Shabbat Songs of the Cosmos
A New Cycle: Weekly Reflections: A Blog from Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
Thursday, May 12, 2022
This is the second of my weekly reflections, resuming a practice of writing that I have kept up for many years. As a congregational rabbi, I made a priority of communicating with congregation members and the wider community on a regular basis. I did this in the form of a blog. I hope you find my submissions stimulating and worth sharing. I welcome your suggestions for topics. You may submit comments when our website goes live which should be in a couple of weeks.
The Shabbat Songs of the Cosmos
Take a moment from your busy life to listen to this: Data Sonification: Black Hole at the Center of the Perseus Galaxy Cluster (X-ray) - YouTube. And this: Pocket - Echoes of a black hole (getpocket.com). These videos are part of a scientific project to sonify the cosmos. Check out the article in the New York Times here: Hear the Weird Sounds of a Black Hole Singing - The New York Times (nytimes.com). For an explanation of sonification, go to this link: A Tour of Jingle, Pluck, and Hum: Sounds from Space - YouTube.
I found these audio recordings mysterious and awesome. To me they are a kind of Shabbat music. Why Shabbat music? Shabbat has three overarching themes which correspond to the three distinct parts of the Sabbath day. These themes are reflected not only in the liturgy of Shabbat services but are also reflected in the Shabbat rituals and songs. Going backwards, Saturday afternoon and nightfall’s overarching theme is redemption (Ge’ulah). Saturday morning and early afternoon’s focus is revelation, the giving of the Torah at Sinai (Matan Torah). Since every Jewish day starts on the evening before, Friday night’s overarching theme is creation of the universe, (Ma’aseh Bereishit)
I have always made a point of meditating on creation in some way on Erev Shabbat (Friday evening). As a congregational rabbi I started a program at Kabbalat Shabbat services called Mah Gadlu (alluding to the Psalm of Shabbat . “Mah Gadlu Ma’asecha Adonai, M’od amku Mahshavotecha! How wonderful are Your works, Adonai, how subtle your designs!” (Psalm 92, P. 27 in the Siddur Lev Shalem). I invited scientists to share an observation about nature in keeping with the theme of creation. I try to read about recent scientific discoveries specifically on Erev Shabbat.
That is why these sonifications of black holes are for me Shabbat music. For me they serve as a form of radical amazement (Heschel’s term) about the world we live in and the miracle of our lives and consciousness.
One of the most precious activities to make special on Shabbat is to sonify the Shabbat into song. The most common way Jewish communities have ”sonified” Shabbat is through the congregational singing at Shabbat services. What I discovered as a young Reform Jew was that the “sonification of Shabbat” manifested in many other ways, such as singing around the table at home on the Sabbath day. In college I was exposed to the treasury of Shabbat music which the psalms speak of as “l’zamer l’shimcha elyon-to sing to Your transcendent name (Again, Ps. 92). Our singing on Shabbat is an act of acknowledging a world much bigger than ourselves.
One of my visions of Shabbat with Friends is to actively and intentionally revitalize the practice of the “sonification of Shabbat”, to rediscover the transcendence of Shabbat through song and singing together. With these new sonifications from the cosmos, we may join a much bigger chorus than we ever imagined.
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
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Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
Rabbi Dov is the founder of Shabbat with Friends NM. He became a rabbi at 29 after schooling at UC Berkely, Harvard, and the Jewish Theological Seminary. He has maintained a blog for over twenty years, giving commentary on a wide range of themes, concerns, and passions.