It was my senior year at the University of Maryland when Kol Ish, the Jewish A Cappella group that I co-founded while at UMD, was singing at the Chabad on one particular Shabbat. We had just concluded an extended session of singing around the very long tables that had been adjoined one after another to accommodate all the students when the Chabad Rabbi stood up to speak. He was so inspired by all the beautiful and heartfelt singing that had just taken place. To this day, I have not forgotten his opening remark. He said that when a person speaks, it is a solo effort. If other people try to join in while he’s speaking, they are either interrupting or talking over him, and neither one is heard. But when a person sings, and another person joins in, they are singing together. This is not a solo effort. The more voices that join in, the stronger, more meaningful, and more inspiring the singing becomes.
I’ll take that a step further. Having multiple voices allows for the singing of harmony parts in addition to the melody of the song. According to Wikipedia, harmony is defined as “the process by which the composition of individual sounds, or superpositions of sounds, is analyzed by hearing. Usually, this means simultaneously occurring frequencies, pitches (tones, notes), or chords.” By definition, harmony includes more than one voice. One person cannot sing harmony to his or her own melody. Harmony cannot be accomplished by oneself. It requires the presence of another voice. And having more than one voice can lead to much more powerful, magnificent, and uplifting music.
This idea is not specific to music. The concept of not being by oneself is a fundamental idea in Judaism. There is a famous passage in Psalms Chapter 23, Verse 4, that says: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” This is a very powerful statement. It is often recited at funerals, in an effort to restore comfort to the bereaved. What it is saying is that I may be going through the most difficult of times, but knowing that I am not alone, I will get through it. The phrase in Psalms is referring to God, but the concept applies to having someone else to assist us, to comfort us, to support us, to love us in our time of need. Having companionship is such a primary concept, that it is virtually created at the beginning of mankind. After God creates Adam in the Garden of Eden, He says in Genesis chapter 2, verse 18, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” We all go through tough and dark times, but when we have somebody to help us to get through those times, that makes all the difference in the world. We must have another voice present other than our own.
We are always striving to live a happy life. We want to minimize or eliminate our stress, discomfort, and conflicts. The term in English that is commonly used is living in harmony. Getting back to the music reference, the term used for having multiple sounds simultaneously is also called harmony. If one is striving to live in harmony, it behooves us to find those other voices. Whether it may be friends, family, a spouse, life partner, significant other, God, or all of the above, we must not go at it alone. We must cultivate a support system to be there in good times and bad. And it works both ways. We are there for others in their times of need.
I will fear no evil for you are with me.
Much like singing harmony, life is not a solo effort.