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Eight Days, Eight Songs. Candle Eight: Ein Od Milvado (Track 10 on Nondual)

Listen to this music by clicking here.

I chose this final, well-known chant to be the Shavasana moment of Nondual. What do I mean by that? Just as in a yoga class, after expending so much effort and raising the spirit, we lie on the floor in “corpse pose” — letting all that has come before both settle in and drain out (My Tai Chi Master would say, we “shed the Chi“) – so too, at the close of a rather energetic album we need a “denouement,” something calming to leave us in a state of rejuvenation. As a matter of fact, I envisioned this rendition of Ein Od Milvado as something I hoped yoga teachers would actually play during Sivasana, as it is so soothing and let’s one enter calm meditation so easily.

So, if you are a yoga teacher, or have a personal at home practice, please feel invited to use this song for your Sivasana.

Ein od milvado is a chant and melody which many of us have been singing for years. Frequently, in Jewish mystical writings, it is often stated that ultimate goal of Torah study and davenning (prayer) – and [indeed] all of our practice – is to arrive at this singular truth:

Ein Od Milvado, Hashem Hu ha-Elohim
There no other than Him (sic!). The Name is God.

In other words, going with the title of my friend, Jay Michaelson’s, book: Everything is God. (Or, as many of us like to put it: It’s all One.)

Yet, this truth – that everything is God – is stated in an interesting, perhaps typical Jewish idiom. It is stated as a negation. In other words, instead of simply saying simply “it’s all one,” these words say, there is nothing else other than the One. I would like to propose that this formulation teaches us something specific about nondual consciousness. As I have been saying all along, nondualism is not a mere affirmation of the unity of all things; instead it is also something else. And in so being, nondualism describes a situation every bit as complicated as the real lives we live. Non-dual, is exactly the same kind of formulation as ein-od: Just as there is no other, so even if it appears otherwise, things are in truth not two. There may seem to our senses to be many ‘some things’ (yeshes) existing in a state of separation; but, once we remove the coverings, there is nothing beside God. (I will be writing more about this in the coming days on Facebook and inviting a conversation.)

I only want to add one more thought for today. Some of you may notice that I decided to phrase the chant with a particular emphasis: mee l’vad-o. I chose this to bring out what is itself a separate word: l’vad. This is the word for ‘alone.’

So, after all this heady stuff, I really just invite you to the music and find joy in it. In the meantime, if you are looking for a “where’s Waldo” challenge, as you listen to the choral interludes, and the very long, soothing choral finish to the album, those of you who know Hebrew, see what phrases and snippets you can uncover deep in the tapestry of sound.

I want to wish you all a happy end of Chanukah, and a continuing light-filled Winter season. Thank you for reading these comments and, above all, thank you for enjoying the music. Love to you all. Reb Drew.

Features Taylor Bergren-Chrisman on stand-up bass. Frank Wolf on Spanish guitar. Joey Weisenberg directed the choral arrangement on this track.

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

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.

Eight Days, Eight Songs. Candle Four: Zikr (Tracks 5 & 6 from Nondual)

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

Zikr is one long chant, which has an invisible marker in the middle which makes it into two tracks on Nondual. Zikr is secretly — well not any more — my favorite song on the album. It was quite amazingly synchronistic. When we did the final take, my producer, Frank Wolf, turned to me and said, “Well, now you have your huge ‘Epic’.” And then everyone else who worked on it or heard thereafter all independently used that same word to describe Zikr. EPIC.

The music has an eerie James-Bond-theme like timbre. You almost feel sage brush blowing across the prairie — especially at the beginning. It has an amazing violin solo at the end, so please listen all the way through. More than any other mantra on this album, I believe Zikr has the capacity to put you in a deeply, deeply altered state!

Zikr certainly was a challenge to create. Essentially, for eleven minutes, the same phrase is repeated again and again and again and again – which is just what a Zikr is supposed to do. It is essentially a Sufi practice which found its way into Jewish practice centuries ago. And then I went and kirtanized it.

Nuri jerrahi zikr 300

Related to the word for ‘memory,’ you should imagine a zikr going on all night, with the participants dancing in a circle, getting faster and faster and more fervent, the drums beating and the sweat pouring. The idea may be to remember the pearl of truth in the words, by repeating them so many times and – most importantly – getting them into your body.

While I had heard this chant many times before, this tune really sank in during my work as Visiting Rabbi at Metivta: a center for Jewish Meditation in Los Angeles. Specifically, when I was co-leading a silent retreat in the Valley, one of the other leaders, Evelyn Baran, guided us in this chant. During the ensuing, long meditation, the words and melodies kept going in my head. Even though I wasn’t moving, I felt my head bobbing in the six directions. It really functioned as the best of what a mantra is supposed to be: it brought into focus what was to become very deep meditation for me.

