Chabad Music Theory

"The tongue is the pen of the heart, but melody is the quill of the Soul"   -Rabbi Shneur Zalman:  Founder of Chabad Chassidic Philosophy

"The tongue is the pen of the heart, but melody is the quill of the Soul"   -Rabbi Shneur Zalman:  Founder of Chabad Chassidic Philosophy

For Chabad, Niggunim were not only an integral part of Chassidism – the songs are a complex philosophy unto themselves. The Chabad system, as first formulated by Rebbe Schneur Zalman of Liadi, strives for the same goal as the other branches of Chassidim, namely the attaining of Divine bliss. But it had, and still has, a unique approach to that goal. Chabad contends that it is impossible to leap immediately from extreme melancholy to extreme joy. It is impossible for a human being to rise from the lowest to the highest state without proceeding through the whole scale of the intermediate sentiments of the soul. Great stress and care is laid upon each progressive stage of development, as significant for the education of the soul and for the improvement of the spirit. It is, Chabad Chassidism contends, as of someone who had never seen the interior of a palace suddenly stepped into its bewildering splendor without first having passed through its corridors. Such a person will never be able to sense fully the glory of the palace. The approach to joy, therefore, is extremely important, and each and every step must be achieved through deep meditation. The various stages in the process of elevation according to Chabad philosophy are:

1) “Hishtapchus Hanefesh”, the outpouring of the soul and its effort to rise out the mire of sin, out of the Klipa, the external shell.

2) “Hisorerus”, spiritual awakening.

3) “Hispaalus”, the stage in which the individual is possessed by his thoughts.

4) “Dveykus”, communion with G-d.

5) “Hislahavus”, flaming ecstasy.

6) “Hispashtus Hagashmius”, the highest state, in which the soul completely casts away its garment of flesh and becomes a disembodied spirit.

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Many of the Chabad songs are analyzed according to these steps of elevation.  For the achievement of the goals as outlined above, Chabad was compelled to create original tunes which could express the meanings and thoughts of the various stages of elevation, tunes to be used as a means for the attainment of its purpose. Every Chabad tune aims to voice either all, or some, of the stages of elevation of the soul.

 

 

Posted on February 28, 2021 .

A Conversation With the DIvine: In Three Parts

Yemin Hashem

Translation:

The right hand of the L-rd is exalted; The right hand of the L-rd performs deeds of valor!

Transliteration:

Yemin hashem romeimah, yemin hashem osah choyil.

When praying alone, the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Chabad Rebbe, would break into this melody upon reaching these words in the Hallel prayer. The melody is divided into three parts that signify (1) deep meditation, (2) fervent hope, and (3) boundless faith.

 


Posted on February 4, 2016 .

קלי אתא-You Are My God

Transliteration:

Kieli atah ve'odekah eloikai aromimekah.

Translation:

You are my G-d and I will give thanks to You; You are my G-d and I will exalt You.

The above video is of a yeshiva student performing the nigun in his dorm room.  

There are several renditions of this nigun, and because the nigun comes from such a deep part of the soul, you can feel the difference from each person singing.  

Here are several more versions

Avraham Fried  

Boris Savchuk 

This nigun is sung by Chabad Chasidim during Hallel prayers at the beginning of each new month and on holidays as well as sung by the pouring of the Cup of Elijah at the Passover Seder.  

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Posted on December 27, 2013 .

"These Lights"

Transcending Even Spiritual Self-Interest

The Chanukah hymn beginning HaNeiros Hallalu records another halachic requirement: “These lights are holy and we are not permitted to make use of them, only to look at them.” I.e., though the Chanukah candles must burn into the night, when their light would be useful, we are not allowed to make use of it. To ensure this, we light an extra candle, the sha­mash, and place it above the others, so that any unintentional benefit from the light is attributable to theshamash7 and not the lamps lit for the performance of the mitzvah.

These laws reflect the unique nature of this mitzvah. Though every mitzvahearns a reward, in certain cases the reward is spiritual, while in others it is also manifest in the material world. The visible light of the Chanukah candles indicates that the positive effects generated by this mitzvah are apparent in our material world as well as in the spiritual realm.

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However, just as we do not make use of the light of the Chanukah lights for mundane purposes, our goal in perform­ing this mitzvah is not material reward. We fulfill it only because “You have sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us,”8 without thought of reward or any other ulterior motive. This level of performance, avodah lishmah (“divine service for its own sake”), is the highest that can be attained through our own spiritual endeavors.9

Like much human behavior, even our divine service may be motivated by a desire for spiritual, if not material, rewards. The Chanukah lights teach us to transcend our tendencies toward self-interest and dedicate ourselves to serving G‑d for His sake alone. The Chanukah lights, which burn in the darkness of the night, demonstrate moreover that we can reach this advanced level of divine service, not only during daylight (which symbolizes manifest G‑dliness), but also in times when effort is necessary to transform the darkness around us.

 

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Ha-nei-rot ha-lo-lu o-nu mad-li-kin
Al ha-te-shu-ot ve-al ha-ni-sim ve-al ha-nif-la-ot,
She-a-see-ta la-avo-tei-nu ba-ya-mim ha-heim biz-man ha-zeh,
Al ye-dei ko-ha-ne-cha ha-ke-do-shim,
Ve-chol she-mo-nat ye-mei cha-nu-kah ha-nei-rot ha-la-lu ko-desh hem,
Ve-ein la-nu re-shut le-hish-ta-meish ba-hen,
E-lo lir-o-tan bil-vad, ke-dei le-ho-dot u-le-ha-leil le-shim-cha ha-ga-dol
Al ni-se-cha ve-al nif-le-o-te-cha ve-al ye-shu-o-te-cha.

