Question: What is the significance of song and music? We know that a Jew must occupy himself with Torah and Mitzvot, so is there any value to music at all?
Answer: Our Sages taught (Arachin 11a): “What is service amid joy and a cheerful heart? This refers to song, for one can only sing from joy and a cheerful heart.” Our Sages use this to explain the verse (in the curses delineated in Parashat Ki Tavo), “Because you have not served Hashem, your G-d, with joy and goodness of heart.”
The Sages asked that perhaps when the Torah writes that we must serve Hashem “with joy and goodness of heart,” this refers to Torah study, for the Torah gladdens one’s heart as well, as the verse states, “The commandments of Hashem are just and gladden the heart”? The Sages answered that Torah indeed gladdens the heart, but “goodness of heart” can only come about through song.
We see from here the significance of song in our lives. Indeed, Elisha Ha’Navi needed to hear the playing of musical instruments in order for the presence of Hashem to rest on him, as the verse states in Melachim, “And it was when the musician played, the hand of Hashem was upon him.” Our Sages (Pesachim 66b) explained likewise.
Furthermore, the Midrash states: “Rabbi Levi said: One who reads the Torah in a pleasant melody fulfills the verse, ‘Honey and milk are under your tongue and the scent of your robes is like the scent of Lebanon.’”
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 98b) cites a disagreement between Rav and Shmuel (foremost sages of the Amoraim): "Rav said, the world was created for David, while Shmuel said, the world was created for Moshe.” Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l explains that King David was the pillar of song in this world, for he quenched Hashem with his songs and praises (see Berachot 7b). Moshe Rabbeinu was the pillar of Torah in this world. Indeed, both these opinions are correct, for the Midrash (in Otiyot De’Rabbi Akiva) states that this world would not have been created were it not for son, as the verse states, “I have created this nation for me, let them speak my praises.” Similarly, the world could not stand were it not for Torah, as the verse states, “If not for my covenant day and night, I would not have placed the rules of heaven and earth.”
Our Sages also taught that song is so great that through it, the sins of the Jewish nation are forgiven. Yalkut Shoftim states that every time the Jewish nation continued to sin throughout the generations, the verse states, “And the Jewish nation continued to do evil in the eyes of Hashem.” However, after Devorah’s song, even when they continued to sin, the verse states, “And they did evil in the eyes of Hashem.” The reason why the verse did not use the word “continued” is in order to teach us that Devorah’s song atoned for all the sins the Jewish nations had committed until that time.
Thus, although there was nothing that preoccupied Maran zt”l more in the entire world than delving in the Torah and Mitzvot, he nevertheless was fond of song and music. Indeed, he was extremely fluent in complicated songs and melodies like the greatest of Chazzanim. He would exclaim that in his youth, he drew his weekly dose of fear of Heaven from the “Bakashot” songs chanted on Shabbat night.
For this reason, Maran zt”l encouraged those who taught young students to incorporate teaching the songs of “Bakashot” and other holy songs, as is customary among Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jews.
Summary: Although everything has a time and place, nevertheless, in order to gain completion in the service of Hashem, one must listen to holy songs of praise to Hashem from time to time. May Hashem grant us the merit of witnessing the arrival of our righteous Mashiach, during which time we will hear the Levites chanting in the Bet Hamikdash using holy melodies bestowed only upon the few through prophecy and with instruments that we cannot even imagine. Amen!