By Mordechai Schmutter
My wife and I bought a CD of Shabbos zemiros. To listen to during the week, apparently.
Zemiros. They’re not just for Shabbos anymore.
The reason we bought a CD is that we want our kids to learn zemiros, which they haven’t really been doing until now because we don’t sing them often enough. We just sing them on Shabbos, tops, and even then, we don’t usually get to all of them.
It also doesn’t help that when I sing, the kids leave the table. I don’t blame them. But my hope is that they’ll sing with me and try to drown me out. I know they can be louder than me. Sure, occasionally they’ll sing with me, but my goal is to get them to know the zemiros well enough so I can sing the harmonies without them joining me and leaving no one singing the actual song.
At the very least, I want to teach them songs that are easy for kids, such as that tune for Menuchah v’Simchah where I sing each line and they go, “Nay nidi nay nay nay.” Right now, I sing the line, and there’s an awkward silence where they wonder why I’m not continuing the song.
As a kid, I loved that song. Even when my parents sent me to bed during the meal on late Friday nights, I would wait until they sang zemiros, and suddenly, from across the house, they’d hear “Nay nidi nay nay nay!”
“Go to sleep!”
So right before we drove up to my in-laws for yom tov, we went out to buy a CD. We found a two-volume set that not only had all the zemiros and, for some reason, part of Kedushah, but also several versions of each zemer (zemirah?), all in a row, so that you can spend a half hour straight listening to, say, “Yom Zeh Mechubad.”
At least they had the one with the harmonies.
A side benefit of getting the CD, we figured, was that we’d finally be able to settle age-old arguments as to which of us is right about which words to put together. My wife always says her way is right, because it’s how her father sings, and I say my way is right, because that’s how my father sings. But I went to yeshiva, so that might make me an authority. Except that in yeshiva, everyone sings the harmonies, no one sings the actual songs, and every zemer fades out a few words before the end, because no one wants to be the last one singing. In fact, over the course of the year, the song keeps ending earlier and earlier, until we’re leaving out the entire final stanza.
But as it turns out, the guy on the CD puts some of the words together differently than either of us. So we definitely can’t use him to settle arguments. Not only that, but this is how our kids are going to be learning it. His way.
Here are some other things I realized while listening to this album of zemiros on a long car ride:
• I have a Pavlovian reaction to Eishes Chayil. Apparently, every time I hear it, I crave fresh challah.
• I don’t know what’s weirder—that there’s one guy singing the zemiros, or that there’s an orchestra accompanying him.
• He doesn’t seem to mind being the only one singing. He definitely doesn’t fade out of every song a paragraph early.
• Listening to these CDs back-to-back is like having a really long Shabbos meal where they keep singing five versions of each zemer without ever serving the next course.
• I’m thinking that after we learn all the zemiros, my next goal is definitely to look into pirush ha’milos. Like for example, why are we singing about Yonah resting? I don’t remember reading about this on Yom Kippur. What happened with the big fish?
• The best way to get sick of a song is to hear each song five times in a row on an endless loop. So now I’m looking for new tunes.
But the kids are enjoying it. One of my sons asked if he could follow along in the jacket. But there was no jacket.
Luckily, I had a bentcher in the glove compartment. It turns out that we have hundreds of bentchers—too many to fit into our breakfront—so we’ve taken to keeping them in more creative places, such as in my work desk, my night table, and even the door of the fridge, for those midnight snacks when you just pull up a chair.
We have bentchers coming out of our ears. I wish the people we know would stop getting married so much. One wedding for every two people, please.
I’m sure you have the same issue. Every simcha you go to, you come home with a bentcher, and your spouse does, too. I always take one because I have pockets, and my wife always takes one so she can remember the kallah’s new last name.
And no, I don’t know why she takes them at bar mitzvahs. But we never look at the table and go, “Oh. We already have bentchers.”
It’s gotten to the point where, if we made a wedding, we wouldn’t have to print bentchers. We could just give out the bentchers we already have. Or give them back—use them as place cards for the people we got them from. After all, we have two of each.
And we’d still have some left over. For example, I apparently have a bentcher that belongs to a wedding hall that I went to. The cover says, “Do not remove from premises.” I just noticed this now. I didn’t realize it at the time; I just took one. I don’t read the names. I know whose wedding I’m at.
But every wedding gives out bentchers, because people bentch at weddings, and no one thinks to bring their own, because the simchas always provide them. And they can’t just write “BYOB” on the invitation, because people will get confused.
But that’s bentching. How about zemiros? I’m not actually sure why they give out Shabbos zemiros at a wedding. Most weddings are not on Shabbos. Maybe they should print the songs that are actually played at a chasunah, and have everyone dancing backwards into the bedekin and holding bentchers and following along. (“It’s Oid Yishama? I thought it was Oiz Yishama!”)
Of course, one can just as easily ask why we have Shabbos zemiros in the glove compartment of our car. Maybe it’s in case we get stuck on the side of the road on the way to my in-laws, iy’H. You’d think the one in our car would be one with a Minchah/Ma’ariv, but no, all of those are crammed in the bentcher drawer, so that someone accidentally gets it during the meal and spends three songs looking for the zemiros.
But you have to take a bentcher, because if you don’t, the ba’alei simcha are stuck with a million bentchers with the same chassan’s and kallah’s names on them. These two aren’t going to marry each other again. Once is enough.
My in-laws, for example, printed a million bentchers for their son’s bar mitzvah seudah, which was a Shabbos lunch, but that Shabbos, the eiruv was down, and everyone left the bentchers there, so my in-laws still have all of them. They tried telling people to come by and pick them up, but they had very few takers. So now they have a few hundred bentchers with my brother-in-law’s name on them.
What should they do? Donate it to a wedding hall to make up for all the ones people are walking off with?
Come to think of it, though, my brother-in-law is getting married soon, iy’H. So I say they should write the kallah’s name in, cross out “bar mitzvah,” write “simchas nisuin,” and give it out at the wedding. Or, even funnier, just put these out the way they are. Maybe print the kallah’s name on the back. Or at least he should give them out at his aufruf. Either way, it would definitely give us more bentchers for the glove compartment for the way home, especially now that our kids are all into zemiros.
This article was written l’iluy nishmas my grandfather Shmuel ben Nosson, a’h, who passed on his love for zemiros but, unfortunately, not his singing voice.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.