Welcome to the “Be a Blessing” Page
First and foremost, I am very proud to share that “Be a Blessing” is available for complimentary download at CD Baby.
If you love this album and want to know more here are some extended liner notes… If you haven’t already, contact me to receive sheet music for any and all of these tunes.
Zichru L’olam/ V’Heyeh Bracha
Zichru L’olam/ V’heyeh Bracha are actually two songs combined into one. To make things even more confusing they are parts 1 & 2 of a 3 song “medley.”
The first part of the medley is called Zichru L’olam. It is based on a poetic passage from I Chronicles 16:15, “Zichru l’olam brito, davar tziva l’elef dor” which means, “Be ever mindful of God’s covenant, the promise God gave for a thousand generations.” I am most drawn to this passage because of the phrase, “thousand generations.” I love the connection to history, to voices from the past, to our ancestors. It evokes mystery and a sense of profound wisdom.
The second part of the medley is called V’heyeh Bracha. “V’heyeh bracha” comes from parshat Lech L’cha where God first speaks to Abraham, telling him to leave all he has ever known. I can imagine Abraham being very scared and questioning the voice that he hears. After dropping the big news that Abraham is to leave his entire world behind, God commands Abraham, “V’heyeh bracha” (“Be a blessing”). I love the simplicity of this message. It’s not enough to simply “Be.” We have to “Be a blessing.”
There are many different ways to be a blessing. That’s the reason why there are so many voices singing in harmony in this song. V’heyeh Bracha ends with a cool, upbeat instrumental section. I hope you enjoy it! It was very fun to record!!
Halleluyah is a very important song as it’s the last song on the album, the closer. It’s also the third part of a 3 song medley (that includes Zichru L’olam/V’heyeh Bracha). Halleluyah is the perfect song for the end of this album because it’s all about “praise.” The Hebrew text comes from Psalm 150—the very end of the book of Psalms. It says, “Kol hanshamah t’halel Yah” (“Let all that lives praise God.”). Imagine all creation singing a song of praise—shouting a song of praise even. That’s the vibe we’re going for here. It’s a celebration of life, living, and being a part of this amazing universe. The end of this song features a variety of different voices, all singing Halleluyah/ Kol hanshemah, in their own way. One of the groups of voices sounds very “angelic”, another sounds very “earthy.” The goal behind this idea was to bring Heaven and Earth together in a song of praise to God.
Zeh HaYom is based on Psalm 118. Psalm 118 is a psalm of praise and thanksgiving that is a part of Hallel—the special collection of psalms chanted and sung on major Jewish holidays. The phrase, “Zeh hayom asah Adonai, nagilah v’nismecha vo” (Psalm 118:24) often appears on wedding and b’nei mitzvah invitations as it means, “This is the day that Adonai has made—let us exult and rejoice on it.” The other Hebrew in the song is a very common expression of praise, “Hodu l’Adonai ki tov, ki l’olam hasdo” (Psalm 118:1). This means, “Praise Adonai, for Adonai is good, God’s steadfast love is eternal.”
The English verse in the song, “All praise to the One, shining like the sun” is meant to be a poetic interpretation of Psalm 118:1. Just as the sun is always shining (somewhere) so too God is always with us, bestowing blessings. Just as it’s cloudy some days and we can’t see the sun, sometimes we don’t see how God is with us.
This song is meant to have a southern rock/ Allman Brothers vibe. I think it’s very important that music reflect the spirit of the place where it’s created. You can hear the southern rock vibe in the guitar solo and the slide guitar work throughout.
The words, “yihyu l’ratzon imrei fi, v’hegyon libi l’fanecha Adonai Tzuri v’Goali” (Psalm 19:15) are familiar to many because they are in most siddurim at the end of the Amidah as a “meditation” for silent prayer. They mean, “May the words of my mouth and the prayer of my heart be acceptable to You, Adonai, my rock and my redeemer.”
Many musicians have set these beautiful words to music, so it’s a fair question to ask why we wrote a new version. Here are a couple of things that make our version unique.
First, “simplicity.” This song only has two chords. These chords repeat over and over again. Most songs have at least three chords, so this song is particularly simple. We did this because the words “yihyu l’ratzon” are simple words. We are simply asking God to accept us for who and what we are.