Somewhere in a parallel mind stream on the meditation-scape — or maybe later, I don’t remember – I had the sneaky, less than fully noble thought: “Wow. I could really hook this up!” And so the next chant after Havayah came into being. (I often segue between these two chants live; the offer a kind of masculine/feminine, Shiva/Shakti effect for me.

The words of the chant.

This Zikr has the following words:

Adonai Melech, Adonai Malach, Adonai Yimloch l’olam vo-ed

Yah rules, Yah ruled, Yah will rule for ever and ever.

You can easily substitute the word “is sovereign” for rules, if it bothers you. Essentially, I have decided to understand the language of Kingship (malchut), antiquated as it is for us, to more correctly express God’s state of constant activity. God is always producing this world, and were God to stop, even for he blink of an eye, giving the world vitality (chiyyut), it would disappear instantly.

The tenses in the phrase are a bit strange. Why? Because it oddly moves from present tense, to past, and then back to future. Not exactly what we would expect. The sages say that this is to emphasize that we truly only live in the present, in the now: Past and future are rolled into what eternally exists. I invite more thoughts on this, especially on the Facebook Post.

Finally, what does the phrase l’olam vo-ed, for ever and ever, mean? What does it come to teach us about nondualism? It was in pondering this that I realized something very interesting.

Most of the mantras which inculcate nondual consciousness are spatial in nature: They say that God is every where; or that God is every thing; or that there is no place devoid of God. But what about time? Is there not also a sense of a temporal non-dual expression? Well, I think that’s precisely what we find here (as well as in the sister chant Havayah which, interestingly, also features the phrase l’olam vo-ed). Simply put, God is not only every where; God is every time. God fills (m’malei) the run of time, and — of course — God is beyond (soveiv) time all together.

Both the phrase, “forever and ever,” as well as putting the present first help us to remember this Truth.

This chant features the virtuosic Meg Okura on violin.

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

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.

Eight Days, Eight Songs. Candle Two: All Worlds (Track 3 from Nondual)

This song is arguably the happiest moment on the album  – and that’s a lot to say for an album with one fun and happy moment after another! It stands out for Frank Wolf’s excruciatingly luscious and beautiful guitar work, as well as out-of-this world flute playing by Steve Gorn with Eleonore Weill. And out of this world is just  the idea!

The melody itself comes from… Well, I’m going to let you figure out what melody this is [HINT: I was traveling just North of Gainesville, Florida when the idea to set these words to this tune came to me!]

The words themselves come from the  Zohar  (The Book of Splendor), which is often called the “Bible of Kabbalah.” There it says that the Divine,  m’malei kol olmin ve-soveiv kol  olmin, that God “fills all worlds, and surrounds all worlds.”  In other words, God is described as both being  within  everything, as well as  encompassing  everything. To use the fancy language of Both/And: God is both immanent as well as transcendent  – all at the same time.

Later, holy saints write  that it is this more interior aspect of God (the  m’malei) to which we have more access, the aspect of God which touches the heart and fills our soul with light. In contrast, the  Soveiv  (the  makif) is that which, while it generates and drives the worlds, is also more abstract and inaccessible to our hearts. We could say that this is very similar to the contrast we encountered in the Kedushah Reggae between a heart-twang of yearning (Where O where?) and a philosophical truism (God is everywhere).

Again, I am asserting that true Nondual consciousness consists not just in the abstract idea that “All is One,” but in holding that  knowledge  alongside the  feeling  which derives from a sense of separation.

I had a little fun with the words. In the Zohar, we find the phrase only as  m’malei kol olmin ve-soveiv kol olmin  (fills and surrounds). I thought to myself, this is unfair! It should also go the other way around, surrounds and fills. So, I doubled up the phrase so the entire mantra in All Worlds goes:

m’malei kol olmin ve-soveiv kol olmin, soveiv u-m’malei kol olmin

This move not only allowed the words to fit better to the mantra melody I had chosen: It also made for a wonderful interweaving of the ideas of filling and surround and surrounding and filling  – an interweaving that becomes especially pregnant in the final mashup fade-out at the end.

Joey Weisenberg assisted with choir direction for this chant. Produced by Frank Wolf and Rabbi Andrew Hahn

Eight Days, Eight Songs. Candle One: Kedushah Medley (Tracks 1 & 2 from Nondual)

Together, these first two tracks of Nondual, offered me an opportunity to start the CD by expressing gratitude to my Reform Jewish upbringing – an upbringing which did not always work for me when I was young, but which I have come to appreciate more as time goes on. The two tracks form a medley, meaning that they both segue one into the other and that they use the same mantra. For me, this was meant as a bit of a joke, as you’ll see: the mood between the two tracks couldn’t be more different.

