Base Spirituality

Originally published on Tales Out of Bais Yaakov.

There is a long stretch of Yom Kippur davening describing the avoda of the kohein gadol in the Beis Hamikdash. To make that (otherwise tedious) portion more meaningful to us, many teachers took the time to teach us about the azazel and other parts of the original Yom Kippur service.

My tenth grade teacher seized this opportunity to talk about korbanos in general. We learned a lot about where people stood and who held the bowls to catch the blood, the feeling of awe and repentance while an animal was offered up on the altar…

One of the images our teacher drew vividly for us was of the levi’im standing and playing music to get the people in the right frame of mind.

Music has such tremendous power, she said, that playing the right melodies can actually affect a person so much that if he was bringing a korban chat’as and didn’t actually feel remorse, the levi’im would be able to elicit remorse in him just by playing music.

This knowledge was so specialized and is lost to us now, of course. In fact, she said, there was one story about a levi who got so caught up in the music and didn’t have the right kavanos, that he didn’t realize when he had gotten the person to the right state of remorse –- he continued playing because he was enjoying the music for the wrong reasons. Eventually, he inspired such tremendous anguish in the man that he actually died right then.

Music is powerful, banos.

She then gave us an example we could all appreciate and understand:

We can all see what effect music has on the body. When cars drive down the street with their thumping and thudding music, and you can see the goyim bopping their heads – that rap music, banos, is an example of the kedusha of music being used for impure purposes. The purpose of that music is to have the beat thrumming through the body, to allow the goy to ignore any part of his tzelem Elokim, and to give free rein to his base instincts.

If you look at how goyim dance – but don’t, because you should never find yourself in a situation where you can observe that behavior – you’ll see that their movements are all oriented towards the ground. We all know (we did, actually, because we had learned this in ninth grade) that only humans have faces that look up. Animals have no higher nature, and their heads point to the ground all the time.

Music that causes someone to dance with movements oriented toward the ground — that’s an indication that it’s full of impure impulses. If you look at any paintings of the levi’im in the Bais Hamikdash, or of people dancing in the alte heim, or even photographs from chasidishe weddings where the rebbe is dancing –- you can see the face lifted up, the arms lifted up, feet lifting up as if buoyant…

That’s because the proper music inspires a closeness to Hashem. Proper music elevates the chelek elokah mima’al. It makes the base body yearn to be closer to heaven.

Postscript: After writing this post for Tales Out of Bais Yaakov, I began to pay more attention to how I dance to my music. There are many “base” songs I noticed I dance to with my face up and arms lifted: for example, Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” – particularly the line “Set me freeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!”

So I suppose it’s base and animalistic, but also spiritual and lofty. Sounds good to me! If you’re reading this before ne’ilah, I’ll let this be my wish to you for the year: I hope your year is filled with lofty, base, animalistic spirituality <3

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