Kol B’Ramah, Kol D’mei

Music and audio © Alexander Massey 11 April 2018

Jer. 31:15; Gen. 4:10; Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:1 (22a)

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On Yom HaShoah v’HaGevurah, we commemorate both the victims of the Holocaust, and those who heroically resisted. This piece was written to honour those people. The three Jewish texts offer a space to reflect on the preciousness of human life, and our personal and collective responsibility to protect it. The piece begins with the voice of a mother weeping for her dead children. In the second text, the voice of God asks, ‘What have you done?’; and the voice of each one of those who have died cries out to all of us. The Talmudic Rabbis noted that in Gen. 4:10 the Hebrew uses the plural – ‘bloods’. The Rabbis warned that killing one person kills off the possibility of countless descendants, a ‘whole world’.

The music draws on the nusach of Musaf at Yom Kippur, the service that includes the honouring of Jewish martyrsBeginning with wailing and jarring dissonance, the music gradually transforms to gentler melodic shapes and harmonies. This echoes the sequence of texts that takes us from death, loss and desolation, through awakening conscience and responsibility, to dedication to life, and therefore hope.

The first verse begins with the word kol (quf-vav-lamed) – a single voice crying out. The second verse begins with the same word, but this time kol represents a voice echoing down through the generations; in the third verse (and fourth verse), the opening word sounds the same (being a homophone) – kol– but this time, it is spelt kaf-lamed, meaning anyone, and therefore, everyone. So, the song begins with a single voice crying out, and ends with an invitation for each one of us to consider our response.

1. A voice is heard in Ramah, lamenting and weeping bitterly!
Rachel is weeping for her children,
refusing to be comforted for her children,
for they are no more.
1. Kol b’ramah nishma n’hi b’chi tam’rurim!
Racheil m’vakah al-baneiha,
meianah l’hinacheim al-baneiha,
ki einenu.
2. What have you done?
The voice of the bloods of your brother
cry to me
from the ground.
2. Meh asita?
Kol d’mei achicha
tzoachim eilai
3. Whoever destroys a single life,
it is considered
as if he destroyed an entire world;
3. Kol ham'abeid nefesh achat –
ma'aleh alav hakatuv
k'ilu ibeid olam malei;
4. And whoever saves a single life,
it is considered
as if he saved an entire world.
4. V’chol ham'kayem nefesh achat –
ma'aleh alav hakatuv
k'ilu kiyem olam malei.

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