Simcha, Unplugged


rabbi-pinchos-lipschutzBy Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Have you ever noticed that when musicians play at weddings, they appear indifferent to their own music? They sit or stand impassively as their fingers run up and down their instruments. As they blow their trumpets, pound their drums and glide their fingers across the keyboard, their faces are expressionless. No wonder. Their ears are plugged. They are unable to hear their own music, much less enjoy it.

The only musicians who visibly enjoy their own music are those who sing. For these artists, singing is an opportunity to express their deepest longings and emotions in music. The singer whose soul is wrapped up in his music has the uncanny ability to touch his listener’s soul.

I attended a simcha this past Shabbos where the Mezamrim choir led the davening and sang during the meals. Their beautiful rendition of old niggunim and classic chazzanus stirred the neshamos of all those present. The singers wore no earplugs. Their voices, attuned to the timeless words of tefillah and zemiros, penetrated the cold, dank, weather outside and warmed the souls of all present.

In fact, following a most moving rendition of Yossele Rosenblatt’s “Tal,” a senior Litvishe rov overcome with emotion, hugged the young chossid – bedecked in a bekesheh, shtreimel and gekreizelteh payos – who had sung the classic piece of chazzanus. The niggunim were poiretz all mechitzos, reaching into the recesses of the heart, where the essence lies and all are equal.

How can one who is not blessed with a good voice reach the neshamos of fellow Yidden and cause them to be so b’simcha? How can one without musical talent plumb the depths of the Jewish heart and be marbeh in Yiddishe simcha?

Mishenichnas Adar marbin b’simcha.” We all know that when Adar arrives, we are to increase the simcha in our lives. That halacha suggests that we are always to be b’simcha, but during the month of Adar, we are to increase that ever-present joy. How can we be joyous all year round and what can we do to cause us to be marbeh b’simcha during these two months of Adar?

In Parshas Shemos (4:13-14), the Torah relates that Moshe attempted to convince Hashem to appoint his brother Aharon instead of himself to be the one who would relate the words of Hashem to the Jewish people in Mitzrayim. The posuk recounts that Hashem grew angry with Moshe and informed him that Aharon would travel to greet him and would be happy that Moshe was selected. The lashon of the posuk is, “Vero’achoh vesomach belibo.”

Rashi explains that Hashem was telling Moshe that he was incorrect in assuming that Aharon would feel upstaged by Moshe’s appointment as the leader of the Jewish people. Moshe was told that, to the contrary, Aharon would be truly happy for him.

It is interesting that the posuk states, “Vesomach beliboIn his heart he will rejoice for you.” Rashi states that as reward for his genuine, heartfelt happiness over the promotion of his younger brother, Aharon was zoche to wear the Choshen – which was placed over the heart – and to serve as the kohen gadol in the Mishkan. What proved his worthiness to serve lifnai ulifnim was the fact that he experienced true, selfless joy over his brother’s spiritual attainments.

The posuk‘s statement that he will rejoice in his heart is telling. It hints as to how he attained that level of selflessness that he would be able to rejoice with his younger brother’s exalted position. It was his “lev” that was special, and he was thus rewarded with wearing the Choshen on his lev.

Aharon was a selfless giant, unencumbered by jealousy, because he had a lev tov. How do we attain that level of spiritual cardiac fitness?

Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim opens with the verse, “Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid,” and ends with the posuk, “Vetov lev mishteh somid.” The connection between the two statements seems to be obvious: Awareness of Hashem’s constant presence in one’s life puts one in a perpetual state of feeling fortunate and blessed. Realizing that all that happens in this world is a fulfillment of Hashem’s will promotes inner contentment and the ability to live in harmony with others.

One who fails to recognize the Hand of Hashem in every situation tends to fall prey to negativity and jealousy. One whose thoughts and actions are guided by the posuk, Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid,” is free of these negative emotions. He is happy with his lot because he realizes that everything that happens is the will of the Creator who knows what is best for him. Such a person is a “tov lev” and is “mishteh somid.”

A lev tov can delight in his neighbor’s happiness. He isn’t bothered when he sees other people being more successful than himself. Someone who is a lev tov and ever-mindful of the posuk, Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid, isn’t driven to seek honor and respect from society and everyone around him. He is only concerned with how he will appear in the eyes of Hashem. He is thoughtful respectful toward others, happy to do a favor without needing a payback. He doesn’t engage in one-upmanship with others. He looks out for his fellow Jew and seeks their welfare.

In the last halacha in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, the Mechaber writes that in a year in which there are two months of Adar, there is no obligation to celebrate the fourteenth day of the first Adar with a seudah or with increased joy.