Second, this song evolves on the basis of harmony. It starts with a single voice in Hebrew (Mr. Kudlats) and then adds a voice in English (Ms. Kendrick), and then adds harmonies in Hebrew and English. Lastly, the song ends with a “niggun.” A niggun is a wordless melody. Sometimes music speaks louder than words and words lose their importance. By removing the words and focusing on the melody we return to the idea of simplicity.
This song is meant to make you feel peaceful, calm, and at one with yourself and with God.
With All My Heart
With All my Heart may sound like it’s based on the “v’ahavta” but it’s not! It’s actually based on the Psalm 9:1-2, “I will praise You, Adonai, with all my heart; I will tell all Your wonders. I will rejoice and exult in You, singing a hymn to Your name, O Most High.”
The English lyrics are an original poem that expresses the different situations we find ourselves in as our life unfolds. Sometimes we’re leaving, sometimes we’re coming home; sometimes we’re with the ones we love, and sometimes we’re on our own. Sometimes we have doubts. But always, always, always, we can find something to be thankful for.
The music for this song is very simple. It’s meant to have a John Meyer kind of vibe.
Seek Peace is based on Psalm 34. Psalm 34 asks an interesting question (Psalm 34:13), “Who is the person who is eager for life, who desires years of good fortune?” Stated differently, “What makes someone a good person.” Part of the answer comes later in the Psalm (34:15), “Bakesh shalom v’rodfehu” (“Seek peace and pursue it.”). A good person is one who strives for shalom.
This song has a kind of “reggae” vibe. It features about 20 students from The Davis Academy. It’s meant to be playful and upbeat, but also to encourage people to really think about the idea of “pursuing” shalom with our heads, our hearts, and our hands.
Kol Yisrael is based on the Talmudic teaching, “Kol Yisrael Aravin Zeh L’Zeh” (Babylonian Talmud, Shevuot 39a). It means, “All Israel is responsible to one another.” Based on this teaching we set out to write a Jewish version of “We are the world.”
When describing Judaism many people focus on three things: God, Torah, and Israel. Each of the three verses in this song is an expansion on this “trinity.” The first verse is about Torah, the second verse is about God, and the third verse is about Israel (the people and the land).
This song begins with a single voice and piano. It builds with each passing verse and chorus. Finally, at the end of this song you hear the entire Davis Academy community (“kol Yisrael”) singing in unison.
Rise Up is based on the famous words of the prophet Amos (5:24), “Let justice well up like water, righteousness like an unfailing stream.” Significantly these words were also spoken by Martin Luther King Jr. many times during the Civil Rights Era.
Rise Up is a social justice song. It’s meant to bring people together around causes of righteousness and tikkun olam. It’s inspirational, hopeful, and upbeat. It’s also funky, so that people literally feel like “rising up.”
The vocalists for this song are the Mt. Zion 2nd Baptist Church choir, feature Ms. Janice Durden, our beloved Davis Academy receptionist.
Lastly, in addition to citing Amos and Martin Luther King Jr., there’s also a quote in the first verse from Theodor Hertzl, the founder of modern Zionism. He famously spoke the words, “If you will it, it is no dream.”
Jewish tradition makes it very clear that the Torah is meant to help us bring “shalom” into the world. Thus the well-known words from Proverbs 3:17 that we recite when we return the Torah to the ark, “D’racheha darchei noam, v’chol netivoteha shalom” (“Her ways are pleasant ways and all her paths, peaceful.”
The phrase, “mipnei darchei shalom” comes from the Mishnah (Gittin 5:8). In this chapter of Mishnah a number of different laws from the Torah are presented. The explanation for all of the laws is that they were created, “mipnei darchei shalom” (“for the sake of peace”). Many of these laws relate to how Jews are meant to treat the poor in their community, as well as how they are meant to interact with non-Jews. This, to me, is significant.
The chorus of this song is, “mipnei darchei shalom, for this world we call home, is not ours all alone.” It’s meant to have at least two meanings, depending on where you put the comma. For example, “mipnei darchei shalom for this world we call home.” But also, “For this world we call home is not ours all alone.” Basically, peace is good for everyone and everything. It’s good for nature and the earth, and it’s good because we have to share this world with others. The rest of the lyrics are a series of metaphors and interpretations of “shalom.”
