Can We Mourn through Song?

May 13, 2024

In Israel, you know you’ve made it big as an Israeli pop star when your music is chosen for a slideshow of fallen soldiers or victims of terror at an Israel Remembrance Day Ceremony. Believe it or not, that’s only partly tongue-in-cheek. Some of the most popular modern Hebrew and Israeli songs have been used to honor the fallen of Israel over the years. No matter whether the song came before the war, or the war before the song, the double-use of popular songs is a sad yet beautiful quirk of living meaningfully in Israel. And because this is Israel, many of these songs have biblical themes and quotes –  the true source of our inspiration. How frequently do the top ten songs on Spotify in the US include the words “The Lord is My Shepherd?” Imagine if the great outpouring of musical talent during the Vietnam War expressed itself through psalms and poems to the Lord!  In Israel, that’s par for the course.

But what does the Bible say about healing through music? And what is it about the popular songs played on Israel’s Remembrance Day that make them so mesmerizing to Israelis from all walks of life?

The Bible is filled with music. And the music of the Bible takes on so many forms. Or keys, if you’re musically inclined. But does the music in the Bible have specific instructions about navigating our multitude of emotions? To answer, let’s first look at when music is used in the Bible. 

There’s music to express gratitude, for example, when Miriam brought out her tambourine to celebrate God’s goodness in freeing the Israelites from slavery. 

Music is also used to recount a story, like the Song at the Sea in Exodus or Deborah’s Song in Judges. 

King David not only played the harp, but he also wrote many ‘songs’ in the Book of Psalms. The Levites played the trumpets at the Altar of the Holy Temple to sing their praise to God. Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word for making music, “Zamar,” is mentioned over thirty times in the book of Psalms alone. Music strikes a chord in the Hebrew Bible. That much is clear. Today, scientists also understand music’s significant impact on the brain – whether it positively affects memory, promotes cognitive growth, or even lowers blood pressure in some studies! 

There has been a plethora of research that also points to the healing qualities of song. Music is used by cancer patients, trauma survivors, and soldiers healing from PTSD. And as you guessed it, there are also times when music might be considered healing in the Bible as well.

David would play music for Saul whenever Saul felt distraught. The music was healing. Perhaps this music was the Biblical antidote for depression! 

And, of course, we have the book of Lamentations, an entire five-chapter dirge sung by Jeremiah as he weeps over the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. The structure of the book is called a keenah which is

Yet, the ending of Lamentations strikes a hopeful tune. There’s comfort at the end of Jeremiah’s sad song. 

Here,  the Bible isn’t giving us specific instructions for how to deal with grief and sadness. The Bible isn’t telling us: Step 1: take your harp. Step 2: Play until people are happy. 

Instead, the Bible is showing through example how song can be used as a way to process grief and emerge on the other end with a sense of hope and belief in the future. 

In its expression of grief, music can be cathartic. Psalm 13 teaches us just that. 

David starts by singing about his feelings of being forsaken, sorrowful, and beaten down by his enemies. But it’s in singing this to God that he is able to rejoice, release the tension, and feel comforted by God’s healing Hand. 

You get the point. Music can lead to a special kind of healing. This is why the songs sung and performed commemorating Israel’s Remembrance Day are the most poignant ways of bringing the country together in grief. Let’s look at some of these saddest (and greatest) hits. 

Arim Roshi, written by Shai Gabso, has become an anthem for many video montages and performances remembering fallen soldiers and victims of terror at Israel Remembrance Day ceremonies over the years. While the song itself isn’t about a particular fallen hero, as many of these songs are, it’s instead about the feeling of despair in the face of grief and raising one’s head to the Heavens, to God to ask for help. In the song’s chorus, Gabso quotes Psalm 121:1 comforting the listeners. No matter how deep the despair, you can lift up your eyes and get help from the Lord. 

I walk now in the path of the present

like a child walking into oblivion

my hands are extended

asking for help to continue the journey with you

and on the sides the flowers as though they lost their identity

searching for a ray of light that would help

another small gulp of water

from the wells of wisdom

that will bring them the hope

I will raise my head,

I’ll lift my eyes to the mountains in the distance

and my voice will be heard as a scream,

as a prayer of a human

and my heart will call out

“where will my help come from”

I pass now between new landscapes

the steps are taken so slowly

what is there that is not here

I asked a passer-by

what do you guard in your heart

the city senior whose whole past rests on his back

glances around and looks for his world

when the present is so hard

he doesn’t say a word,

I will raise my head toward tomorrow

I will raise my head...