The Rama concurs and says that even though some argue with the Mechaber‘s ruling and state that there is an obligation for mishteh and simcha, our custom does not follow that ruling. Nevertheless, says the Rama, in deference to the ruling of those who are more stringent, it is proper to add something special to our meals on the fourteenth day of Adar Rishon. To complete this thought, as well as to conclude his discussion of the halacha and the entire Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, the Rama quotes a posuk which seems to sum it all up: “Vetov lev mishteh somidOne who possesses a good heart constantly feasts.” In other words, one who is a lev tov, a good-hearted person, is always happy.

One who fails to recognize the Hand of Hashem in all that transpires tends to fall prey to negativity and to be jealous of those around him. One who leads his life with the posuk of “Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid;” ever-present in his mind is a person who is happy with his lot because he realizes that everything that happens is the will of the Creator. Such a person is a “tov lev” and is “mishteh somid.”

A lev tov can delight in the happiness of his fellow. He isn’t bothered when he sees other people being more successful than him. He is always joyous.

Aharon Hakohein, who was able to be happy for his brother Moshe, was an “oheiv shalom verodef shalom.” Because he was blessed to be able to achieve the madreigah of lev tov, he was able to relate to other people and their problems; to bring people together and to minimize the issues that caused them to be separated.

He was able to bring people closer to Torah. He merited to wear the Choshen in the Mishkan because he possessed the middah of “Vero’achah vesomach belibo.”

One who seeks a life of accomplishment should endeavor to shape his heart in the mold of Aharon Hakohein. One who wants to effect positive change should work on his middos so that he will be selfless, non-judgmental and not consumed by jealousy of others.

Someone who is a lev tov and remembers the posuk of Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid isn’t driven to seek honor and respect from society and everyone around him. He is only concerned with how he will appear in the eyes of Hashem, rather than the simple people with whom he comes in contact. He is emphatic, thoughtful and respectful of everyone. He seeks not to master them in anything. He looks out for their good and for ways to benefit them. But he doesn’t crave their approval.

The Alter of Kelm explains that this is the meaning of the posuk in Mishlei (3:35) which states, “Kavod chachomim yinchalu.” For true chachomim, chochmah is a nachalah. It is their possession, and no one can take it away from them. One who needs others to validate his chochmah has placed his need for respect in their hands and is dependent upon them for honor. The real chochom doesn’t require the respect of others, because he knows that he is in possession of the truth. Thus, no one can remove his respect and no one can take away his honor from him.

The Alter says that the objective of Amaleik in every generation is to demoralize the Jewish people and cause them to seek the recognition of others. He explains that this is the meaning of the posuk in Shemos (17:11) “Vehayah kaasher yorim Moshe es yado vegovar Yisroel. When Moshe was able to keep his hands and heart upraised, not permitting them to droop in discouragement in the face of Amaleik’s mockery, Klal Yisroel triumphed. If he looked to Amaleik for acceptance and honor, Klal Yisroel weakened.

Chazal state, “Kol zeman sheYisroel nosim libom l’Avihem shebaShomayim vegovar Yisroel. Am Yisroel, as well, has to follow Moshe’s example. When we strengthen ourselves to the point where we choose the correct path without needing the smiles and nods of others, we prevail. When we look to others for honor and approval, we stumble and fail.

This is what is meant in the Megillah where it states, U’Mordechai lo yichrah velo yishtachaveh.” Mordechai would not behave submissively to Haman in any way. He refused to seek his approval or good will. He focused on remaining devoted to Hashem and His Torah, and was therefore able to overcome Haman and his people.

A lev tov is not koreiah umishtachaveh to anyone, yet he is mitchashev with everyone. A lev tov doesn’t just partake in mishteh and simcha by himself; he seeks to spread simcha wherever he goes.

A lev tov is happy for himself and his lot in life, and he is just as joyous for someone else’s good fortune. He touches people’s neshamos as did Aron Hakohein: “Oheiv es habriyos umekarvon laTorah.” His love for others is contagious and his simcha and appreciation of Hashem infuse his surroundings.

Tov lev mishteh somid. He effects people’s neshamos, without singing and without music, because he doesn’t plug his ears to shut out their pain and suffering. He doesn’t block his ears when he is told of how well someone else is doing either. His ability to rejoice over a friend’s success or simcha compounds the joy of the occasion. His eyes and ears are in concert with his lev tov to see how he can help a fellow Yid, how he can contribute to the betterment of the community.

A person of this caliber raises the spiritual level of those around him. He helps make the world the kind of place that will merit the arrival of Moshiach and our victory over Haman’s evil descendants who continue to persecute and threaten the Jewish people.

Adar is a month of simcha not only because of the geulah the Yidden experienced during the time of Mordechai and Esther, but because Adar immediately precedes Nissan, the month designated for the ultimate geulah of all of Klal Yisroel. May it happen this year. Amein.

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  1. 1) They can hear the music despite the ear plugs
    2) Without the ear plugs they would soon be deaf.
    3) I see guests, especially physicians, wearing plugs as well as a safety feature. They can still hear the otherwise ear shattering music.

