The Magic of Hebrew Chant
The Magic of Hebrew Chant: Healing the Spirit, Transforming the Mind, Deepening Love
by Rabbi Shefa Gold
Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2013
Reviewed by Victoria Erhart
The urge to express our deepest emotions in song seems universal, and chanting is a way to give form to sometimes inchoate yet profound desires. A student of Jewish theological and musical traditions, Rabbi Shefa Gold has also explored song and meditative practices in Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Native American traditions. The result of her years of study and experience leading chanting and meditation retreats around the world is her book The Magic of Hebrew Chant: Healing the Spirit, Transforming the Mind, Deepening Love. For Gold, chanting is not just singing. Chanting must carry a specific intention, a particular energy. Chanting gives the chanter the opportunity to enter deeper and deeper into the meaning of an idea or phrase until one is able to unlock its secrets.
Each chant has its particular energy to be used in particular circumstances, whether for healing or community building or holding an important question.
Gold first became intrigued by the possibilities of chanting when she felt a disconnection from the prayers in the liturgy. Chanting offered her a way to revive ritual prayers and to talk about the Divine in an open-hearted, personal way. For Gold, chanting brings together the inner and outer dimensions of ourselves, our spiritual and physical selves. Chanting creates and shapes the energy field around the chanting whether one is chanting individually or with a body of chanters. Each specific chant has an energy associated with it. This energetic awareness embeds itself in the consciousness of the chanter(s) and can be called upon when that energy pattern is needed to calm an anxious mind or heal a toxic memory.
Gold subtitled her book Healing the Spirit, Transforming the Mind, Deepening Love. Chanting with focused intention causes vibrations through the body, creating a vehicle for energy that connects the physical with the other-than-physical realms. For Gold, “it feels like God is chanting with me or through me.” The balance between surrender and self-will achieved through chant creates mindfulness. It transforms ordinary singing into states of mind more receptive to divine energy.
The second half of The Magic of Hebrew Chant provides two hundred pages of chant texts plus explanations, organized topically. The chants are taken from liturgy, the Psalms, and Isaiah, with a number of other scripture texts included. For example, if a spiritual director feels a person might benefit from a focus on compassion, the chant “Awakening Compassion,” based on Job 38:41, can be suggested. Each chant is also presented with musical notation, Hebrew transliteration, and English translation. Chant topics include mindfulness, crying out to God, praise for healing, gratitude for the ability to recognize God’s presence in the natural world, and many more, allowing a spiritual director ample scope for suggestions. Gold provides chant examples on her website, www.RabbiShefaGold.com, for those who are interested in hearing the chants or chanting along with her.
Victoria Erhart has a background in Jewish Studies from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel and historical theology from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, USA. She teaches world religions at the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos, USA, and an online humanities courses. She is also a freelance journalist interested in topics in Jewish-Christian relations, companion animal welfare, and sustainable technologies.