Listen to a great rendition here

Or Watch Here (p.s. I was in the crowd singing too)

Translation:

We kindle these lights [to commemorate] the saving acts, miracles and wonders which You have performed for our forefathers, in those days at this time, through Your holy priests. Throughout the eight days of Chanukah, these lights are sacred, and we are not permitted to make use of them, but only to look at them, in order to offer thanks and praise to Your great Name for Your miracles, for Your wonders and for Your salvations.

Sheet Music

Sheet Music

Posted on December 2, 2013 .

Eishet Chayil: The Woman of Valor

We are back after a little hiatus.  This week I bring to you the famous Eishes Chayil.  This song, sung every Friday night as a tribute to the Shabbos Queen and a testimony to the true beauty and strength of the Jewish woman.  As our tradition teaches this song was originally composed as a eulogy for our matriarch Sarah. It was sung over her grave by her beloved husband Avraham.  Later the song is codified into Jewish cannon in the book of Mishlei or proverbs by King Solomon.  This week I have included two renditions of the song, the first by the Brothers Portnoy and the second by the fames Reb. Shlomo Carlebach.   

The last paragraph of this gorgeous piece helps us to understand what holy beauty is, of course far beyond that of a pretty countenance 

False is grace, and vain is beauty; a G-d-fearing woman, she should be praised.

Give her the fruit of her hands, and she will be praised at the gates by her very own deeds.
— Eishes Chayil v.11

For a full text and translation click here

 
 

 

Posted on October 25, 2013 .

Avinu Malkanu: Our Father Our King

One of the ten melodies composed by the Alter Rebbe. The words are from a prayer recited on Rosh HashanahYom Kippur, and every fast day; a shorter form of the prayer is read on the weekdays on which Supplications (Tachanun) are said. The soulful melody, matching the earnestness of the text, is divided into three parts. The first, wordless, elevates the singers to a deeply spiritual mood. The second expresses yearning for the Divine, while the third is a declaration of faith in the help of our Father and King.

Transliteration:

Ovinu malkeinu avinu atah. Avinu malkeinu ein lanu melech elah atah.

Translation:

Our Father, our King, You art our Father; Our Father, our King, we have no king except You.


Click on the image to see full sheet music

Click on the image to see full sheet music

Posted on August 30, 2013 .

Tzomo Lechah Nafshi: My Soul Thirsts for You

My soul thirsts for You my flesh longs for You in a dry and weary land without water. So may I look for You in the sanctuary to see Your power and Your glory.
— Psalms 63:2,3

This powerful melody, which the Rebbe taught on May 1, 1954, describes the powerful thirst for spirituality that one feels when finding oneself destitute—the thirst that everyone, whether scholar or layman, feels on his or her own level.

Composition of this song is attributed to the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.  The tune, reflecting the meaning of its words, express the craving of the soul for its maker.

Prior to teaching the melody, the Rebbe explained the verse: "When there is a thirst for G‑dliness, the actual thirst for spirituality quenches, in part, the spiritual desire to connect to a Higher source, for as the founder of chassidism, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, said, 'In the place where a person's will is, there he is found.'" As such, the one who thirsts to be in G‑d's presence is already in fact there.

Click Image to view the Sheet Music  

Click Image to view the Sheet Music

 

Posted on August 23, 2013 .

The Beinoni (The Nigun of the Intermediate)

The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe called this song "Der Beinoni" after the personality profile described in Tanya (the fundamental text on Chasidic philosophy):  Different from the Tzaddik who, not drawn to evil, devotes himself only to drawing others to good; by far not the Rasha, enslaved to himself, his passion, his fear, satisfied with his own excuses for inaction and regression; but the Beinoni between them, the constantly fighting and endlessly winning human human.

 

Composed by Reb Aharon Charitonov of Nikolayev

Performed by Shoshana Michel

Another gorgeous rendition here (audio file)

Posted on August 16, 2013 .

The Preparation Melody (Nigun Rostov)

Performed by Shoshana Michel

Nigun sung by Lubavitcher chasidim on the occasion of the Lubavitcher Rebbe accepting the mantle of leadership in 1951.  (note:  the first 1:25 is the melody then the Rebbe delivering his first Discourse as Rebbe)

This is one of the more serious of the Chabad melodies, characterized by its deep feeling and soul searching expression. The Rebbe "Rashab" was fond of this melody and sang it often. During World-War I, he left his native city of Lubavitch and settled in (in southern Russia), where he resided until his passing in 5680 (1920). It is therefore known as the Rostover Nigun- melody.

The melody is usually sung before the Rebbe began his Torah or Chassidic discourses, therefore is know as the preparation nigun, or Nigun Hachono.  With Rosh Hashana less than 30 days away, we are amidst the days of preparation as well.  

Hope this melody gets your soul in the mood for the holidays.

 

To view the sheet music click for the nigun here

 

Posted on August 9, 2013 .

Niggun Daled Bavos (Melody of Four Movements)

A melody, niggun, composed by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad rebbe. The song has four stanzas, corresponding to the four spiritual worlds, AtzilutBeriahYetzirah, and Asiyah. Each stanza is intended to elevate the singer and listener to the next spiritual realm.

Due to its holiness, this special melody is sung only on special occasions and dates.

Download the sheet music for this niggun here


Niggun sung at 770 Eastern Pkwy: Chabad World Headquarters (1984)

Niggun performed by symphony. Produced by Aaron Teitelbaum
 
Posted on July 25, 2013 .