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Talmudic Treasures by Rabbi Ziona Zelazo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Sanhedrin 92b - Music and Song in the Key of Life

     Music is important in my life for many reasons. It helps me create certain emotions whether happy, calm, sad, angry, scared, etc. It makes me feel productive while I work, and it facilitates a holly connection to the divine while I meditate. Many will claim that music is also magical and therapeutic, like a medicine. 

     Indeed, science confirms that music stimulates more parts of the brain than any other human function. May it be so, the use of music can be traced as far as the biblical times. We are familiar, for example, with the song Moses sang right after the exodus from Egypt, or the dance song that Miriam did with musical instruments.

     Here is an interesting insight about the life force of music, written by my guest writer, Rabbi Steven J. Rubenstein, BCC, director of chaplaincy services at the Jewish Senior Life, in Rochester, New York

In Ezekiel 37:5-12 we read;

5. Thus said GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live again.

6. I will lay sinews upon you, and cover you with flesh, and form skin over you. And I will put breath into you, and you shall live again. And you shall know that I am the LORD!”

     God re-connected the bones of all those individuals whose lifeless bodies were buried in the valley below. God gave them muscles and sinew, and then attached flesh before blowing the breath of life into their inanimate bodies.

     This might reflect a story of hope and the spiritual resurrection of God’s people. But we do not know what happened to these people who were revived. Ezekiel stops there. Were they really ALIVE?

     The sages of the Talmud asked this same question and tried to find answers. In Tractate Sanhedrin 92b we find an interesting commentary;

דתניא ר"א אומר מתים שהחיה יחזקאל עמדו על רגליהם ואמרו שירה ומתו. מה שירה אמרו? ה' ממית בצדק ומחיה ברחמים ר' יהושע אומר שירה זו אמרו (שמואל א ב, ו)

     This is as it is taught in a baraita, that Rabbi Eliezer says: T  he dead that Ezekiel revived stood on their feet and recited song [of praise] to God and died.

“And what song did they recite”? [Asks the Gemara’s narrator]

“The Lord kills with justice and gives life with mercy”.

Rabbi Yehoshua says that it was this song that they recited: “The Lord kills, and gives life; He lowers to the grave and elevates” (I Samuel 2:6).

     Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua speak to the power of God to restore life at will, but the idea of music and singing seems to strengthen the life force within these corpses that were revived. To be REALLY alive, one must sings!

     We are told that music is the universal language of humankind because the notes that we sing go beyond words. Singing is a powerful way in which to convey what is locked in our hearts and our souls as we give our emotions the freedom of expression.

     This Talmudic interpretation of Ezekiel’s dry bone revival made me also think- “What song did they sing? What song gave them the strength to face death a second time, and how might that song help me when it is time for me to face the inevitable when it is time for my soul to cross the threshold into a new dimension of living?”

     I would like to express my gratitude to the music therapists who work for Skilled Nursing Facilities and for Hospice, as well as the volunteer groups that provide music for those who are approaching the end of their lives. I have watched with awe and wonder how they provide residents with the courage and the consolation that they need to travel on into the next realm of living.

     For the caregivers who are affected by music and song and draw strength to care for their loves one and at times, letting go at end of life. It is truly a magical moment of sacredness, when songs carry the themes that relate to the messiness that sometimes accompany our relationships, such as “forgive me, I forgive you, I love you, thank you (gratitude), and good bye...”

     In the parlance of Talmud discussion, here is a suggestive list (not a comprehensive list) of meaningful songs for hope, for letting go and love.

Jim Croce, Time In a Bottle.
Terry Jacks, Seasons in the Sun
Frank Sinatra, I Did It My Way
Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli, [Celine Dion], My Heart Will Go On
Bette Midler, Time to Say Goodbye, Wind Beneath My Wings 

Josh Groban, You Raise Me, Up by

     I am particularly touched by Psalm 150 which includes an orchestra of God’s chorus. The voice of each us when we breathe stands above all. “Kol hanishama tehallel Yah! Every breath we take praises Yah, the God of Breath.” I use this phrase as part of the “vidui” with individuals who are at the end of life, to let them know that every breath is holy.

     Perhaps the one thing that I might have in common with the individuals that were given new life in the vision of Ezekiel, and then experienced a second end-of-life ~ with a song in their ears ~ is the desire to know that I travel this road, not alone but in the presence of angels, God messengers. So, it is not out of place to say that the final song to be heard would have these lyrics in mind, in sleep as well as in end-of life:

May the angel Michael be at my right,
and the angel Gabriel be at my left;
and in front of me the angel Uriel,
and behind me the angel Raphael...
and above my head the Sh'khinah (Divine Presence). 


  1. This reminds me of the reading from Bialik:
    After my death, mourn me thus:
    There was a man, and see, he is no more.
    Before his time his life was ended
    And the song of his life was broken.
    O, he had one more melody,
    And now that melody is lost forever,
    Lost forever.

    Thank you Ziona and Steve for these teachings!

  2. Wow. I love this connection that you have found, Rabbi Peg.

  3. I find music and singing to be incredibly powerful! It can change my mood almost instantaneously, almost always for the better, and it can connect me to the sublime. For example, the "Soave si al vento" quartet in Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte is what I'd expect to be playing at Heaven's anteroom. Thank you for reminding me of Judaism's powerful perspective on music and singing.

  4. MT-Thanks for this beautiful insight.