Of the kosher animals listed in this week’s parsha, zemer is one of them. The Radak and Rav Saadia Gaon that the zemer is a giraffe. I find it very fascinating that the word for giraffe describes Jewish song – zemer. The interpretation is suggested as follows.
Notice that, in the Alef Bais, the letters following zemer is nachash. For after the letter zayin is a ches, after the letter mem is a nun, and after the letter raish is a shin. To go yet a step further, the letters in the Alef Bais preceding zemer spell kol. For before the letter zayin is a vov, before the letter mem is a lamid, and before the letter raish is a kuf.
Song and music can go two ways. It can elevate the spirit and even the body if the source is from “Hakol kol Yaakov.” Yet, on the other hand, it can lower the neshama and body if the source is from the nachash and tumah. It can either bring out divineness within man or bestiality. It can stir one to yearn for closeness of Hashem and the heavens, or it can gravitate one’s soul and body to gratify the cravings of physical appetites and fleeting earthliness.
Rav Shimon Susholtz from Beis Medrash Keren Orah shared with me the observation that especially when bochurim dance, one can tell whether the accompanying song is rooted in nachash or kedusha. The litmus test is to look at the position of their heads. If the heads face downwards towards the floor and feet, it is non-kedushah material. If their heads are straight, then it is holiness, for it arouses the soul and not the body. When I first heard this, I couldn’t believe that this was the barometer of the music’s source. Well, guess what? I found it to be true every time. [First observe the phenomenon before you start writing any commentary to the opposite.]
While we are on the topic, here’s another revealing observation. All the disco tech stuff awakens within an individual the desire to dance by oneself with oneself . It suddenly becomes show off time even if you don’t find yourself in the center being mesameach the chosson. With this type of music, the circle in which one was once holding hands with other Yidden peters out. Not so with the more traditional beats and chassidishe music. Why?
Kedusha, by definition, brings to unity and wholesomeness, while tumah, by its very nature, accommodates separateness and fragmentation. For if the soul is dancing, then all Yidden naturally tend to connect, since in the world of soul we are all one. If the body alone is dancing, then we tend to dance alone, for each individual has his own individual body.
We now might be able to answer why the giraffe is the symbol of the Jewish kosher zemer. The giraffe is unique by the fact that its head is so raised above the rest of its body. The head of the giraffe towers towards the heavens to symbolize that the Jewish niggun must raise one’s head towards Hashem, bringing man to a consciousness to distant himself from the pursuit of material lusts that lie close to earth.
The word zemer itself – identical to the letters of remez – hints to this concept. For zemer also spells ram zayin. Ram translates “to be lofty and high.” The letter zayin symbolizes nature, for nature was created in seven days. The zemer must raise one above the seven to yearn to be otherworldly even though these feelings might only last for a few moments. However, impressions do last forever!
Chazal say concerning Adam Harishon that before the sin, he was able to see from one end of the world to the other. His head and daas were clear and incredible. After the nachash seduced them to eat from the Eitz Hadaas, he lost that madraiga of daas. Hashem placed His hand on man’s head and dwarfed his dimensions. The nachash brought sadness into the world, as evidently seen from the curses given to Adam and Chava. The purpose of the zemer is to bring happiness, the opposite of which was brought by its neighboring letters nachash. But specifically, it refers to the happiness that brings about clarity of mission and not the cloudiness of mind; the light of meaning, not the darkness of chaos; and the direction of purpose, not the choreographic fluff that lead to dead ends.
Next Shabbos from Yerushalayim, iy”H.