As the body needs food, the soul needs happiness. The Jewish festivals are one of the gateways to the chamber of happiness. So let´s sing festive Vesamakhta deep from our hearts.
The cycle of Jewish holidays traditionally begins in the spring with the Passover, which commemorates the departure from Egypt. The prophet Jeremiah assures us in the text of Uvau haovdim that one day we will be saved from our present exile as we were then saved from Egypt.
An important part of the Passover is the traditional Seder meal, which is accompanied by the singing of psalms. We sing these psalms to thank God for all the miracles which He performed for us, for He is the true saviour in the times of suffering. This is what Yisrael Yisrael is about.
The song Mah nishtanah invites us also to the Seder table and to the story of the exodus from Egyptian slavery. During the Seder, children should receive the answer to the question what makes this night different from all the others.
In the period before the High holidays we repent and take care of our debts and obligations. We apologize for our faults and hope that God will not conceal his face from us in this time- Al Taster Panekha.
Yom Kippur is the day of atonement and strict fasting. We spend this day in synagogues deep in prayer begging God to forgive us our sins. According to the tradition the gates of Heaven close just before the end of this extraordinary holiday and this is our last chance to pour our hearts out. In Sephardic communities the song El Nora Alilah is the final climax of the liturgy of Yom Kippur.
The month of Tishri is very rich in festivals. After the day of Judgement during Rosh Hashana and the fast of Yom Kippur there are eight days of Sukkot and Simchat Torah- the day when we conclude the reading of the Torah scroll. The time of Sukkot and Simchat Torah is a time of exceptional happiness, as we sing in Sisu Vesimhu beSimhat Torah.
In the text of Simchu na all of us without exception are invited to rejoice at the completion of the cycle of Torah reading. Happiness has the power to overcome all differences and therefore in the synagogue there are children dancing with old people, with scholars and also those who prefer not to study much.
Mipi El is a part of Sephardic liturgy for Simchat Torah. The soloist sings the given text and the choir react with the refrain. Each verse is a sophisticated praise of God, Torah, Moses and the people of Israel.
The Chanukah holiday is the embodiment of the philosophical clash of two spiritually powerful worlds- Hellenism and Judaism. Chanukah celebrates the victory of the Maccabee rebels over the Greek tyrants, the victory of a small determined nation over a world power. When the Maccabees liberated the Temple of Jerusalem, they cleared it of the idols and consecrated it again. The Temple of Jerusalem was the heart of the Jewish people, it stood on the most sacred place on Earth. We do not, to our great regret, have the Temple anymore, but we ask for it being rebuilt in our everyday prayers. Both Chanuke and Yemey ha Chanukah are about Chanukah happiness.
Tu B’Shevat is the New Year for Trees. In the Torah we read that ”a man is a tree in the field”, on Tu B’Shevat we are aware of our relationship to trees and the land of Israel which was blessed with seven exceptional kinds of fruit. Eretz Chitah is one sentence of the Torah: "a land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs, and pomegranates - a land of oil, olives and honey [dates]".
On the first day of a new month, Rosh Chodesh, we pray for a blessing for the ensuing month. We add still more prayers of gratitude and praise into the regular prayers in which we thank God for every single moment that he grants us and in which He looks after us. Ashira la-Shem is a special Rosh Chodesh psalm and as well as Pitchu li is chosen from this particular book of the Bible. We have taken the latter from the liturgy for the holiday.
With Shira Chadashah we are coming back to the times of the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. Even now, in our everyday prayers, we are reminded of the miracle when the waves of the Red Sea parted and we were saved by God. After fleeing from Egypt, the Israelites were followed by the Pharaoh’s army. The Jews managed to reach the shore of the Red Sea. They were trapped in between the sea and the Egyptians. People began to weep and then God told Moses: ”Tell the sons of Israel to proceed!” God split the waters of the sea and the Jews could cross it with dry feet. The Egyptians hurried behind them, but God returned the sea into its natural form and the Egyptians were drowned. Moses was inspired by this miracle to the famous song which is now sung by us, too.
The holiday of Purim commemorates the unsuccessful attempt of the evil Haman to exterminate all of the Jewish people that were living all over the vast Persian empire which reached from India to Egypt. The story is told in the Biblical book of Esther. The total extermination of the Jewish people seemed almost inevitable, when the situation changed miraculously in our favour. That is why Purim is full of humour. Usually, stage performances are held in which everyone, both adults and children, likes to take part. And in the song Zajt she Yidn we are told to be quiet as the Purim play is beginning right now! Shoshanat Jaakov introduces the characters of the Purim story. Some of them deserved praise, some damnation. If you listen carefully you will hear a sound similar to the rattling of gragers. These are used in synagogues during the reading of the book of Esther, the Megillah, to drown out the name of the villain Haman.
The words of Yom Tov Lanu mean simply that ”it is Purim and we will rejoice”. Although the text speaks specifically about Purim, joy is something that is associated with all Jewish holidays. Umordecai yaca describes the moment in which Mordecai is victoriously coming out of the royal palace where he has together with Esther managed to avert the imminent catastrophe. The capital of Persia, Shushan, which had been in sorrow till that very moment, burst out applauding and rejoiced.
We celebrate Purim in the last month of the Jewish year, in Adar. The book of Esther is the last one of the Tanach and that is why we finish our singing with the holiday of Purim.