Kirtan Rabbi Blog

Eight Days, Eight Songs. Candle Three: Havayah (Track 4 from Nondual)

Posted by Rabbi Andrew Hahn, Ph.D. on December 19, 2014 at 10:15 am.

This is part of Kirtan Rabbi’s Gift of Listening: Eight Days, Eight Songs. To hear this candle and the previous ones, please click on the:
Kirtan Rabbi Music Player

Havayah brings a beautiful, haunting choral delight. An odd deep green, E minor combo of Brahms and Iron Maiden. It was the first song I wrote on this album. It was also my first departure from purely harmonium-based chanting. It was released a few years ago as a single.

I knew for quite a while that I wanted to set the text Eheyeh asher Eheyeh, from Exodus 3:14, where Moses asks God Who shall I say sent me? These words mean something along the lines of “I will be what I will be.” More familiar, older translations, which wanted it to sound like Plato’s pure ‘Being,’ rendered it, “I am that I am.” Or, most famously, Popeye’s I yam that I yam. (A more vernacular and possibly correct translation is “I’ll do what I want!:” God is completely undetermined by the laws of nature, much less the expectations of human beings.)

Vibrationally, I like these words because of the pleasant, soft consonants in them. To these I added Havayah, which basically contains the same breathy, inspirited letters. As you sing along, you’ll see Havayah Eheheh asher Eheyeh rolls off your breath so sweetly.

The word ‘Havayah’ merits some explanation. In Hebrew, we have a four-letter name for God, YHWH. The tradition purposefully left the vowels unknown to us. In other words, we do not know how to pronounce the Divine Name! A form of Medieval practice, known as “Ecstatic Kabbalah” (which, if you ask me, is what Jewish Kirtan is), was to rearrange and permeate the these consonants in as many ways as possible, running through all the vowel possibilities as well. By so uttering and intoning the Name, one whipped oneself up into an out-of-body experience which resulted in direct cleaving to God (Devekut), thereby becoming a prophet oneself, and — in the most extreme claims — becoming one with God, and therefore divine!

‘Havayah’ — essentially HWYH — is one of the more common of these permutations. You could translate the word as “being” or “existence,” and I think it is one of God(ess’) feminine names:

Havayah, I will be what I will be.

And because I took this as feminine aspect of God, I changed the well-know second motif to:

Baruch Shem k’vod malchuta l’olam vo-ed
Blessed is the Name, the Glory of Her Queendom is forever

Finally, I want to offer one more thought on something which, at first blush, might strike you as quite insignificant. When we study Jewish Wisdom texts, and we are totally stumped about what is going on, we often are surprised to learn that we are looking in the wrong places: We are focussing on the huge, big concepts, when it is a tiny thing or word which holds the secret to understanding what’s going on. The tiny little, simple things, not the profound philosophical idea: these are often the skeleton key which unlocks universes of profundity in Jewish thought. For example, the word that I really emphasize most in this chant, musically undergirded by the song’s characteristic lick, is the tiny preposition asher, which means ‘that’ or ‘which.’ To explain:

My tai chi master, a man from China who’s English is often a koan in itself, once said to me as we were doing a moving meditation: “Highest state (of consciousness) is Maybe/Maybe Not. In tai chi, you can ask, Am I moving? Maybe/Maybe Not. Am I here or there? Does this body exist at all? Maybe/Maybe Not. So that little word “Asher,” the ‘what’ or the ‘that’ of God’s answer to Moses “I will be…” — this is the crux of the nondualism in the chant. This reality in which we live, this apparent state of separation, is truly a sense of Maybe/Maybe Not. It is and yet it really isn’t. All is dual, yet all is also One. We flip between these realities. So, it’s non-dual.

So, as you sing along to the song Havayah, when you get to the word “Asher,” feel free to sing instead, along with that cute little trill: “Maybe/Maybe Not.” Oh! And don’t forget to lose yourself in the ecstatic kabbalistic mashup at the end! Hope it helps you cleave to the Divine.

Havayah features vocal solos by Aliza Hava, Emily Stern and Shir Yaakov Feit.

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