The melody that has come to be known as the Metta Melody has gone through a few phases.
I first called it the Malchut Niggun, which translates as something like the Melody of Presence, but I called it the Malchut Niggun because, for the seven weeks leading up to Shavuot there is the deep exploration of one of the seven SEFIROT [emanations] of the tree of life, one of the seven emanations of the Kabbalistic tree.
And the final week is known as the week Malchut. The last week before arriving at the foot of the mountain.
This melody came at the beginning of that week. It was a melody that just grabbed me and stayed with me and was the only thing I wanted to sing for a while.
Truth be told, I actually thought it was a fairly silly melody. I didn't really like it. It came into my head. It was for me, but I almost felt embarrassed to sing it out loud. But it really held on. It grabbed me, it became the only thing I wanted to sing that week. And actually long after once Shavuot came and left, was a melody that stayed with me not only for the rest of that month but for months upon months, it was my go-to melody for myself.
I started sharing it with people and people also wanted to stay with it. So I was quite surprised or impressed to learn that some songs that really felt silly, or I think I even thought of it as stupid in my own head, given time, given space, really it took on a life of its own. So I called that the Malchut Melody or niggun for a long time.
I yearned for it to find words and it didn't really click for me until one day I got an email from my teacher, Roshi Barbara Wegmueller, one of the spirit holders in the Zen Peacemaker Order and she had sent, in German, a practice known as Metta practice, which was followed by the translation.
It's the words that you're now familiar with: May I be safe. May I be healthy. May I be courageous. May my life be at ease. And then cycling through the different pronouns. May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you be courageous. May your life be at ease.
Possibly because the Malchut Niggun was hanging out in my head most of the time, or a lot of the time, when I received that email, I knew intuitively the words, the translation would work. So I started sharing it more widely using those words of the Metta practice.
So Metta is a Buddhist practice of lovingkindness that, very much like the oxygen mask on the airplane, put on ourselves first and then increase our ever-widening circles of care and compassion.
I know it's sometimes difficult for people to start with the "I" statement. But it's a very powerful practice. You could choose to use this melody or this practice just on yourself with simple statements of the well-wishing and the good care you wish for yourself, and then putting it out to others, to all, to we, to all life.
There are even more edgy practices of practicing not only for people for whom the well-wishes come easy, our beloveds, our family members, our friends, our children; then moving to neutral people in our lives, those who we may not think too much about, but pass in our day-to-day —the mail carriers, or the people who serve our coffee or work adjacent to us — but don't really elicit powerful positive or negative feelings.
And also to use the Metta practice for those who really do trigger us, we have difficulty loving, we have difficulty sending well-wishes.
And even possibly to offering this to those who have caused harm in our lives or the lives of our beloved ones.
So that's the Metta practice and that's how it met up with my niggun or wordless melody practice. But to also bring it into a Jewish liturgical space, I found that the words of Birkat Kohanim of the priestly blessing also fit — the YIVARECHECHA part.
And these are very ancient words. In fact, of all of the archeological evidence we have of the Torah — we can imagine that parchment doesn't last as long as metal or stone. And the very oldest fragment we have found from the Hebrew Bible are these words sketched into a silver amulet. YIVARECHECA HASHEM VEYISHMERECHA, these words of well-wishing of, of peacekeeping, of sibling tending. Of this image of holding up our hands and sending out, beaming our best, highest, kindest intentions for each other, for ourselves, for all people, all life everywhere.
So that's a little bit of the story of the Metta melody, which is sometimes called the Malchut Niggun, which is sometimes known as YIVARECHECHA, that first word of the priestly blessing.
KEN YEHI RATZON. May it be a powerful practice for yourself, for your beloveds, for all life everywhere.
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