"Mizmor L'David" - the Story of the "Homeless Niggun"

DownLoad ListenMizmor L'David, Reb Yisrael's Song of the Homeless.

In honor of the Yahrzeit of the Divrei Yisrael, 13 Kislev

Modzitz became famous because of its Rebbes, beginning with Rebbe Yisrael Taub, whose niggunim won the hearts of many. He paved a new, unique way in this realm. In his lofty, original compositions, one does not feel an imitation of the people or the environment in which he lived. He created a special world without interference from the outside. His compositions are noted for their clarity, loftiness and strength of soul.

His "Melody of the Homeless" achieved unusual popularity. It was composed in the town of Radom at the time of the First World War, when hunger and distress were the lot of thousands who passed through the city to find refuge and calm from the attacks of the Germans. The niggun is replete with legend. Some called it "The Niggun of War or Peace." It is said that the Rebbe composed it when Kaiser Wilhelm turned to England and France with an offer of peace.

Others called it "Mizmor L'David," since the Rebbe sang it to these words [Tehillim 23] each Shabbos at Shalosh Seudos [the third meal]. In the niggun, Rebbe Yisrael poured out his pain and distress over the lot of the Jews - and there was no one that wasn't in distress. The Rebbe would say that only through niggun could one attain redemption, an idea that all the great leaders of Chassidus, from the Ba'al Shem Tov onwards, espoused and promoted.

As mentioned, the niggun was composed during World War I, when the soldiers of the Russian Czar's army banished the Jews from the fortified cities. The Rebbe, together with the other Jews, had to take up the staff of exile from Modzitz, known as the Ivangrad Fortress. The decree was made hastily, and no form of persuasion could help to deter it. Situated on the Vistula River, the Ivangrad Fortress was considered a key stronghold, and the Jews were seen as potential spies and enemies of the "Homeland".

Rebbe Yisrael accepted the decree and moved to Radom. There he saw the tragedy that befell Polish Jewry - thousands of refugees, homeless, wandering from place to place. This pierced his heart, and give rise to new niggunim. The niggun "Mizmor L'David", composed in Radom, gave expression to his pained heart, which was filled with hope and trust in Hashem as well. What an expression of faith can be found in the words, "Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I'll fear no evil, for You are with me." The niggun is an admixture of pain and comfort. The uprooted refugees found the tune to be a balm for their distress, and sung it at every opportunity. It became an anthem of the homeless refugees, on the trembling lips of many - a true "song of the people." It was sung on Shabbos and Yom Tov, by Chassidim and non-Chassidim alike, and became a theme song for Jewish musicians [klezmerim] at weddings and other musical events.

Together with the famous "Ezkera", this tune gave Modzitz a name for outstanding music. At the war's end, with the restoration of free, safe travel, the niggun spread far and wide. It enchanted hearts with its warmth, soulfulness and lyricism. It even began to outweigh the "Ezkera" in popularity. However, this was in no small part due to the difficulty in singing and remembering the latter, more complex niggun.

It is not a lengthy tune, befitting to an anthem, with easy movement. It can be compared to a gripping story that one cannot put down in the middle of reading. The tune rises in waves from the beginning, and so on throughout its various parts until the end. It is based on a Jewish musical scale. Sung slowly, it contains six parts, some short, some lengthier, which fit together perfectly. The notes were published in many newspapers in Poland, Germany, Argentina and America with many details of the life of Rebbe Yisrael. Once heard, it is not easily forgotten.

Translated from an article by Meir Shimon Geshuri in "Sefer Radom"
by Reb Yitzchak Dorfman of Yerushalayim, a Modzitzer Chassid



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