Rav Moshe Wolfson shlita, mashgiach of Mesivta Torah Vodaath and rav of Bais HaMedrash Emunas Yisrael in Boro Park, has for many years taken his talmidim to experience the kedushah of the ancient kevarim and other holy sites in Eretz Yisrael. On each of these excursions, the group davens together at each place they visit, after which the Mashgiach speaks about the unique spiritual power of that specific site. Afterwards they sing niggunim specially chosen to tap into the distinctive spiritual energy of that particular place. Rav Wolfson’s sefer Sacred Soil — a guided tour through the spiritual essence of Eretz Yisrael — examines the holy riches of Eretz Yisrael and its mekomos hakedoshim, and is accompanied by a list of niggunim to complete the travelogue and enable the visitor to personally feel the connection. Here’s a sampling of niggunim from those trips:
Here, in the very field that Avraham Avinu purchased from Ephron, Rav Wolfson suggests davening that Hashem hear our prayers in the merit of the Avos and Imahos. The heartwarming chassidic song, “Kah zechus Avos yagen aleinu, netzach Yisrael mitzoroseinu ge’aleinu …” whose poetic words from the Shalosh Seudos zemer “Keil Mistater” freely translate as “Hashem, let the merit of the forefathers shield us, Eternal One of Israel, redeem us from our sorrows. And draw us out from the pit of galus; raise us up to orchestrate the building of the House of Hashem.”
Keil Mistater is a mystical zemer composed by Rav Avraham Maimon, a talmid of Rav Moshe Cordovero in 16th-century Tzfas. This particular tune, rousing and full of hope, was composed by Reb Menachem Klein. The tune is popular in Nadvorna and other chassidic circles and is often used as a mitzvah tantz niggun, especially where the young couple have illustrious forebears, who — according to the mystical seforim — are said to be partaking in the simchah.
Another appropriate song is Reb Moshe Goldman’s “Ahavas Olam Tovi Lahem,” which states that Hashem will lovingly recall His promises to the Avos. Drawn from the Mussaf of Rosh Chodesh, it carries just the right balance of yearning and leibedig assurance.
The burial place of the mighty shofeit Shimshon Hagibbor is in the region of Beit Shemesh. Shimshon dedicated his life to exacting revenge against the cruel enemies of the Jewish people, instilling fear in them and thus preventing further attacks. Therefore, Rav Wolfson suggests singing the pesukim from Tehillim 79, which ask Hashem to avenge the innocent Jewish blood that has been ruthlessly spilled. “Yivodah bagoyim — May the vengeance of Your servants’ spilt blood be made known among the nations, before our eyes. May the groans of the imprisoned come before you… preserve those [of Your] children who have been condemned to die. Repay our [wicked] neighbors seven times the dishonor with which they shamed you, Hashem!” The haunting niggun for these words was composed by the previous Skulener Rebbe ztz”l while he was imprisoned by the Romanian Communists who persecuted him unrelentingly until he was finally permitted to immigrate to the United States in 1960.
Rav Wolfson explains that another facet of Shimshon’s essence was his standing as champion of the final generation. Shimshon understood the latent greatness of even the spiritual paupers among Klal Yisrael and prayed for their redemption at the End of Days. The vintage niggun “Sheb’shifleinu Zochar Lanu — You remembered us in our lowliness and redeemed us from our tormentors,” is a perfect fit.
KEVER SHIMON HATZADDIK
Jerusalem is studded with hidden treasures, and this is one of them. Walk down the road in Maalot Dafna that bears his name, cross over Kvish 1, and there lies the kever of Shimon Hatzaddik. As a pivotal figure in the transmission of the Oral Torah, Shimon Hatzaddik taught that the world is dependent upon Torah learning, as well as on prayer and acts of kindness. Rav Wolfson suggests connecting to this with another song composed by the first Skulener Rebbe — “Lulei Sorascha Sha’ashuai.”
You can sing a Jewish song in any language, but there’s something about Yiddish that makes the heart stir and the soul yearn — even for those who aren’t Yiddish speakers. Yiddish lyrics have come a long way since the old classics like “Chanukah, Oy Chanukah” — and Yiddish remains a favored language of modern compositions among some popular chassidic songwriters. In many circles, no album is complete without a token Yiddish song.
Which One Is Your Favorite?
Singer Shloime Daskal:
Avremel Fried’s “Tatenyu” (that he recorded back in 1983 on the Forever One album) — the words are so comforting: “A Tatte bist Du, gohr a gertrier… — You are our loyal Father, Your love for us is infinite… and every Yid is an only son to You.” I lost my own father when I was just seven years old, but this song is about my eternal Father in Heaven, and that makes it very special for me.
Pianist and Musical Director Mendy Hershkowitz:
“Ich Hub Gevart” composed by Reb Yom Tov Ehrlich and sung by MBD back in 1982 on an album with the same title. The way the stirring lyrics and the melody come together is perfect.
Yiddish vocalist Michoel Schnitzler:
My favorite is MBD’s “Mama Rochel” from his album The Double Album. Those words — “Kinderlach, eihere tefillos tuen dergreichen… Children, your prayers reach (above)…/the tears shine like diamonds/…/and every Jewish child will shine like the sun/in the Beis Hamikdash with everlasting joy/and then you will understand that everything was for the best/and the children will return to their borders” — are so powerful.
Head of Mezamrim choir Chilu Posen:
I love the old song “A Succah’le a Kleine.” It was also the first song I ever sang with the choir in studio.
Singer Avraham Fried:
One of my Yiddish favorites is “Tatenyu.” I wrote the lyrics based on a saying of the Baal Shem Tov, that in the eyes of Hashem, every Yid is a ben yachid. The niggun was composed by Reb Sholom Charitonov from Nikolayev, and is one of many Chabad classics composed by him and others in that very musical family.
Composer and badchan Pinky Weber:
I love the songs I composed for Michoel Schnitzler, and “A Lechtele” — about a woman who’d been mourning her son since the war and decades later discovers he’s still alive — is probably my favorite. The tune became very popular because Abish Brodt recorded it for the words “Mimkomcha” from Kedushah on Shabbos morning. I was in Tannersville, New York, this past summer when a group of litvisher bochurim recognized me and we made a kumzitz — of course, they all knew “A Lechtele.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 685)