Nigun (ni-gun): n., plural: nigunim, a song of the Kabbalistic/Chassidic tradition, generally without words. Considered a path to higher consciousness and transformation of being.

“If words are the pen of the heart,” taught Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, “then song is the pen of the soul.” The soul’s pen, however, writes in the opposite direction from the heart’s. While words carry meaning downwards from G‑d’s own primal consciousness into the minds of sages and the lips of prophets to inscribe them upon human hearts, song carries the soul upwards to be absorbed within the Infinite Light.

That is why nigunim generally have no words. Words limit and define, but the nigun tears the soul beyond all bounds. Beyond words.

A tzaddik (“righteous person”) is one who has mastered the animal inside and achieved a higher state of being. In a nigun, a tzaddik encodes his soul. When we sing a nigun of a tzaddik, we connect with the innermost garments of the tzaddik’s soul, and from there come to union with the light that tzaddik has found.

That is why each note and nuance of a nigun must be precise. As the words of a sacred text, they must be learnt and repeated in perfect form. Because the tzaddik’s mind and soul are held within them.

The parts of the nigun are called “gates”—entrances from one spiritual world to a higher one. Each demands not only new breath, but a new state of consciousness. The fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom DovBer, taught, “Each gate must be repeated twice. The first time only traces a form; the second time carves deep into the soul.”

That is why a nigun must never be rushed. The pace, the silence, the mindfulness—all must be preserved in order that the nigun reach deep inside.

The holy rebbe Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch taught: “A nigun opens windows in the soul.” First there must be deep contemplation, focusing the mind upon the oneness of the cosmos and its Creator, to see that unity within each thing until it becomes more real than even your sense of self. But the contemplation may remain frozen in the realm of cold intellect. With a nigun, what is held imprisoned deep in the soul pours down into the mind, and from the mind to the heart. Meditation may enlighten the intellect, but a nigun can uplift and transform all of your being.

That is why the ancient prophets would sing and play musical instruments as they awaited the gift of prophecy. In this way they would strip themselves of the barriers of body and mind, opening themselves as channels of the Infinite Light. Not for the sake of transcendence alone, but to draw that transcendence down to earth, to awaken the hearts of humankind to the inner truths of life on earth.

“Song,” wrote the second Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Dovber, “lies at the core of life; its source is in the most supernal ecstasy.” And he explained:

“A river went out from Eden to water the garden . . .” (Genesis 2:10): from the source of all delight, the river of life flows downward, branching outward to each world and every created being. Each thing thirsts to rejoin with its source above, and from that yearning comes its song, and with that song it comes alive. The heavens sing, the sun, the planets and the moon; each animal, each plant, each rock has its particular song, according to how it receives life. Until the entire cosmos pulsates with a symphony of countless angels and souls and animals and plants, and even every drop of water and molecule of air, singing the song that gives it life.

That is why a nigun brings a surge of new life and healing, sweetens the bitter soul and fills a home with light—like the songs sung by David for King Saul, which healed his bitter spirit.

A song is oneness. A song turns around upon itself in a circle of oneness, until there is no beginning or end. And as the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, taught, a song unites those who sing and hear it: When words are spoken, we each hear the words according to our understanding. But in song, we are all united in a single pulse and a single melody.

That is why it is said, “All the world will sing a new song,” in the messianic era coming very soon upon us—a song of the essential oneness expressed throughout our world.