A certain Hasid once visited Reb Uri of Strelisk to complain about the behavior of Reb Yisrael of Ruzhin. According to this Hasid, Reb Yisrael would hire musicians to perform for him in private –— an act of conceit this Hasid found highly distasteful.
Reb Uri asked the man to describe Reb Yisrael’s state of mind when he listened to these musicians. What he heard was a portrait of a man transported into pure ecstasy.
“Do you know,” asked the rebbe, “the meaning of the teaching regarding Eliyahu haNavi that ‘the girdle of his loins was a girdle of leather’? (2Kings 1:18)”
“No,” said the Hasid. “I do not.”
“The meaning is this: The ‘girdle of leather’ means his flesh and blood. Eliyahu had the power to put on and take off this girdle at will. He could wear his physical body like a leather belt, putting it on and taking it off whenever he wished.”
Not understanding the connection between Reb Yisrael and the Prophet Elijah, the Hasid stared blankly at his teacher.
Reb Uri sighed and said, “Reb Yisrael is like the Prophet. He can enter and leave his body at will. Music is his means for doing so.”
You are not your body –— which is not to say that your body is not you. Your body is to you the way an apple is to an apple tree. It is part of the “treeing” process, just not the whole of it. To the extent that you identify with your body, you are fearful of your mortality. To the extent that you reject the body, you are fearful of your physical hungers. The balance point is to honor the body without being attached to the body.
You are not your feelings –— which is not to say that your feelings are not you. Your feelings are to you the way clouds are to the sky. Clouds appear in the sky but are not confused with the sky. To the extent that you identify with your feelings, you are trapped on a roller coaster of mood swings. To the extent that you reject your feelings, you are fearful of every mood. The balance point is to feel your feelings without being attached to them.
You are not your thoughts –— which is not to say that your thoughts are not you. Your thoughts are to you the way a chord is to a guitar. Pluck the strings, and a chord sounds; stimulate the mind, and thoughts appear. To the extent that you identify with your thoughts, you are trapped in your own creativity. To the extent that you reject your thoughts, you are trapped in ignorance. The balance point is to honor thinking without being attached to the thoughts.
Music is a way to let go of all this. To surrender to a repetitive chant, an ecstatic niggun (Hasidic melody), or a Bach fugue is to remove the belt and discover your true self.
Eliyahu haNavi: Elijah the Prophet