Why Are Your Mercies a Fist?

Posted by Levi Cooper on May 20, 2024
Topics: The Maggid of Melbourne, Hasidic Lore Series

This article is the fourth in a series of articles:
Part 1 – Trading Places with Captives
Part 2 – Securing Captives’ Release
Part 3 – Extracting from Deep Cisterns
Part 4 – Why Are Your Mercies a Fist

Contemporary Breslov Hasidism has the most creative hasidic music scene. This is not sanctioned Breslov music, since Breslov Hasidism does not have a recognized central leadership. Rather, there are numerous different Breslov factions, each with its own character and emphases. The music is produced and performed by Breslov hasidim and often inspired by teachings of Rabbi Nahman of Breslov (1772-1810), but there is no official imprimatur of a hasidic master or entire community.

Examples of musicians who identify as Breslov hasidim and reflect this trend, include Adi Ran (b. 1961), Shuli Rand (b. 1962), Yosef Karduner (b. 1969), Nissim Baruch Black (b. 1986), and Ron Aharon Caras. There are also a number of bands that have some type of identification with Breslov, such as hardcore punk band Moshiach Oi! which formed in 2008 and the reggae band Shlepping Nachas which formed in 2019. As a rule, these musicians did not grow up as Breslov hasidim. They joined the ranks of Breslov later in life. For example, Karduner joined in his 20s, while Ran and Rand in their 30s. These musicians are not necessarily part of the same stream within Breslov Hasidism. Indeed, Rand is a student of Rabbi Shalom Arush (b. 1952), while Karduner is a student of Rabbi Shimon Yosef Hakohen Wizenfeld. Thus, it is not particular Breslov faction that has a propensity for music. It seems that the musical trend is connected to Breslov in a deeper way. Perhaps Breslov Hasidism attracts musicians; perhaps the core of Rabbi Nahman’s teachings encourage musical composition and performance.

Some of the Breslov musicians have achieved recognition and fame way beyond their community. Their music is appreciated by Israeli and Jewish audiences across the spectrum. Indeed, these Breslov musicians are on the vanguard of original Hebrew music.


A few months ago, in January 2024, Shuli Rand recorded a song that reflected on the tragic events of October 7, 2023. The song provides a space for the tough theological question: Where was God on that Shemini Atzeret – Simhat Torah? 

The song uses the style of Israeli pop, with influences of alt rock and hip-hop. The lyrics employ biblical phrases and allusions to rabbinic traditions and texts. The song was written in Hebrew, but is presented here in English translation. 

In the first stanza, Rand depicts his understanding of the all-knowing God.

He who stands behind me, before me, above me / He is the one who stands on me / As I rise, as I fall / As I stumble in the darkness / He knows me very well / Knows me not well / Knows from the beginning to the end / Your banner upon me is love that is true / But / Why are your mercies a fist?

While starting in the descriptive third person, Rand moves to second person with an accusatory tone towards the Almighty: Why do we feel that You have punched us in the gut? Rand taps into what people might be feeling at this time. From here – in classic Breslov style of hitbodedut, meditative solitude – Rand continues his personal conversation with God, while at the same time inviting others to join him. The language is not lofty or formulaic, rather the songs reads like a person talking to a mate:

Yes, to You I am talking, to You, You / the hidden one / the one who is hiding amongst the baggage / the one who slips away between the shadows / is silent / even as the house is burning / peeks out from a pot plant / appears at the window / caressing, disappearing, and dissipating / So how is it that I remember everything / run to dip [in the mikveh] / but immediately forget.

Here Rand begins to reveal what has precipitated his heated conversation with God. As will become clearer at the song continues, the burning house can be understood as the homes in Beeri, Kfar Aza, and elsewhere in the south of Israel that were incinerated by marauding terrorists. 

And as for me, who am I, not a prophet / just a son to my mother and to my father / not a medium, not the voice of the generation / not one who abstains, not like the empowered lion / not the bringer of tidings on a donkey / Rather, I dwell amongst my people / not dwelling in security / heavy rain is about to fall / I know, I come from the area.

Rand is aware of that he is not some grand figure – not a prophet or a hasidic master or a messiah. He is a person of the people. From this vantage, he sees that that there is no safety, no security. In the fourth stanza, Rand’s indictment of God gets more forceful: 

So it is true that for everything there is a reason and a time and an era beneath heaven / But this is a real siren / the water has reached the neck / look down from Your dwelling place / start the move already / will you not hear Your impoverished ones / how they are crying from the sewers?

Rand reminds himself that God has a reason for everything, but then reminds God of how serious the current situation is, urging the Almighty to act for those who are mired in the sewers – perhaps an allusion to the hostages being held in underground tunnels. 

At this point the refrain breaks into the song with a line from the Passover Haggada: “Let the day that is neither day nor night draw close.” This line is based on a biblical verse about the end of days (Zachariah 14:7). The tune of the refrain is eerie and unnerving, suggesting a break from the harsh reality of the song and a complex prayer for the future. 

Rand then turns to an historical account of sorts where he acknowledges that we should have recognized God’s hand in our successes. Accepting part of the blame is quickly replaced by returning to the accusations against God:

Yes, we made Aliya, we created, we built, we dreamed, we loved / we did not whisper prayers / how tall the wheat stands in our fields / how beautiful the nights are in the cemeteries / with holy ones [buried] in rows / flowers, showers, sprinklers / they burned our synagogue / foxes all over the town / So we sat there, there we also rent [our clothes], there we also cried / enveloped in silence / the desecrated earth, the cursed Sabbath / the tremor of hostages / outside the sword deals death, in the rooms terror / the blood of a boy, the blood of a girl, the blood of a suckling baby / cry out from the earth.>

So it is true that for everything there is a reason and a time and an era beneath heaven / but, as for me, I will die in another moment / the water has reached the neck / In Your glorious might appear already, be placated / can You not hear Your orphans / how they are crying from the edge?

Once again, the refrain break in with its eerie tune. The song then repeats the second stanza and then the first, overlayed with the refrain. The refrain concludes before the final line of the song, which ends abruptly with the charged question that is left unanswered: Why are your mercies a fist?

About Levi Cooper

Levi teaches Bible, Hasidut, Maimonides and Midrash at Pardes. Originally from Australia, Levi holds an LL.B., LL.M. and Ph.D. from the Law Faculty of Bar-Ilan University, and is a member of the Israel Bar Association. He is currently an adjunct professor in the Law Faculty of Bar-Ilan University and post-doctoral fellow in the Law Faculty of Tel Aviv University. Click here to read more. You can find books written by Levi by clicking here

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