By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Last week I published my response to the singer Matisyahu addressing his questions about the prayer service, comparing the entirety of the service to a Beethoven concerto, and based upon prophetic insight.
The following is his response:
Very nice. Have heard this answer before.
My issues are: I don’t have the faith in those men you mentioned were the last prophets, that they “saw into the heavens,” etc. Also, I don’t believe you can say the prayer service is an equal comparison to a Beethoven concerto. The ones who benefit from the playing of the whole concerto vs. the musician stopping are the listeners, not necessarily the musician. Prayer is about the “musician” and God.
I look forward to hearing your responses in your next column.
These are important questions, and in order to give them the proper focus, I think we’ll need to address them in two separate columns.
I mentioned briefly that the main body of the prayer service outlined in the siddur was composed by a body of scholars called the “Men of the Great Assembly,” which consisted of the leading sages of that generation, among them the last remaining prophets of the Jewish people, (including Mordechai of the Purim story).
This elite society of scholars and prophets had a deep understanding of the Temple worship and the effects it had upon the upper, spiritual worlds (the Sefiros in Kabbalistic lingo) and the ripple effect that had upon our world. They knew, prophetically, that the Second Temple would eventually be destroyed, since they had returned from the Persian-Median exile.
Consequently, they utilized their profound insight into the Hebrew language, their understanding of how to approach the almighty and their prophetic perceptiveness in the workings of heaven — as revealed to them through both Torah and prophecy — to compose a corpus of prayer that could take the place of the Temple worship when the time comes that this replacement should become necessary.
This is not based entirely upon prophecy, but upon wisdom, insight and understanding in the workings of all the above.
As to the point of prophecy: The belief in prophecy itself is considered one of the core concepts of our religion and is one of Maimonides’ 13 principles of Jewish creeds. I state this not simply as a matter of dogma. I say this to you as the very spiritual person you are, who recognizes the essence of a person is not his physique alone but the body’s connection to the neshama, the soul endowed to the body by God.
That neshama, a spark of God Himself, is the person’s unique and personal connection to the creator. With that body/soul connection, a person communicates with God, develops a loving relationship with Him, performs mitzvot, receives and delights in profound spiritual insights that provide the stuff of true, eternal joy and bliss. (Much of that is reflected in music, one of the most spiritual endowments we have.)
If one would believe that we are very distant from God, I would understand that they would have trouble with prophecy; why should God relate things to a puny, distant, disconnected being? But if one lives with the feeling that we are truly close to God, that He has put a “piece of Himself” into us and have a loving relationship with Him, it should make perfect sense that He whispers His innermost secrets to his beloved.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.