Seasons of the Moon Apart from the giving of the Torah, Shavuot marks two other major events in Jewish history: the birth and the passing from this world of King David. King David is not just a king of Israel. He is the king. "David - Melech Yisrael - lives and endures." Throughout history, the line of David is the hidden line of kingship that survives to eventually emerge in Mashiach.

David is also known as "na'im zemirot Yisrael - the pleasing singer of Israel." When David would play his lyre, he would soothe the "savage breast" of King Shaul's depression.

Kingship and music meet in King David, whose line stretches ultimately to Mashiach. What is this connection between music, malchut (kingship), and Mashiach?

Rudyard Kipling's adage "East is east and west is west" was never more apt than when applied to music. To the Western ear, the further east you travel, the less music sounds like music. And I'll bet the reverse is also true: if you played Beethoven's Fifth to some Nepalese goatherd, he would find it pretty inscrutable.

One thing all music shares, however, is that it consists of a scale. However enigmatic that scale may be to the unfamiliar ear, every music in the world has a scale as rigid and immutable as our own diatonic scale.

The word scale comes from the Italian word scala. Scala means "ladder." All ladders start at the bottom and end at the top. No ladder in the world begins at the bottom and stops in the middle. By definition a ladder connects the bottom with the top, the top with the bottom.

And it's not only the scale that connects the highs with the lows, but each individual note also is a connection of extremities.

Musical notes are sound waves. The word wave is apposite, for just as a sea wave has a crest and a trough, a top and a bottom, so too sound waves have crests and troughs. Pluck a large double bass and you'll notice that the string vibrates around a middle point. (Because the frequencies of the waves are comparatively long, it's easy to see the oscillations that produce the note.) Every oscillation of that string bass consists of a sudden reversal from one extreme to the other. Every movement in one direction is counterpointed by an equal movement in the opposite direction. It is this oscillation that produces the note

Just as the essence of the scale is that it connects the top to the bottom, so too each step on that ladder, each note, is composed of a connection of the top to the bottom.

That's where the music comes from. From connecting the two extremities. From connecting the top to the bottom.

On the emotional level, too, music connects the highs and the lows.

True empathy comes from shared experience. It's difficult to empathize with someone else's joy or sadness unless we ourselves have had that same experience. The difference between sympathy and empathy is that we can sympathize with that which is beyond our experience; we can attempt to resonate with those feelings within our own unshared vocabulary of feelings. But to truly empathize, to resound as one, this can only come from shared experience.

William Congreve wrote: "Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast." Music has an enormous emotional power to raise someone from sadness and depression. From where does this power come?

Music elevates us because it can empathize with us. Music knows the bottom and the top. It's as if music says to us, "I've been there." Music's roots are in the blackness of despair, and they soar to the pinnacle of joy. Music can come to us like a familiar voice caressing our souls with the shared knowledge of the deepest sadness, and it can fly with our highest elation.

Music consoles and exalts only because it itself can connect to the two extremities of feeling.

Where does the line of David begin? If we trace King David's ancestry, we find that it begins in a strange place indeed. It begins at the destruction of Sedom. After Lot escaped from Sedom, there was a relationship between Lot and his elder daughter. From this union came Moav (literally, "from father"). Generations later there would be a princess of Moav called Ruth who would become Jewish. Ruth's great-grandson was King David.

Moav represents the nadir of spiritual impurity in this world. After the Jewish people left Egypt, the daughters of Moav tried to seduce the Jewish men. Twenty-four thousand Jews died as a result of this incident.

The gematria (numerical equivalent) of Moav is 49. Moav carries within it the forty-nine levels of spiritual impurity. Forty-nine represents the maximum possible manifestation that can exist in this physical world (see "A Straight Line," p. 32). It is the absolute nadir. The bottom.

Could there be a less appropriate lineage for the royal dynasty of Israel? Why is it that the line of David has to come from the depths?

Jewish kingship is very different from the secular concept of monarchy. The secular model of kingship has the nation serving the will and the whim of the king. They are there for him. A Jewish king is the reverse. He is the embodiment of the people. He unites the people. He is the ultimate servant of the people, not the reverse. In him, the nation becomes one.

Any unity that lacks a part cannot be called unity. For the king to unite the nation he must connect every part of the nation. He must unite the extremities. If he is to unify the nation, he must contain within himself even the lowest part of the nation. Even the forty-ninth level of impurity. The king must be able to connect the top of the ladder to the bottom. Just like the note, just like the scale, just like music itself. David is the pleasing singer of Israel because kingship and music are two expressions of the same idea. They are both connections of the furthest extremities.

Regarding Sedom's destruction, the Torah says, "And He [God] overturned these cities and the entire area, and all the inhabitants of the cities and the vegetation [tzemach] of the soil" (Bereishit 19:25). Why does the Torah stress that the vegetation was overturned? If the entire area was overturned, obviously the vegetation was overturned with it.

Mashiach is known as the tzemach tzeddek. Tzemach means something that germinates. Vegetation. The nature of all seeds is that they sprout only when they have rotted completely. In the death of the seed, in its total decomposition, lies the birth of the plant.

Only when the world has reached its absolute nadir, when it can't get any worse, when we have reached rock bottom, will we be catapulted to the top of the ladder. That's the process by which Mashiach comes. A total and instant reversal from the bottom to the top. From death to life.

"And He [God] overturned...the vegetation of the soil."

The approach of Mashiach is called the "birth pangs of Mashiach." The analogy is apt. If you were a visiting Martian at a delivery room in a major hospital, you would be moved by the terrible tragedy that was taking place there. A poor woman writhing in agony, and in spite of all the gleaming technology surrounding her, everyone is standing around, powerless to help her. And then, in a matter of a few seconds, this terrible tragedy is turned into the greatest joy. A new life.

That's the way Mashiach comes. When everything looks its blackest, when we have nowhere to turn, when our trust in kings, presidents, and princes has withered to naught, when things cannot get any worse, then God rescues us in the twinkling of an eye. When the night cannot get any darker, when we come to the bottom of the ladder, that's when Mashiach comes.

For the darkest night is just before the dawn.

if the audience has gone deaf
will the basses still sigh,
the bassoons buffoon,
the violins still fiddle
on the roof?
if, in the galleries -
heads bent,
eyeless, to the floor
(the blind leading the blind),
will the colors still sing
of the end of darkness?

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