This song captures the feeling that Israelis have as we conjure the pain of losing our brethren to war and acts of terror. The remarkable thing about the spirit of Israel, though, is no matter how deeply hurt we are. We can always lift our eyes to the Lord for salvation. 

Another song that will make you want to take out the tissues is called Hitna’ari.

The Hebrew word “Hitna’ari” means “Shake oneself” and is traditionally sung in the Le’ha Dodi prayer on Friday nights. The word originates from 

These verses are included in the modern song Hitna’ari.  In a poignant response to a devastating terrorist attack where a terrorist infiltrated into the community of Itamar and savagely killed five members of the Fogel Family in 2011, Israeli singer Amir Benayun collaborated with the Itamar children’s choir as a way to comfort the surviving daughter, Tamar Fogel.  This evocative song was created to honor the 30-day memorial of the attack, serving as a musical tribute to the resilience and mourning of the community.

You are tired

Two thousand reasons to cry

You are sad

There is no drought year from tears

You are desperate

When you try to just talk

You become silent

When you have no brother, when you have no friend…

Shake yourself free, rise from the dust

Dress in your garments of splendor

I am a grain of sand

I passed with you all your wanderings

Shake yourself free and live in your blood

You are tired

And must stay and guard

You are sad

You did not want to be a hero at all

You do not give up

Even when there is no house to go back to

You insist

And scream and whisper a prayer

Shake yourself free, rise from the dust

Dress in your garments of splendor

I am a grain of sand

I passed with you all your wanderings

Shake yourself free and live in your blood

The last song I want to mention is one of my favorites. It’s near and dear to my heart as it was a song I learned how to play on the cello, performing it alongside a slideshow of fallen Israeli Heroes at my own high School’s Remembrance Day Ceremonies (way back in the day!). 

Perach or flower in English, was composed by Tzuria Lahav and performed by Yehuda Poliker following a terrorist attack by an Egyptian soldier at Ras Burqa, where seven Israeli tourists, including four children, were killed. While this song doesn’t have a Biblical refrain, it speaks to the timeless and healing nature of a keenah, or elegy – the structure of a Biblical lamentation. 

Although this song was written and popularized in the late 1980s, it is still a beautiful tribute to innocent lives lost. It was most recently performed at an Israel Remembrance Concert in 2023. Sung in memory of Lucy, Maya, and Rina Dee – a mother and her three daughters who, in April 2023, were brutally murdered by a Palestinian terrorist as he shot at their car while they were on their way to a family Passover vacation. 

There, in the dust and the sky’s blue

There’s a section of peace

Sleep flower, sleep

Sleep little girl.

They took life from you

Oh, holy wars

Angels wept for you

With dry eyes.

Your smile, baby girl,

They buried in the ground

Oh how silence grows

From within the confusion.

Whoever pressed a trigger

Blood will stain his heart

In wars for justice

Children die too.

They took life from you…

There, in the dust and the sky’s blue

There’s a section of peace

Sleep flower, sleep

Sleep little girl.

They took life from you…

In your dream in the wind

rhyming with a melody

Sleep flower, sleep

Sleep little girl.

Unfortunately, the pop songs of today and the verses of grief from the Bible won’t bring back the dead. They won’t resurrect the Temple on its own as Jeremiah so longed for and they won’t end the terror against Israelis. But for as long as we have reason to mourn and grieve, we will also continue to have reason to express ourselves through song. 

These songs can provide comfort like David was able to do with Saul. They can tell a story and weave a narrative of heartbreak and tragedy that culminates in our faith in God that, one day, the pain of our growing nation will be no longer. 


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Sara Lamm

Sara Lamm is a content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. Originally from Virginia, she moved to Israel with her husband and children in 2021. Sara has a Masters Degree in Education from Bankstreet college and taught preschool for almost a decade before making Aliyah to Israel. Sara is passionate about connecting Bible study with “real life’ and is currently working on a children’s Bible series.

Sara Lamm

Sara Lamm is a content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. Originally from Virginia, she moved to Israel with her husband and children in 2021. Sara has a Masters Degree in Education from Bankstreet college and taught preschool for almost a decade before making Aliyah to Israel. Sara is passionate about connecting Bible study with “real life’ and is currently working on a children’s Bible series.

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