Sovereign of all worlds, Wow is it good to sing your praise.
Return to your holiest place, the place where all spirits and souls will rejoice. And when we come together, We will sing to you beautiful songs and praises.
-Rabbi Yisrael Najara
A hint of the divine.
Jews sing all the time, but there is something particularly special about getting to sing together on Shabbat. The word in Hebrew for a song is “Shir”, but a song we sing on Shabbat is called a “Zemer”. Hebrew words and letters hold holy and mystical significance. Words were formed with intention, and can be reformed and reinterpreted to deepen meaning. Zemer, read backwards, is Remez, which means “hint”. A shir is a song that we sing anytime, but a Zemer on Shabbat hints at something more. It hints at the Divine Presence, at the comfort and love of Shabbat.
I learned to sing Zemirot (plural of Zemer) when I was a kid, and immediately fell in love with them. The melodies are beautiful, and the words are poetry. Beautiful hymns and love songs written to Shabbat, or about how we feel on Shabbat, or how we celebrate Shabbat. Yah Ribon in particular always stuck out to me. You’ll notice immediately that it is different because it is written in Aramaic, the language most Jewish spoke around the time this song was written (16th century).
The words were written by R. Yisrael Najara. In contrast to most of the other Zemirot, which are about Shabbat, the verses of this song mostly talk about different praises of God, and God’s deeds and creations. But the last verse brings it back to humanity, and to Jerusalem, asking God to return the Divine Presence there, to the place where spirits and souls rejoice, and there we will all sing out songs and melodies.
Vizamrun lach shirin v’rachashin… And there we will sing out our melodies. Where is this holy Jerusalem of which this song speaks? Just as a Zemer hints at the Divine, the voices that join together in harmony to bring this melody into the world hint at a deeper truth, a hope for the future of disparate voices and peoples living in harmony.