Window onto the spiritual climate in Israel: Twenty-nine million YouTube views in the tiny Hebrew song market is no small feat, roughly equivalent to 1.5 billion views in the English song space.
This popular song is sung directly to God by Ishay (Jesse) Ribo as he asks, “What can be done to an old heart like mine?” The lyrics draw from Biblical passages wrestling with the nature of the human heart (e.g. Genesis 6:5) and also from the image of the Red Sea torn in two.
How could a prayer song become so popular on mainstream radio?
As we have reported in the past (here, here and here), several orthodox/religious Israeli singers have become hugely popular in mainstream Israeli music, in spite of the fact that most Israelis are “secular.” Ultra-Orthodox Ribo said, “…complete atheists… write to me and say, ‘I don’t believe in anything, but your songs awaken something in my soul.’ ” His sold-out concerts are deeply-moving emotional and spiritual experiences of seeking the God of Israel.
Many seem to identify with the predicament in Ribo’s song – pouring out his heart before his Maker, torn between guilt and redemption, hope and despair. The dialogue is startlingly similar to that of Rabbi Paul of Tarsus in Romans 7 when he calls himself a wretched man unable to overcome his evil inclination (“yetzer hara” in Hebrew), and asks who will deliver him.
Many of Ribo’s other songs are also sung directly to God. Ribo’s family made Aliyah to Israel from France when he was 8-years-old. Even as a teen he had already written dozens of songs. Ribo, although ultra-Orthodox, decided to serve in the IDF, during which time his singing talent was “discovered” by an army cantor. But his bigger breakthrough came with the help of his wife. The monetary gifts he and his wife Yael received at their wedding were not enough for a down-payment on an apartment. So she agreed to allow him to use their wedding money to record his first album, and the rest is history.
Words and melody by Ishay Ribo
(Translation from lyricstranslate.com, modified by David Shishkoff)
My heart is torn in two,
Like the Red Sea. What can I do?!
Like a storm pounding on the shore,
Like Miriam’s tambourine, but throbbing more.
And there is no cure in the world.
My heart surrenders.
Can’t stand on my feet,
Just a shipwreck with no purpose,
And the skies are like a wall to me!
How do I pass through the sea on dry land?
But only You can turn my mourning to dancing for me,
Can clean polluted sand,
Soften my hardness in your hand.
And only You know how to open up my heart,
To take away my pain.
You heal every part.
My heart is torn in two.
Half is guilty, but half to Heaven true.
Like a storm pounding from the sea,
Like Miriam’s tambourine, it beats in me.
But there’s no cure in the world for the heart.
And there is still a foe who bothers the flock,
But Moses is not here to cry out to God.
With a broken heart
Before the sea…