1/16/2008

Ayeh

Since moving back to Israel last summer and listening to the radio regularly, I've been amazed at the amount of flat-out religious music that's being produced in Israel. I'm not talking about MBD-type stuff. I'm talking about regular pop music, played on regular pop radio stations, which is prayerful, soulful, and flat-out frum. Granted, a song with actual English profanity might be followed by a rendition of 'Shir La-ma'alot: Esa einai' (I actually heard that once), but that's neither here nor there. The point is, the station that the whole country listens to during its commute, galgalatz, plays an appreciable amount of contemporary Israeli music with strong religious overtones.

An example which comes to mind, only because I heard it again during today's commute, is Shuli Rand's 'Ayecka' (listen here). You might remember Rand from his role in 'Ushpizin'. He's an Israeli actor/singer who was 'chozer be-teshuvah' some years ago; he's not a Breslover chassid. The movie clearly has Breslover overtones and in fact plays like one of Reb Nachman's stories (ve-acamo"l). The song also has clear Breslov overtones. A famous idea of Reb Nachman's (which I heard on several occasions from mv"r Rav Mendel Blachman) is his interpretation of the the phrase that we recite during kedusha in Mussaf - 'ayeh mekom kevodo'. Reb Nachman reads the line as follows - 'ayeh = mekom kevodo' - wherever a Jew, from the depths of his heart and soul, calls out to God and says 'ayeh - where are you?' - that itself is where God's Presence resides. This idea is in line with Reb Nachman's general approach to faith, which for him is at its profoundest and most meaningful specifically when He seems conspicuously absent. This paradoxical faith, where absence = Presence and Reb Nachman anticipates postmodernism, is what leads Art Green to basically call Reb Nachman the 'Jewish Tertullian', ve-acamo"l.

This idea of Reb Nachman, especially the way he reads it into that phrase, might seem a bit 'drushy' (though I'm told there's some sort of kabbalistic explanation). I think it provides a serious insight even on the textual level. It has to do with the difference between the words 'ayeh' and 'eifoh', which on the surface both mean 'where'.

The Mahara"l in Gur Aryeh at the beginning of Parshat Vayera explains that when the angels asked Avraham 'ayeh Sarah ishtecha' they were asking 'why is she not here', in order to draw attention to the fact that she was, as Rashi mentions, a modest person, remaining inside the tent. Nechama Leibowitz extrapolates that this is the general meaning of the term: whereas 'eifoh' is a request for a location, coordinates, 'ayeh' essentially asks 'why are you not here?' It's like when someone shows up 45 minutes late and you say 'where were you?' - you're not asking for a location, you're really asking 'Hey, I was expecting you a while ago; why weren't you here?'

Similarly, when, in Bereishit, God asks Adam 'ayecka?' (which basically means 'ayeh atah?'; the Shuli Rand song connects the terms as well), He's not asking for Adam's physical location; rather, He's asking a much deeper question - Adam, you were here with Me just a minute ago. Where'd you go? Why aren't you here anymore? The question itself points to the damage to Adam's relationship with God.

Finally, in kedusha of Mussaf, God's attendants who ask 'where is the place of His Glory?' are not asking for geometric coordinates. As Reb Nachman suggests, the question has a much more existential overtone - 'God, why aren't You here? Why is the place of Your Glory not right here with me?' Thus, the Mahara"l and Nechama Leibowitz meet Reb Nachman and Shuli Rand to shed light on a word which takes on a great deal of religious significance.

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