Sefira Music. The mere mention of the term is enough to ignite animated discussions and debates among the masses. Can music be played or listened to during Sefiras Ha’omer? While we’re at it, are there any limitations to enjoying music during the rest of the year? Some will cite the Mishna, Gemara, Rashi and Tosafos, others will quote the Geonim, Rishonim, Achronim, and Poskim….. The topic of music is discussed by them all – tomes upon tomes, each dealing with the intricacies of a matter well above my pay-grade.
I think it is safe to say that we all enjoy music, and it is also safe to say that we can certainly survive without it. What I’m trying to say is that there are halachic ramifications at play and thus it needs to be taken seriously.
I am no expert – neither in the laws of Sefira nor in anything else for that matter – so I cannot tell you what to do. However, what I can do is give you a little background into a widely accepted approach when it comes to music around this time of year.
We are all familiar with the fact that the great Tanna, Rabi Akiva, had 12,000 pairs of students – each of them leaders of their generation – and that all of them died in the same fashion from Pesach until the 33rd day of the Omer. The question is obvious: Why were they deserving of punishment, and why was it during this period that their sentences were meted out?
The Gemara famously relates that they were punished because they did not afford each other due respect – “lo nahagu kavod zeh lazeh.” But how could it be that the students of Rabi Akiva, the same Rabi Akiva who would always say “v’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha, zeh klal gadol baTorah – to love one’s neighbor as oneself is the fundamental principle of the Torah,” erred in this very area? Surely, if this was the issue that Rabi Akiva chose to stress, his students would have internalized his message and acted accordingly. While many answers and interpretations are given, I just wanted to focus on one music-related idea that we can all use in our approach to a primary avodah of Sefiras Ha’omer.
That idea, of course, is Harmony.
The genre of music called a cappella is, by its very nature, one that promotes harmony. A song is not a song with just one note, and one voice cannot produce more than one note at one time. One voice needs another in order to create a song. “Sefira Music” is not meant to be a cheap substitute for music, rather it should be music that helps invoke a spirit of change, repentance and improvement in the way we think and behave toward our fellow man. If the song makes you want to sit and sway with your arm over your friend’s shoulder, then it has accomplished its goal.
Furthermore, unless we exhibit love for one another, we will never be fully prepared to receive the Torah. In fact, we actually NEED our fellow Jew to help us acquire the Torah. We cannot do it alone, which is why such emphasis was put on the fact that the Torah was originally accepted with perfect unity: “like one man, with one heart.” Real achdus! That’s what it all comes down to. Only when one really cares for his fellow Yid can one possibly acquire Hashem’s precious Torah – the Torah rooted in Oneness. It was, therefore, during this time that the holy students of Rabi Akiva perished. It was due to this very flaw that they were deemed not worthy of being the future transmitters of our mesorah.
And so, my dear friends, as one who tries to bring a bit more meaning to our music – to help a tune set its intended tone – I will attempt to choose songs that engender unity through their harmonies. In this way, we can hope to truly fulfill “v’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha” and be worthy of receiving the crown of Torah by the time Shavuos comes around.
Today’s (abridged) song, V’ahavta, comes from the 2007 a cappella album by Yerachmiel Begun & the Miami Boys Choir entitled, Around the Campfire. The song was originally released (sans the chirping crickets and crackling fire) on their 2005 best-seller Revach, and was chosen for this 3 Weeks/Sefira album for obvious reasons.
The chilling words of the Gemara (Yevamos 62b) tell of the horrible plague that was brought upon Rabi Akiva’s talmidim as a result of their lack of perfect harmony. But the song then goes on to reveal the remedy stemming from the well-known pasuk in Parshas Kedoshim (19:18) – the united voice of the choir emphasizing once more the everlasting message of Rabi Akiva: V’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha, zeh klal gadol baTorah.