Mi Ho’ish – (The Rabbis’ Sons)

April 7, 2022

One of my rabbeim recently repeated the response that Rav Avigdor Miller zt’l gave to someone in 1986 when he was asked what lesson should be learned from the passing of our Gedolei Hador. (At the time, we had just lost The Steipler Gaon, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky & Rav Moshe Feinstein in staggering succession.) Rav Miller, who was not one to waste his words or exaggerate in the least, said in his signature straightforwardness, “What we should learn is that no one lives forever.” In other words, make the most of every moment.

It’s true. When it comes to the great gift of life, we are often guilty of taking time for granted. But who doesn’t want to live better and longer lives? So here are a few free JMN fitness tips: minimize fat intake, avoid cholesterol, exercise regularly, and don’t smoke.

You’re welcome.

OK, but seriously, what if there was advice that, if properly followed, could truly guarantee long life? And not just for a mere hundred twenty years either – I’m talking eternal life!

Fortunately, the Midrash on our Parsha (Vayikra Rabbah 16:2) reveals the secret:
“Who wants the elixir of life?” shouted the peddler in the street. People gathered around quickly to find out what he was selling. Was it some sort of powerful potion?
Rav Yannai approached the peddler and asked to see his wares, whereupon the peddler took out a Tehillim and showed him the pasuk, “Mi ho’ish hechafetz chaim – Who is the man who desires life?”
”What does it say after this?” noted the peddler. “N’tzor l’shoncha meira – Guard your tongue from evil.” (Tehillim 34:13-14)
Rav Yannai remarked with astonishment: “All my life I read this pasuk and did not realize how simple it is until this peddler came and told me.”

Now, what was so novel about the peddler’s interpretation that Rav Yannai found to be so revolutionary? The Maharal explains that what struck Rav Yannai in the peddler’s rendition was that observing proper speech is not just a remedy for preserving life – but it is life itself! Furthermore, the more we channel our power of speech towards words of kedushah, the more alive we will be – now and forever more! Consequently, and conversely, one who abuses his ability of speech, in fact, diminishes his vitality! Gossip and its derivatives – worry, hatred, quarrels, anger, etc. – actually jeopardize both our physical fitness and our spiritual well-being.

It is said that during a visit with a potential yeshiva benefactor, the Chofetz Chaim sensed the conversation was heading towards Lashon Hara. He noticed a telegram on the man’s desk with several draft copies nearby. “It seems as if you’ve rewritten this telegram a few times,” the holy Rav Yisroel Meir remarked. “Yes,” said the man, “Every word costs me money. I’ve taken great care to write only what’s necessary.” The Chofetz Chaim then responded, “If only people were as careful with their words as you are with your telegram.” After that comment, you could be sure the man thought carefully about what he was going to say from then on.

Ironically, the secular standard of “free speech” has ultimately proven to be quite costly. And so, for one last free fitness tip: 10 out of 10 experts agree that when it comes to the words we choose to use, the recommended exercise is that of caution and restraint.

🎶 Before we introduce today’s inspired song, allow me to set the tone with just a little historical context.

The 1960s were one of the most tumultuous and divisive decades in world history, marked by the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and antiwar protests, political assassinations and the emerging “generation gap.” It was a time of counterculture and of youth’s defiant challenge of traditional morals and values. America was undergoing a social upheaval, and society as a whole – including its music – reflected these negative trends.

The Sixties also represented a pivotal period in the history of the Jewish Diaspora as well. There was a real need to cultivate a proud Jewish identity for the new generation of post-war youth, including a contemporary but uncompromising musical expression of its own.

It wasn’t long before the void was filled by a fresh, current, and sincere young group that single handedly created an exciting new idiom in the Jewish music world – “Chassidic Folk.”

The Rabbis’ Sons will go down in history as Jewish music’s first professional band, and right from inception, they would gain widespread popularity. Their music was both Jewish and relevant, with catchy tunes, acoustic guitar-based arrangements, and three-part harmonies that appealed to teenagers and beyond. The Rabbis’ Sons pioneered a uniquely Jewish version of folk song that would quickly become a fixture in the American Jewish music world, paving the way for all those who followed.

Rabbi Baruch Chait, in forming The Rabbis’ Sons, had organized a group of singers fully equipped to gruntle the temperament of their generation – talents who were each ideally suited to performing this newfangled sound. Truly rabbis’ sons (and eventually all becoming rabbis themselves), Baruch Chait, Label Sharfman, Itzy Weinberger and Michael Zheutlin z’l were all products of the culture to which they would effectively pay musical tribute.

{It should be noted that this Shabbos, the 8th of Nissan, is the Yahrtzeit of R’ Michael Zheutlin z’l. A talented performer of many instruments, his colorful tenor is responsible for the brightness of The Rabbis’ Sons’ music. During concerts he would explain the melodies and enhance the splendor of the offerings by accompanying them on his guitar. His kindness, harmonies and humor are sorely missed. R’ Meir Mordechai ben Zvi Menachem Yehi Zichro Baruch!}

Which brings us to today’s song. Mi Ho’ish, was one of the first tunes that R’ Baruch ever composed. (“Coincidentally,” he did so in 1964 while still a student in… that’s right – Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim!) It was first recorded by the late Eli Lipsker’s Pirchei Agudas Yisroel choir (starring child soloist Yossi Sonnenblick and co.) for their 2nd volume of “Pirchei Sings” in 1966. Meanwhile in November of that same year, Chait heard Sharfman, Weinberger & Zheutlin perform at one of their YU events, and by early ’67 they had collaborated to formulate and finalize what would become The Rabbis’ Sons debut album, Hal’lu.

R’ Baruch says:
The record was supposed to be called “Songs of Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva,” as it was really a fundraising project for the yeshiva. When the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt’l heard the music, he said he would rather the record be called something else. So we changed it, and went for something with a bit more of a ring.
When I composed “Mi Ho’ish,” the high part came to me first, which was unusual for me. Eventually I added the low part and ran it by a few trusted ears to make sure that what I had come up with was original. I was still new to composing and I just couldn’t believe that my songs were my own creations! Baruch Hashem, the public responded the way it did, making this song, along with so many others, some of Jewish music’s most recognized and beloved melodies.

Wishing everyone a Great Shabbos HaGadol!

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