to work in the morning rush hour from Teaneck to East 53rd Street in
the city often takes me an hour — about the length of Madonna’s latest
album "Confessions on a Dance Floor," which I was playing for the first
time one recent morning.
At the bottleneck at 125th
Street entering the East Side Drive, the 10th track came on. It is
controversial because it is called "Isaac" and contains allusions to
the Kabbalah. Rabbis in Israel (mistakenly) thought Madonna was trying
to cash in on the good name of Isaac Luria, the Ari, the great founder
of Lurianic Kabbalah. So those good men condemned the singer and the
It turns out that the singer named this song
in homage to her quite-alive London spiritual guide, a Mr. Yitzhak
Sinwani. Isaac is his English name. Here are some of the lyrics,
followed by my thoughts on the song:
Im-ninalu (if they are locked)
Daltey Nedivim (the doors of the generous)
Daltey Marom (the doors of heaven)
Staring up into the heavens
In this hell that binds your hands
Will you sacrifice your comfort?
Make your way in a foreign land?
Wrestle with your darkness
Angels call your name
Can you hear what they are saying?
Will you ever be the same?
Remember, remember and never forget
All of your life has all been a test
You will find the gate that’s open
Even though your spirit’s broken
Open up my heart
And cause my lips to speak
Bring the heaven and the stars
Down to earth for me
what do we think? Is Madonna misappropriating the Kabbalah in this
song, distorting it in her now-expected sacrilegious manner?
are elements of Jewish chant in this song with strings and guitars and
guts and emotion — yes, a spiritual vibe. Yitzhak Sinwani of the London
Kabbalah Centre does sing several stanzas on the song in Aramaic and
provides the soft-spoken English coda at its end.
has said to the press that the Aramaic chant by Yitzhak in the song
made her cry. "I had tears in my eyes and did not even know what he was
singing about," she told AOL. "Then he told me and I cried even more."
Is this Kabbalah? Not really.
Madonna stringing together poetically some lines about heaven and
angels and light and doors that are locked. Everyone that sings of
light in heaven is not a kabbalist. Locked doors of the heart are a
classic Madonna theme. In fact, "Open Your Heart" is a Madonna standard
from her "True Blue" album of 1986 (yes, 20 years ago).
more intrigued by the songs both before and after this cut on the
album. In the one before, she asks superstar mid-life crisis questions.
high are the stakes? How much fortune can you make? Should I carry on?
Will it matter when I’m gone?" To me this sounds more like Kohelet (the
philosophical biblical book of Ecclesiastes) than Kabbalah. How much is
enough? How many Rolls Royces, villas, private jets?
it all worth it? How did I earn it?" And Ms. Madonna forces herself to
admit, "Nobody’s perfect/I guess I deserve it." Now this is hardly a
spiritual reflection. It sounds like the material girl is poking her
head through here.
Okay, perhaps, I ruminated, the
song "Push" that follows "Isaac" on the album moves in a mystical
direction. But first you have to make one big rabbinic assumption that
most critics and fans have not made. They all assume that this song is
an homage to Madonna’s husband and lover, Guy Ritchie. "You push me to
go the extra mile. You push me when it’s difficult to smile. You push
me, a better version of myself. You push me, only you and no one else.
You push me, see the other point of view. You push me when there’s
nothing else to do. You push me when I think I know it all. You push me
when I stumble and I fall."
However, one might
presume — a la the midrash — that this song is a metaphor for the
singer’s reliance on a higher spiritual being, much as the rabbis
interpret that the beloved in the Song of Songs is a metaphor for God.
then does Madonna tilt toward the spiritual and maybe — it is still a
b-i-g stretch — in the direction of the authentically kabbalistic
content of Judaism.
Zahavy, a Teaneck resident, has finally concluded that if he fulfilled
his life-long wish and actually met Madonna, he’d have nothing to talk
to her about.