Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – The Sound of Music


Operation Inspiration

I never was one to be very up on music. I never knew all the latest hits or up-and-coming singers, and my davening repertoire is limited primarily to those tunes I learned growing up. Hopefully, when I daven, there are enough people who remember the classics that they can figure out what tune I’m singing. Regardless, I don’t carry tunes well enough to innovate and introduce new applications of recent music.

One reason for this is also that when I drive, I rarely listen to music. Years ago, I worked right around the corner from my home, and one day I commented to someone that I was envious of those people with a commute who had that time to learn. Clearly, Hashem wanted to test my earnestness in this regard and I lost that job. When I went back to work several months later, it was about a forty-five minute commute which I found perfect for listening to most shiurim. I went through entire tape libraries over the years, becoming familiar with numerous speakers.

Alas, technology changed and the tapes gave way to CDs, which eventually were phased out in favor of streaming content like Torah Anytime and Daf Yomi shiurim. However, not always can I focus on a shiur. Sometimes, I recall that Elisha HaNavi called musicians to get him in the mood for nevuah and I allow myself to put on music. It’s nearly always a playlist my daughters have prepared.

One day, during Sefira, I felt the need to listen to something musical to enable me to drive better. I wasn’t planning to dance and party, but merely needed something to relax and take my mind off the road so I could better focus on the road. It’s complicated, but work with me.

Anyway, I put on a Sefira playlist of acapella music and listened to various singers as their voices lilted through pesukim of Tehillim and similar uplifting lyrics. At one point, I had been listening to a certain phrase for seemingly dozens of times and I decided that I was bored of that song. I reached over to change to the next one in line but then saw something that made me pause. The timer on the car stereo showed that I had been listening to that particular song for a bit over three minutes, and there were just thirty-seven seconds left. I leaned back and didn’t change it.

I told myself that it would be a good lesson in self-control. Do I need to get my way the second it strikes my fancy? Am I so special that I should demand things change when I say so? Instead, I let the song play until it ended, and then I got the change I was looking for.

It reminded me of a story I heard many years ago which I find so powerful.

A Rebbe, who was very hard to get in to see, once told his Gabbai that he would accept ten visitors that day. The fortunate ten men were ushered into the Rebbe’s study and dutifully handed him their kvitlach [notes with their names and requests for blessings on them.]

However, an eleventh man bullied his way into the room. When he approached the Rebbe, his note was refused. “You need to learn,” scolded the Rebbe, “that you can’t always get your way!”Taken aback by the harsh response, the man was crestfallen.

As he slunk toward the door with head bowed, the Rebbe called him back. “Give me your kvitel,” said the Rebbe soothingly. “I ALSO have to learn that I can’t always get my way.”

Like the man in the story who figured he’d be able to force his way in and get to speak to the Rebbe, many of us think we can use our cunning or power or wealth to get our way. We forget that, like the Rebbe, Hashem isn’t impressed by our methods. We can sometimes get a stark surprise when things backfire on us. (I DID see the speed limit sign, Officer, but I didn’t see YOU.)

Yet, more powerful than that realization, was the message of the Rebbe, that even HE couldn’t always get his way. He, who was the dispenser of brachos and the distributor of Hashem’s blessing to His people, was also subject to Hashem’s will. He also couldn’t afford to let himself get blinded by the glow of his own glory.

So, that day when I tired of the song, when I had the chance to beat down my Yetzer Hara just a bit, and endure something I would rather not have, I felt like I was teaching myself an important lesson. We are here on Earth to learn and change our middos. If we can do it on our own terms, by pacing ourselves and pushing ourselves to stretch beyond our comfort zones instead of demanding things be the way we want immediately, we may very well prevent the need for HaKadosh Baruch Hu to put us in more difficult situations where we might learn these lessons the hard way.

The Baalei Mussar say that not eating the last bite of a tasty dish is equivalent to fasting an entire day (or more.) It’s because we’re taking control of ourselves and fine-tuning our middos. Being able to do things like this instead of greater challenges sounds a lot better to me. In fact, I’d say it’s music to my ears.


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