Gut voch/Shavua tov!
I went to a Shlomo Katz concert tonight in Fairlawn, New Jersey. Shlomo is an old friend from my time spent in Israel pre-YU, where I first discovered his music by fluke - I went to a small benefit concert held at a hotel ballroom to see the headlining performers, Reva L'Sheva. Shlomo was on of the first performers (I forget who the other one was), and he simply blew me away with the sheer ruach of his music. I immediately bought the only album he had on sale then, Biglal Avos, which he made with his younger brother Eitan, who is also now a big star in the Jewish Music world (he didn't have any copies of their earlier album called Eilecha).
From that night on, I became a huge Shlomo Katz fan. That year (my Shana Aleph) was also the year that the revitalized Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach song, "Niggun Neshama" became insanely popular - mostly through Shlomo Katz' performances. I attended every one of his concerts that my schedule allowed, and even managed to have my yeshiva bring him in for our own concert - a definite hi-light of the year.
After schmoozing with him before/during/after numerous concerts during my two years in Israel, we became friendly, and he always recognizes me whenever I see him around in America. The last time we spoke in person was the morning before the YU Chanukah concert 2 years ago. I was walking to Belfer to get a package and randomly bumped into him - he had be hired as a surprise to perform at the MTA chagiga in Weissberg Commons (where the SOY Sale is held). He greeted me with a broad grin and a big hug. Shlomo always has a kind word to share and is one of the nicest people I've ever known.
Shlomo's concerts are an incredible experience. Aside from the soul-stirring niggunim, which can move you to tears or make you jump from your seat and dance, Shlomo really relates to his audiences. He talks with them, shares stories and Torah insights - all in an Emes-dik, heartfelt fashion that shows how much of his neshama he puts into his work. This is a very different from the standard yeshivish performers (I'll leave names out), who always have the mandatory sad story that introduces his hit slow song - all of which sounds so fake. Only the oblivious can really fail to see the difference in Shlomo's presentation versus those other singers.
The quality of his music is also markedly better. You might ask me: why? The reason stems from the fact that Shlomo composes the vast majority of his material (Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's and a few other covers notwithstanding). He plays the guitar and has close friends serve as his band. All of them are front and center on stage, and he personally thanks each of them numerous times during the course of the concert. This is a far cry from the standard Jewish Music concert where the performer(s), who only sing without playing any instrument, stand in the spotlight at the front of the stage while all the musicians, without whom the concert would never happen, are hidden at the back of the stage in shadow. At the very end of the concert, the performer(s) usually tip their hat ever-so-graciously to the band who carried the night with their consummate performance - which still sounds forced at best.
I would like to share one of Shlomo's Torah thoughts regarding Adar/Purim which he told us tonight during the concert.
There are many times in life where we feel spiritual inspiration, be it from a shiur, a particular davening at shul, or a concert. We tell ourselves that we will strive to be more spiritual, to improve ourselves and ascend higher in ruchniyus. But often enough, we fail to live up to those ideas that pop into our mind, because a voice makes itself heard, telling us that we really know that this sort of spiritual stuff was just a minor incident, but not really part of who we are. That, he said (quoting Rebbe Nachman in Likutei Moharan), is the voice of Amalek in us. This negative influence does not want us to reach new levels of spirituality, but be content with the status quo, which is always a bad thing. Jews are always meant to be strive ever further, to raise ourselves in our Avodas HaShem. This influence, which can be internal, or even come from those close to us who claim to know us better and tell us that this spiritual involvement isn't really representative of who we are, drags us back down and tries to make us think we can't succeed.
Purim is the time that we can utterly destroy this little voice. The Gemara tells us that Purim is even higher than Yom Kippur, which is called Yom HaKiPurim - the day "like Purim." Why is this so? On Yom Kippur, we try to get closer to HaShem by fasting and beating on our chests, listing aveirah after aveirah that we did. We feel like we're coming from such a low level and trying to overcome the bad things we've done that seem like an impediment between us and G-d. However, on Purim, we turn to HaShem and say, "I've taken on so many things in my life since Yom Kippuer, and I've stumbled in every one of them. Despite all that, I'm still here talking to You and hoping to have a relationship, no matter what."
Shlomo spoke about friends of his from highschool, who eventually became irreligious because of the attitude that they were taught wherein any sin they commit put them at an uncrossable distance away from HaShem. Teshuva was something only the real "frummies" did, and therefore felt effectively beyond their reach. The lesson inherent in Purim tells us that no matter what happens, no matter what we do (and this isn't to condone the performances of aveiros), we can still have that relationship with HaShem. Never stop trying, and never give in to those voices that say you can't do it, that this quest for spirituality isn't your "thing."
May we all take to heart this lesson, that no matter what, we can always rise again from our missteps and stumbles. HaShem never rejects us nor wants us to remain complacent with not being close to Him. Let us all strive to better ourselves and continue to seek greater ruchniyus in our lives and in the lives of our friends and family, and let us all have a spiritually uplifting Adar and Purim!
And if you ever have a chance to go to a concert of Shlomo's or buy one of his CD's - don't pass up the opportunity, he's absolutely fantastic.
Update - 2/21/10: It turns out this very post was featured on the Jewish Press International website. I guess this is pretty nifty, even if I've never heard of them before today.