Kirtan Rabbi Blog

Eight Days, Eight Songs. Candles 5-7: The Shema Medley

Posted by Rabbi Andrew Hahn, Ph.D. on December 23, 2014 at 9:39 am.

Shema Medley:

Yotzer Or; Ahavah Rabah; the Shema

These three songs comprise Tracks 7 through 9 of Nondual. They are adaptations of the sequence of prayers in a regular Jewish morning service and are intended for actual use by synagogues who are looking to innovate and raise the spirit. On the album, there is a clean track break between the Yotzer Or and the last two sections of the medley; what might not become obvious in the Music Player is that Ahavah Rabah segues directly into the Shema, with a hidden track marker, making it one long, continual kirtan on the CD. I do this in part because we are taught that nothing should interrupt the movement from blessing for Love to the “watchword of our faith,” the Shema. Speaking of which, in an album which on the whole departs from the regular kirtan genre (or any genre for that matter), this 3-part medley makes for the most kirtan-esque experience on Nondual.

Here is a little bit of discussion of each section of the medley, track-by-track:

I. Yotzer Or (Forming Light) — track 7 of Nondual

This is a lovely, little guitar-based ditty. Several people have commented that it is their favorite moment on the album. It, like the Shema, is a studio remake of the Yotzer Or on Kirtan Rabbi:Live!. For a fuller discussion (as I look back, maybe too full… ), I would encourage you to check out the “liner notes” to KR Live on my Web site by clicking here. Only one question: Can anyone guess what that instrument is during the end of Yotzer Or, in the “outro?”

II. Ahavah Rabah (Big Love) — track 8 of Nondual

This kirtanized cover is the middle section of the three-part medley. As heard at Romemu, it has an interesting story behind it. I learned it because Shir Yaakov Feit had ported it into Hebrew in a partial call-and-response hybrid. Shir had heard a recording by Shimshai, which itself was a cover of Hawaiian lyrics set to a melody by Lila Flood. The name of Lila’s song was He Kehau.

The key word in this chant is, of course, Ahavah. To my mind, it is another one of those Name-of-God words. In fact in live kirtans, I often half-jokingly tell the crowd about the four letter Name of God which we don’t know how to pronounce, because we only have the consonants for it, and not the vowels. And then I say –here’s the humor – that I am the one person who does know. People chuckle, and I allow for a pregnant pause: “It’s א.×”.ב.×”, Ahavah, L.O.V.E. What more true name for God can there be than that?!”

And in general, the words – and the sentiment – in this bracha, or blessing – for that is what it really is – are quite beautiful. The full phrase is:

Ahavah Rabah ahavtanu

Which, to make the most sense in English, we would translate:

You have loved us with a Great Love

But the Hebrew word order goes differently:

Love… Big… You have loved us

Following Shir Yaakov, this chant builds the the feeling up piece by piece,using that word order: First just the word love repeated again and again (Ahavah); then the two words Big Love (Ahavah Rabah); then finally all by itself and in the mashup, You have loved us (ahavtanu).

Features Benjy Wertheimer on esraj.

III. The Shema — track 9 of Nondual

This chant — the maha mantra of Judaism — is also a studio remake, this time of the first track of Kirtan Rabbi:Live!. For my old discussion of the Shema, I refer you to what I wrote way back in 2008. Please click here for that.

To add only one thing:this version of the Shema has a new section, which I hope you have already heard. I don’t want to have to issue a spoiler alert, so I’ll only say a little about it here. (I will dig in deeper on this chant on my Blog soon, so check back there.) All I will say is that this version, encapsulates nondualism in its very essence. But, this time, in terms of the Names of God: a very Kirtan/Bhakti approach, since Kirtan’s primary practice resides in the chanting of Names. In essence (OK, spoiler alert), God has many names – or wears many garments (libushim) in the language of Hasidism – yet God is One:

Adonai Echad, u-Sh’mo echad

The Shema also features Benjy Wertheimer on esraj.

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