A nigun (pl. nigunim) is more than just a wordless melody. It is nothing less than an incredibly powerful method for stirring the soul and coming closer to Hashem, as well removing blockages. Many people have composed nigunim for themselves, but they go much farther than simply a nice song to be sung.
We all feel sometimes sad, insecure, afraid, despondent or simply slow. That’s part of life. A nigunis an incredible tool available at our disposal to return ourselves back on track.
Let’s explore a bit more on the power of nigunim.
Some truths cannot be expressed in words. This is especially true for those that in the realm of experience, which is in a sense, the highest form of knowledge. It cannot be taught to others, but it’s there and a person knows it’s true. This is one of the meanings of the level of “secrets of Torah”. It’s not so much that it’s forbidden to teach, but one simply cannot. For example, one cannot teach what love is to another who’s never experienced it. Or teach what colors are to one who’s colorblind.
A niggun enables us to dive deeper into the recesses of the soul and uncover hidden truths we often need reminders. Some of these reminders can include the fact that you are holy, that Hashem is with you even with your flaws, that you are important, that there’s meaning in your suffering and so on. Each person has to discover the niggun that best fits him or create his own, as that’s also a possibility.
There was this episode in the Torah, when the sons of Yaakov came back from Egypt with bad news that Shimon was arrested by the viceroy (who was actually Yosef). Not only had Yaakov lost one son, the brothers wanted to take Binyamin with them for next time and run an even greater risk! It took Yehuda to finally convince his father that Binyanim would be in good hands and returned safely. Yaakov Avinu, despite his grief, then said something very strange like “If it must be so, do this: take some of the choice products of the land in your baggage, and carry them down as a gift for the man—some balm and some honey, gum, ladanum, pistachio nuts, and almonds.”
Many questions arise: What would some honey and a few pistachio nuts or almonds do to convince the most powerful man in the world to free some prisoner? Did Yaakov think that Egypt, the richest land in the world, lacked these things? What in his mind changed that he’s now ready to take a gamble with Binyanim?
The answer lies in the underlined word for zimrat(זמרת) which is usually translated as “choice products”. Zimra is also a code word for music, or nigun as, in Hebrew, a singer is called Zamar. The Arizal in Sha’arHaPesukim writes that the brothers reported the viceroy had a very big overpowering angel next to him all the time. This was the Ish (=man, often a reference to an angel) that was speaking harshly against them and wouldn’t budge from the accusations. Yaakov then realized that his sons needed to nullify the power of this accusing angel in order to get to the viceroy’s heart. And the solution to that was precisely a nigun(plus some divine names encoded in the Hebrew names for the foodstuffs)! This is taught in many places, including Likutey Moharan from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.
Nigun as meditation
Many masters of Mussar and Kabbalah teach us that we must long for Hashem like one longs for a loved one. This is an incredibly difficult work to do, but it’s achievable if a person puts his mind and heart to it. The benefits can indeed be tremendous.
In Mishneh Torah, the Rambam gives a great advice and writes that when one meditates upon the great wonders of Creation, he can be filled with love and awe for the Creator. This is essential for bringing one closer to Hashem, as Rabbi Chaim Vital writes in Sha’arei Kedusha that one should ideally never take Hashem’s presence from his heart, and this is called Dvekut (bonding) throughout literature. And this bonding is the beginning of true perception of the divine wisdom.
A niggun allows a person to be completely subsumed in his own thoughts and isolate himself from negative influences. With the help of the melody, he can then channel his intention to opening his mind and heart, and coming closer to Hashem, expressing his longing, purifying himself and even uniting with Hashem. Each person has to see which nigun works best for him and in which situation.
It’s also well known in Kabbalistic literature, especially the Etz Chaim that the 4 spiritual worlds (Atzilut, Beriyah, Yetzirah and Assiyah) correspond respectively to the 4 levels of marks in the Torah which are the Ta’amim (cantilliation marks), Nekudot (vowel points), Taguin (crowns) and Otiot (letters). As the Nigun forms a melody (just like the Ta’amim in the Torah reading), many Chassidic masters have classified it as coming from the world of Atzilut. Indeed, it’s a supremely exalted level of divine service.
We see then that nigunim are an essential part of Avodat Hashem. Many Chassidic masters have created their own nigun in their high state of dvekut, but the truth is anyone can (and is encouraged to) create his own melodies and use them whenever needed.
May we all merit to find the nigunim from our souls and come ever closer to Hashem!
Do you have any nigunim you like or have you created some?
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