselves. But since my voice isn’t so beautiful, people don’t mind singing along and this way everybody makes beautiful music together!”

This story underscores the dynamic of the singing in the scenarios you mention. It’s not about impressing or being impressed by yours or others’ singing. You see, there are no solos. Rather, it’s about collectively blending as one voice in joy and praise of G-d and His blessings. A person who understands this need not be embarrassed, and those who understand this won’t judge others by their voices.

Since this is the case, your not singing is out of tune. Instead of thinking how you sound to others, consider how your silence sounds to G-d. And since the singing is not to gain praise but to give it, give it what you got. And precisely because your voice is not the greatest, your singing will all the more so testify to your pure intention. But the truth is, once you learn the songs, get used to the tunes, and overcome your mistaken sense of embarrassment, you’ll gain a confidence and comfort which will enable you to sing along fluidly in a voice much better than you realize you have.

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