Shabbat Shalom, Shaare Torah!
In the spirit of Erev Shabbat of Rosh Ḥodesh Elul–the start of the Hebrew month of connection and return before the New Year–I’m excited to share “Nireh Or.” It is a song about connecting to the spark of our aliveness in times of darkness and uncertainty.
You can stream “Nireh Or” on Bandcamp or wherever you get your music.
כִּי אַתָּה תָּאִיר נֵרִי, ה׳ אֱלֹהַי יַגִּיהַּ חָשְׁכִּי
כִּי עִמְּךָ מְקוֹר חַיִּים בְּאוֹרְךָ נִרְאֶה אוֹר
אֱלֹהִים יְחָנֵּנוּ וִיבָרְכֵנוּ יָאֵר פָּנָיו אִתָּנוּ סֶלָה
For it is You Who lights my lamp;
The Lord my God will reflect light in my darkness.
For with You is the source of life; in Your light, we see light.
May God be gracious to us and bless us;
May God show us the light of God’s countenance, selah.
-Psalms 18:29, 36:10, 67:2
There is a kabbalistic custom among some Iraqi and Middle Eastern Jews to recite a series of verses about light and our relationship with the divine before lighting Shabbat candles, as well as on the 25th day of Elul, the day that our tradition says was the first day of Creation when light was formed (six days before Rosh Hashanah, on the day that Creation culminated with the creation of humanity). I set a few of those verses to music, as a reflection on how we connect to the spark of our aliveness in times of darkness and uncertainty.
Each of us experiences periods of darkness in our lives. We may feel like we are living under the burden of deep hardship and suffering, of loss and grief, or that the weight of our life experiences has crushed some of our dreams. A job or relationship that nourished us, or that defined us, may have lost its sense of meaning or come to an end.
In times of personal darkness we can feel utterly alone. We call to the divine and the answer is not clear. The path forward may be inscrutable and we don’t know how to move on, how to get unstuck. It may be time to allow ourselves to adjust to night vision, to living in the mystery.
In moments when we find ourselves at the edge of what we can control, we come face to face with mystery. There, at the edge, we find life waiting for us. Jewish wisdom teaches that there is great power in the mystery — to transform, comfort, and heal. The unknowable darkness itself can be a pathway to a lived experience of the sacred and encounters with the Source of Life that are only accessible in those times in life.
When Moshe tells Israel the story of Revelation forty years later, he says how “You heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was ablaze with fire” (Devarim 5:20). We need not dispel the darkness to reconnect to our sense of aliveness.
Today is Rosh Ḥodesh, a time full of possibility for the coming days of Elul and the year ahead. Sitting in the darkness, with no moon to illuminate the night, may we learn to be present with mystery, to encounter the Divine light that flickers forever in our souls, as we embark on our journeys toward teshuvah and the new year that awaits us.
You can find more music for the month of Elul on this playlist that I co-curated for Hadar’s Rising Song Institute.