This song has a pretty upbeat feel and also a significant musical change toward the end—when it basically turns into a jazzy jam. The instrument you hear featured is a trumpet. The basic idea here is that we should all rock out for peace.
Ki Va Moed
Ki Va Moed juxtaposes two seemingly unrelated Jewish texts. “Ki va moed” comes from Psalm 102:14 and means, “the appointed time has come.” In Hebrew “moed” refers to the three festivals of Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot. To me the phrase “ki va moed” means something like, “Sacred time is upon us.”
The second Hebrew text is, “Ki hem chayeinu v’orech yameinu.”It comes from the prayer “Ahavat Olam” recited immediately before the Shema in the evening. These exact words mean, “For they are our life and the length of our days.” In the context of the prayer they refer to the idea of performing mitzvot—basically that our time on earth is measured by the amount of mitzvot that we do.
So how do these two Jewish teachings fit together? In my mind the connection has to do with the marking of time. Sometimes God tells us that a significant moment is coming and that we should prepare (“Ki va moed”). However most of the time it’s up to us to make each day holy (“Ki hem chayeinu”).
This song is a very powerful song. It’s got a strong beat, and a lot of percussion as well as electric guitar. The music is meant to convey a sense of urgency. It’s saying, “Pay attention. Life is happening now. This is important.”
Jacob’s Journey tells the story of Jacob’s ladder from parsha “Vayetze” (Genesis 28:10-19). It’s starts with a fairly literal translation of the story, but becomes more poetic as the song evolves. The Hebrew in this song is the phrase, “Yesh Adonai b’makom hazeh, v’anochi lo yadati” (“Surely Adonai is present in this place, and I did not know it!”). These are the words spoken by Jacob when he “wakes up” from his vision.
The music in this song is very different from the rest of the album. The Middle Eastern sounding instrument is an “oud.” This song is meant to make you feel like you are in the Negev with Jacob, thousands of years ago. The violin and viola arrangement that you hear is very intricate and meant to bring drama to the song.
Over the years many commentators have noticed that Jacob’s expression, “Yesh Adonai b’makom hazeh v’anochi lo yadati” is very interesting. For grammatical reasons that I won’t go into here it’s basically as if Jacob is saying, “God is in the place and I (anochi), I didn’t know (lo yadati).” A modern commentator, Lawrence Kushner, wrote a book called, “God was in this place and I, i Did Not Know.” I love the idea of the capital and lower case “I.” For most of this song there are two vocal parts. Each vocal part sings the same words but one does so with a capital “I” and one with a lower case “i.”
This song is about Jacob’s journey toward increased enlightenment and awareness. It’s basically a song about encountering God in a new way. At the end of the song it says, “Join him at the foot of the stairwell and gaze into the light.” That’s meant to be an invitation to the listener to pursue their own enlightenment and discovery/rediscovery of God.
Beit Yaakov is built around the words of the prophet Isaiah who said, “Beit Yaakov lchu v’nilcha b’or Adonai” (Isaiah 2:5). These words mean, “O House of Jacob! Come, let us walk by the light of Adonai.”
This song began with the guitar part. As the guitar part evolved it became clear that this song would be great for things like b’nei mitzvah and graduation ceremonies. Knowing that the words “Come, let us walk by the light of Adonai” made perfect sense, because they focus on the idea of the “journey” or in the case of graduation, “walking” across the stage to receive your diploma.
The English lyrics in this song are a poetic expansion on the verse from Isaiah. The words are written as if they were spoken by a parent or teacher to the child/young adult who is going on the journey.
The last verse of the has several references to other Jewish ideas. First it says, “Lech l’cha we’re with you.” This is a reference to Genesis 12:1 when God tells Avram, “Lech l’cha” (“Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”). Also, the line, “May the mitzvot be a lamp to you and Torah fill your days” is a reference to Proverbs 6:23 (“For the commandment is a lamp, the Torah is a light.” This verse fits perfectly with the idea of light in the line, “O House of Jacob! Come, let us walk by the light of Adonai.”
One final thought. If you take the first letter of each word in “Beit Yaakov L’chu v’nilcha” you get: bet, yod,lamed, vav. In Hebrew this forms the acronym “BILU.” “BILU” was the name chosen by a group of brave Jewish university students living in Russia in 1882 who decided to move to Palestine. They were among the first to make Aliyah to Israel in modern times and were incredibly brave.