the future of song

In my last post I stated: Prayer begins and ends with words. In the middle there are all kinds of things, but at it's root prayer is about words.

There's one level of prayer, kind of an outside band, that's pure and wordless. This kind of prayer falls outside of the general category of prayer just as teshuvah falls outside of the general category of mitzwoth. (Note: I'm not saying it's not a mitzwah, teshuvah is numbered as one of the 613 mitzwoth according to the Rambam)

This kind of 'sideband' prayer, just as the sideband mitzwah of teshuvah, is unique in that it works regardless of anything else, in fact, it's hard to draw the line (if one exists between teshuvah and this kind of prayer, called za'akah. Za'akah is crying out and it should be no surprise that it was the za'akah of Bnei Yisrael that God heard, it was because of their crying out that they meritted God's attention. (It was because of God's promise that they were redeemed.)

I'd like to ruminate a little on the differences between teshuvah and za'akah even if there may be no (actual) difference between them. Teshuvah is about returning to God. Literally, according to the Kabballistic explanation, the returning of the soul to HaShem. The focus of teshuvah is about where you are going, leaving wherever you have been. Za'akah has a component of being somewhere. Za'akah is the crying out that comes from being under extreme pressure, in dire straights, bein hameitzarim. Za'akah is the bleating cry of the helpless lamb, calling out to it's mother or it's shepherd for salvation, for extrication from it's bitter (and immediate ) circumstances. Za'akah is a result of surroundings whereas teshuvah is the result of one's internal state.

Za'akah might even come from a deeper and more profound place than teshuvah. Teshuvah takes energy, internal will to submit to God's will. Za'akah comes from a place where teshuvah isn't even possible, a desperate place where we have nothing to offer, not even a soul to return to God. Za'akah comes from a childhood place of bitul, of ayin, a total helplessness. Teshuvah requires an enlightened source, some ego to want to return the self, the I, to God. Za'akah is a pure embarrassed unembelished need for God, nothing short of God is enough, nothing short of God even matters.

If nothing stands in the way of teshuvah, how could anything stand in the way of za'akah? Sometimes when we are children, even though it seems impossibly hard we are forced to learn things, because it is to our direct and sole benefit. I don't know about za'akah, but it seems that sometimes it might seem to go unanswered, just as babies sometimes cry out of fear even as they are learning to walk.. HaShem heard our za'akah but our situation got worse before it got better. Za'akah never goes unheard, it brings out tremendous rachamim (divine mercy) as the Maor Eynayim teaches in parashath Beshalach. But I think sometimes we can't tell when our situation has improved.

That is the machloket of whether to celebrate the new year of fruit bearing trues on the aleph shevat, or on tu b'shevat. Whether we celebrate when we know the good is coming, or when we actually start to see and feel the results of the good. If we sang az yashir when Moshe first came to tell us we were going to be redeemed, what would that redemption have been like? Instead we sang it after the sea crushed our former captors, after God delivered on his promise.

Perhaps that is the deeper meaning of אז ישיר - then, we will sing. When moshiah comes, maybe we will sing on news of his arrival -- before everything goes down.

[Note: the term za'akah might cause some confusion, because there are a number of associated words, tza'akah, na'akah etc I'm using za'akah because I think it embodies the others, perhaps tza'akah would have been more appropriate--it is the wording chosen by the Maor Eynayim quoting the Baal Shem Tov.]


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