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Yom Sheini, 12 Tammuz 5778

“The Israelite people shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time; it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days the Eternal One made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day G-d ceased from work and was refreshed.” The text of the V’shamru prayer appears in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa (Ex 31:16-17). What should Shabbat look like? What does it take for us to resemble G-d, cease our everyday work, and be refreshed?

Because we sing this prayer, composers have had an opportunity over the centuries to reflect on this question and express their thoughts through music. The melody that I think of as “traditional” was written by Moshe Rothblum. Of course, despite my thinking of it as traditional, it was probably written only in the 1960s while the composer was at Camp Ramah. This is always the trouble when someone tells me to sing the “traditional” melody for something – often what they mean is something written only very recently. In any case, this melody is upbeat and joyful, and at this congregation, we have a minhag of standing up and dancing on the words “et haShabbat.” To Moshe Rothblum, the rest and rejuvenation of Shabbat come from its joyful celebration. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e23FCxWFhhM

For composer Yehudi Wyner, the concept of Shabbat is much more meditative, even sublime. Although perhaps we cannot imagine hearing this music in a worship setting, to me the act of listening to it is, in itself, a prayerful, restorative, Shabbat experience. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6rk2QSK8Es

This melody for V’shamru, by Dan Nichols, always makes me think of “The House on Pooh Corner” by Kenny Loggins. Perhaps Dan is trying to help to connect us to childhood memories of Shabbat and remembering youth and camp are what connect him to feeling renewed and refreshed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NR9mM6Is56Q

Which V’shamru melody says “Shabbat” to you the most? Is it joyful, pensive, or just the one you’ve been singing since you were a child? If you have a favorite, let me know. I’d love to share it during services.

Shabbat Shalom!
Cantor Sally Neff