What is it that has preserved our faith throughout the generations and kept us connected to our Jewish faith? There are many answers to this question.

I can personally attest that it was a niggun (a song of the Kabbalistic tradition, generally without words) that awakened the soul within my father, Rabbi Azriel Yitzchok Wasserman of blessed memory, while he was a college student in 1969.

Here are my father’s own words telling his story (which he recorded on an old cassette).

“In my senior year at Brandeis University, I borrowed a Jewish record from Rich Seigel. It so happened that by Divine Providence, it was a Chabad record and the niggun called “Lechatchila Ariber” was on it. I used to listen to this song, do yoga and feel so high. Inside of me, I felt something that was purely Jewish. I felt something that was so so beautiful, noble and great.”

“If words are the pen of the heart,” taught the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, “then song is the pen of the soul.” A niggun quiets the chaos around us and allows us to hear the whispers of our soul. It is likened to the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah that reminds us to care for our soul, just as we do for our body. Listening to a holy niggun aroused my father’s faith in G-d and started him off on his journey to reach his highest potential as a Jew. In his short life, he inspired many Jews to discover their own Jewish souls.

This reminds me of another story that occurred in the early days of the Chabad movement when the first Chabad Rebbe, Reb Schneur Zalman, {whose birthday we celebrated this week on Chai Elul} faced strong opposition to spreading his Chassidic teachings.

Once he arrived in a city full of Torah scholars and he invited everyone to gather in the main synagogue where everyone had a chance to ask their questions and voice their arguments against him. He assured them that he would answer every question, and that he wouldn’t leave until everyone was satisfied.

When it was time for the Alter Rebbe to respond, he ascended the platform and gazed at each person in the crowd. Instead of speaking he began to sing a niggun from the depths of his soul, a song that was not limited to words and his soul soared to the greatest heights. Soon the entire crowd was singing along with him, each one experiencing the Alter Rebbe’s spirit.

After several long minutes of singing from the soul, everyone opened their eyes. Do you still have questions? the Alter Rebbe asked. No, everything was clarified, they had no more questions and their faith was strong. Their arguments seemed resolved. He was free to go.

Soon after, all their questions returned as they came from their enraptured state. They ran after the Alter Rebbe and cried, “What have you done to us? We still have our questions.”

The Alter Rebbe answered, “I only wanted to show you that there is a higher level than the intellect that can be reached through song. By singing the niggun, you were able to feel the soul that has no boundaries. When you feel the soul, your faith is revealed and there are no questions and there are no doubts.”

Last summer, {August 2014}, I was a guest at a Friday night farbrengen (gathering) with Rabbi Shais Taub at a Retreat for Cteen leaders. They argued and asked him many question about G-d, Torah and faith. They could not hear his answers.

Rabbi Taub told them the story about the Alter Rebbe and the niggun. He explained that the Alter Rebbe said, “There are gates in heaven that cannot be opened except by melody and song.” He suggested that is was time to sing a niggun to help them focus on the real questions and accept the answers”. They sang the niggun, ‘Keli Atah’ together.

After the song, they continued to question without being receptive to the Rabbi’s answers. They also argued if a niggun without words could really inspire their hearts and express their souls. They did not yet hear it or feel it.

I offered to share a personal story about my father and told them about his experience with a niggun in his senior year in college, (as I shared above.)  The teens got the message and with great enthusiasm they asked to sing the niggun that my father sang called “L’chatchila Ariber” – a niggun that expresses the power of our soul to overcome obstacles.

A small group of Jewish American teens from every background closed their eyes and sang from the depths of their souls. When they opened their eyes, they had reached a whole new appreciation for their faith and their souls were ignited. The “Ask The Rabbi” farbrengen continued until 6 am. Their hearts were inspired, so they could hear the answers to their questions. And so their night turned into day… their darkness (confusion) turned into light (clarity).

And in the morning the Rabbi and several teens thanked me for sharing my father’s story. They told me that I was in the right place at the right time. My response, “Thank my father, Rabbi Wasserman o”bm, whose soul connected with us and showed us the power of a niggun to quiet the questions and help us hear the song of our souls!”

May we merit the time when all of our questions will be answered with the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days!

Every JGU online class is connected to a song! Please join our online classes. 

Stay tuned to hear more details about a New JGU ‘SHINING STARS’ program to sponsor and develop the singing talents of JGU members with professional coaches.

This is the first of a new blog series called Music Moments by various guests and artists.

Stay tuned for our next blog post by Susan Axelrod.