  2. Huh? This man is obviously not a musician! These guys need earplugs, otherwise the noise is deafening. Sitting on top of any instrument is jarring.

  3. Dear Reb Pinchos;
    you have done it again . The words you wrote are right on point and may we all have a simchadike Chodesh Adar Alef and Bais. I have heard the Mizamrim choir and they have brought back the old litvishe niggunim of yesteryear with a chassidishe touch and I could listen to them for hours and not get tired of it.
    Thank you very much for th earticle.

  4. A band that would play at today’s typical decibel level would have to plug its ears for health reasons. To be fair, the guests should get plugs too, if it’s way loud.

  5. Rabbi Lipschutz is sort of a musician. His life instrument is renowned the world over. A wonderful man who does not wear earplugs (all the time).

  6. Did you ever see a real musician play at a symphony? Their whole being is into the music they are playing. With few exceptions, such as Yochi Briskman and Eli Cohen, the musicians at weddings really do sit there with no expression as they pound away, giving us all a headache.

  7. R’ Pinchos, you obviously haven’t been to a chasunah in Baltimore…as one of the musicians (particularly, a keyboardist “glide their fingers across the keyboard”), I can attest that most of our frum musicians are swept by their music. While there are times when my face is expressionless, that’s just because I’m occasionally busy focusing hard on what I’m playing, such as a new piece or some more-complicated music. Otherwise, we add to the ruach with our emotions.
    That being said, I don’t wear earplugs…I just situate myself on an angle towards the drummer so my left ear doesn’t get full blast, and our band plays well rather than loud.

  8. I play trumpet on the bandstands of many Smachot for the popular bands in the NY area.I don’t wear earplugs. I do have great expressions of Simcha-and don’t sit expressionless. I love to play and most of the Frum guys who play these jobs have a great time expressing themselves and giving Simcha to the guests and hosts. Unfortunately, an otherwise worthy article starts off with a rather unnecessary and snide aside, accomplishing nothing; but perhaps raising the hackles of this committed, expressive and non-earplugged Trumpet player.

  9. R’ Pinchus, I would be happy to discuss with you any time the issues you bring up in your gratuitous remarks about musicians at S’machot. It would surprise you to learn that musicians in Symphoony Orchestras often wear earplugs, because even when the music is not too loud, in the middle of the group it may be quite uncomfortable. I can assure you that the vasty majority of musicians, whether members of the Orthodox community or not, take their commitment to creating a sense of simcha quite seriously. There are some real problems with the way music is presented in the Jewish community, which require more discussion than space allows here, and I hope you take me up on the offer to have that discussion.

  10. The author writes: “a senior Litvishe rov overcome with emotion, hugged the young chossid – … The niggunim were poiretz all mechitzos”.
    Why be motzei laaz on a Rov to say that there are “mechitzos” that prevent litvaks from loving chassidim? Only the koach of music did this? Our Rabbonim (and stam yidden) love each other! Stop creating machlokes!

  11. Musicians have always been the pot-shot victims throughout the ages. As such a person, I always wonder why:

    1. Some guests act as though musicians have no feelings; standing right in front of the bandstand and counting (sometimes with their fingers) how many men are in the band. Are we like animals in a zoo? Can we not see them? Why don’t they count how many “extra” guests are in attendance? (I can guess a hundred or two, or at least the one counting…)

    2. Some guests complain about music before the musician(s) have even played one note. “You’re all the same” is no excuse for such undignified behavior.

    3. Some guests will make gestures with their hands and say all sort of insulting remarks at musicians. What they do not understand is that every musician is working hard at his job, no matter how easy it may look, or how “disconnected” or “expressionless” they may seem. Every musician is using a trained voice, trained hands, fingers, or breathing technique, etc. Every musician has put years of study and practice into their instrument. And every good musician is always practicing their instrument for a good part of every day.

    But as I said before, musicians are the first to take the “hit” (no pun intended) at every occasion. Remember, Mozart had to eat with the servants.

    Mozart? Who’s he? Can he sing “Rachem?”….

  12. What Jordan said is on the mark. I would also add that most of us would prefer to not plug our ears (as I don’t) but the demands of our typical audience preclude our doing so without damaging our hearing.Perhaps if some music appreciation were taught in our Yeshivos and Bais Yankevs our young folk could appreciate music with some subtlety rather than pure rhythmic assaults.

  13. The litvishe yeshivas have done their utmost to obliterate classical chazzanus from the davening.

    So let’s hear from the esteemed Rabbi Lipschutz a true story about a chazzanish tefillah in a litvish yeshiva. Oxymoronic.

  14. Right on! The friends of the choson often run up to the band, gesturing wildly, and scream ‘PUMP IT UP”!!!! The degrading remarks by the writer titled ‘Rabbi’ is unbecoming of his so called position and offends me as a musician who has worked on bandstands for over 25 years.