The first track, Kedushah Traditional, is a new-fangled, 21st century remake – replete with harmonium and tanpura drone – of the choir in the pipes I remember so well. We would sit in synagogue listening (and only listening) to the opera singers from on high. We dared not participate at all, God forbid, by singing along! So, as a beginning of the album,I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to take this famous melody (with a variation) from the 19th Century composer, Louis Lewandowski, and make that choir my response singers in a kirtan!”

After a very intentional “Dorothy we are not in Kansas anymore” psychedelic tone, the Medley segues into Kedushah Reggae. This song, in an equally humorous fashion, refers to my Reform Jewish background… but I’m going to let you all figure out how and why that is.

This mantra is called the “Kedushah” (Holiness) from its characteristic repetition: Holy, Holy, Holy — which the angels sing in Isaiah 6:3. The full verse is:

Holy, holy holy is Adonai of Hosts. The whole earth is filled with God’s Glory.
Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh. Adonai Tz’vaot. M’lo chol ha-Aretz k’vodo

The second major motif, also comes from that section of the prayer service which is itself called the Kedushah:

And they asked one another: Where is the place of God’s glory?
Sho-alim zeh la-zeh: Ayei m’kovodo

So how does this chant, especially the second track, tell us something about Nondual consciousness? First of all, Jewish nondual tradition has taken the second half of the first mantra — The whole earth is filled with God’s Glory — as perhaps the statement that God is everywhere and that leit atar panui minei (that there is no place empty of God). That’s a pretty clear philosophical statement: When the veils and coverings are peeled away, we ultimately “know” that everything is God and that God is everywhere. So, it’s kind of strange that the angels go on to ask one another, right after saying that, “Where is the place of God’s glory?”

As I’ll talk about more in the coming days, it is just such a tension between two feelings that makes for a true nondual consciousness. It’s not just that we use our heads and say, “it’s all God,” or even, “It’s all for the good.” We also, being human, feel a strong yearning, a sense of lack, a desire even so, to cry out: “Even though I know You’re everywhere, Where, O where, are You?!” In our condition, we go back and forth — ratzo va-shov — between a cosmic truth and the longings of our heart for knowing where You are. For this reason, I changed the traditional verse from third person and made it… Where is the place of Your glory?

In the jazz mashup in the end, my angels – Cantor Meredith Greenberg and Emily Stern – fade out asking, Ayei, Ayei, Ayei: Where, Where, Where.

Kedushah Reggae features: Frank Wolf on lead guitars and the CNP Horns — Thomas Hutchings, Indofunk Satish and Matthew McDonald.

Kedushah Traditional features beautiful clarinet playing by Steve Gorn, who also plays bansuri flutes on All Worlds — tomorrow’s track of the day.

About Havayah – Release Notes (draft) – More soon!

(If you join the Kirtan Rabbi email list, you will receive a code to download Havayah as holiday gift.)

‘Havayah’ is a permutation of the four letters of the unpronounceable, ineffable Name of God. In this form, the letters seem to form a female Name, which means roughly, ‘existence’ or ‘being.’ The rest of the first motif comes from the Book of Exodus (3:14). When Moses asks Who shall I say  to the people has sent me, God replies, “tell them that ‘Eheyeh asher Eheyeh’ has sent you. This phrase has had different translations. Even though biblical Hebrew does not have tenses, a very literal rendering is, “I will be what I will be.”

The second motif, ‘Baruch Shem k’vod malchuta l’olam vo’ed,’ constitutes a variation of a well-known part of the liturgy. I have rendered it in the feminine, because the Name here is, as said, seemingly feminine in gender. It is not easy to translate but can be rendered as: “Praised be the Divine Name, the Glory of Her Dominion is forever!”

הויה, אהיה אשר אהיה – ברוך שם כבוד מלכותה לעולם ועד

Recording and engineering by Frank Wolf
Produced by Frank Wolf and Rabbi Andrew Hahn
Soundscaping by Frank Wolf
Mastered by Michael Fossenkemper, Turtletone Studios, NY
Melodies and arrangement by Rabbi Andrew Hahn

Rabbi Andrew Hahn: Acoustic guitar, electric guitar and vocal calls
Yehoshua Brill: Electric guitar
Taylor Bergren-Chrisman: Electric bass
Shoshana Jedwab and Elijah Tucker: percussion
Havayah Posse: Aliza Hava, Emily Stern, Shir Yaakov Feinstein-Feit, Rachel Brook, A. Segulah Sher, Laura Wolfe, Elijah Tucker

Shir Feinstein-Feit

KR will be writing much more extensively about this chant and its theology soon!
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