Right at the end of Parshat Korach, the Torah gives us details of ‘maaser’ – the tithe that was given to the Leviim, the Levites. The Torah informs us that the tithe was not to be considered holy:
“ki sachar hu lachem chelef avodatchem b’ohel mo’ed.” – “because it was to be a wage to the Levites in exchange for all that they did in the tent of meeting.” (Bamidbar 18:31)
One of the key roles that the Leviim had was to sing for the nation and lead them in prayer, and it is on this basis that many of our poskim, our decisors, tell us that a Cantor, a Chazzan, should receive a salary for what he’s doing – because he takes on the role of the Levi in our synagogue services.
The Rashba goes one step further. Accepting that the Chazzan is like the Levi, the Rashba adds that on Yom Kippur the Chazzan in our synagogues is our Kohen Gadol – he is our modern day equivalent of the High Priest as he leads the nation in asking Hashem to atone for our sins.
It is here that we recognise how our tradition respects and treasures the importance of singing.
You know, if you want to find out how important something is, the best way is to do without it for some time and then you’ll really appreciate it. We know, for example, how the absence of greeting on Tisha B’Av enables us to appreciate it all the more.
Isn’t this exactly what we discovered in the long periods during Covid when in Britain and elsewhere it was forbidden to sing in public? Then we recognised all the more how central and critically important shira, singing, is to us as we strive to come closer to the Almighty and raise our levels of spirituality.
Now that, Baruch Hashem, we are once again able to hold synagogue services as usual, let us never forget how critically important shira, singing, is for us, and how it is primarily through ruach, spirituality, that a synagogue service can transform our lives.
I therefore believe that the most important role that anybody can have in the synagogue service is to lead that service – to be the Chazzan – and thanks to our Chazzanim, all of us within the community are inspired to join in the service, to have incredible ruach, and thereby to be better people and to come closer to the Almighty.