An audience gathered in the iconic wood-paneled and chandeliered Crystal Tea Room in Philadelphia last week for a presentation of film and music titled “The Rebbe’s Niggunim: Songs of the Inspired Soul,” with a musical presentation of six niggunim (melodies) taught by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

A short film introduced each niggun with its respective story and message, providing background and an additional layer of meaning to the music that followed.

“The Alter Rebbe [the founder of Chabad] said that ‘if words are the pen of the heart, then the niggun [melody] is the quill of the soul,’ ” noted Rabbi Yehuda Shemtov, director of Lubavitch of Bucks County, who introduced the program.

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“So when words can no longer contain our intense feelings in the days approaching the 20th yahrtzeit of the Rebbe, where else do we turn than to a program focused on niggunim?”

Sponsored and produced by Lubavitch of Philadelphia, the presentation included arrangements of six niggunim prepared by Israel Edelson, performed by a string quartet led by violinist Yonoson Rothman. A short film that introduced each melody was co-produced by Yuvalmedia and ZalmanGProductions.

The Struggle of the Soul

“This might be the first time these melodies were presented as one unified story—a story that touches on hallmarks of the Rebbe’s teachings,” explained the program’s creator, Bentzi Avtzon of Lubavitch of Philadelphia.

“It is the struggle of the neshama [soul] to come to terms with her existence in this cold, indifferent world, and her realization that her destiny is intertwined with the elevation of the mundane.”

Rabbi Avrohom Shemtov (Photo: Levi Sherman)
Rabbi Avrohom Shemtov (Photo: Levi Sherman)

“The presentation was designed with the belief that through niggunim, the neshama of every individual can be touched in the deepest of ways, so long as the content conveyed is left pure and uncompromised,” Avtzon continued. “From the crowd’s reaction, this belief was confirmed unequivocally.”

However, as Rabbi Avrohom Shemtov, director of Lubavitch of Philadelphia and chairman of the executive committee of Agudas Chassidei Chabad, the umbrella organization of Chabad-Lubavitch, advised the crowd: “It is not only about the inspiration felt this evening, but how it is translated in the future.”

Rabbi Yehuda Shemtov (Photo: Levi Sherman)
Rabbi Yehuda Shemtov (Photo: Levi Sherman)