Mizmor Shir – 1962 (Oscar Julius)

December 10, 2020

There is much to be said about the chapter of Tehillim that we recite every morning and will say at the close of Shacharis each day of Chanukah – Mizmor Shir Chanukas HaBayis (Mizmor 30). The Ibn Ezra explains that when Dovid HaMelech discovered that he would not merit the rights to build the Beis Hamikdash, he was understandably distraught. However, when the Navi Noson revealed that his son Shlomo would perform the task, it prompted Dovid to sing this most captivating kappital. But really, besides for the its first pasuk, there is no other mention of the dedication of the Beis Hamikdash, explicit or otherwise. Instead, it speaks of sickness and distress, and the deliverance from misfortune.

What seems likely, says the Nesivos Shalom, is that this mizmor was not necessarily a reference to Dovid HaMelech’s personal struggle but is directed to each and every Yid, collectively and individually. He explains that this chapter speaks of situations when we are confronted by challenges, whether of a physical or a spiritual sort. These challenges may have been very significant, even threatening to overwhelm us entirely. These pesukim assure us that with Hashem’s help, the challenges are overcome and we can once again take stock of the situation, re-establish, and rededicate our inner bayis, and it is for this that the mizmor was composed.

Not only that, this song is directed to all of Klal Yisroel, depicting times that our entire nation was confronted with persecution and travail, desperation and decline. Afterward, they experienced salvation, and with renewed strength, they sought to rebuild and rededicate the “House of Yisroel” as a whole. One of those key instances was during the episode of Chanukah.

As we know, the Yevanim’s edict encompassed the observance of Rosh CHodesh, SHabbos and Milah. This is hinted in the first letters of the first three words: Mizmor SHir CHanukas. Following our miraculous deliverance that had spurred the rejuvenation of our people, an immense simcha was brought to the world. The Beis Avraham points out that this is hinted in the first letters of the first four words of the kappital – Mizmor Shir CHanukas Habayis. Indeed, when we celebrate and commemorate the miracle each and every year, we do so with Simcha.

A song that I think suitably takes us through the above idea is Mizmor Shir composed by world-renowned author, performer, choral conductor, arranger, transcriber, composer and instrumentalist Oscar Julius. Julius was a choir conductor in New York who worked with many of the famous chazzanim of his time. The piece starts in a lively march and then changes the mood when it goes into a pleading recitative on the words ‘Mah betza’ – ‘What gain would there be if I die…’ and then goes back into a triumphant contrast on the words ‘Hafachta mispedi’ – You have turned my sorrow into dancing’. This particular tune has since found prominence in the modern cantorial collection and is still a favorite among cantors and choirs worldwide.

Back in the 70’s, this song made its way into the Camp Torah Vodaath repertoire where (Rabbi) Berel Leiner (present-day menahel of Yeshivas YBH of Passaic, NJ and uncle of superstar singer Simcha Leiner) would sing the chazzunus part of the tune for all to enjoy. It was around this time that Rabbi Yosef Chaim Golding and fellow JEP mastermind Rabbi Moshe Hauben (A.K.A. “Yehuda Rubin”) thought that it would be a great fit for the 1975 track list for JEP Vol. 2. Not only did they do justice to the original tune and its implied moods and meanings, they also managed to keep a normally lengthy piece to a more listenable length without sacrificing the song’s authenticity in the least.

Quite the accomplishment, but not surprising knowing the creative and innovative minds that were behind the scenes in the making of the entire memorable JEP collection.

{As a side note, what R’ Golding, R’ Mutty Katz and co. did through the Jewish Education Program, not just for Jewish music but for the continuity of Yiddishkeit following the devastation in Europe, cannot be understated. But as it relates just to the music – Reach Out, Dear Nikolai, Ish Chasid, Urei Vanim, Times of Joy, Benjy, Someday, Yom Zeh Mechubad, etc. etc. – each one has become so recognizable that most of us start to hear the tunes play in our minds as soon as we read their titles. In all, the songs of JEP comprise some of the most classic tunes in 20th century Jewish music.}

Wishing everyone a Chanukah Sameach!

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