What inspired this incredible song and what are the meanings behind the words. It’s a song that many know, but few know much about.

"Hallelujah" was originally composed by singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen and released in 1984. He was a musician from Canada, who is known for richly structured, soulful, poetic songs exploring the depths of despair, broken love, and politics — all of which are often laced with religious imagery drawn from his Jewish background.

In Hebrew, the word hallelujah means to rejoice in praising God. This song is a bitter lament about love and loss. Cohen, adept in scripture, simply taps the human condition described in the bible in order to provide counsel to the broken-hearted.

Through Cohen's imagery, including references to some of the most notorious women in the bible, we find that the word "hallelujah," can mean so much more than just its religious context. "Hallelujah," the song teaches us, is a refrain worthy of times of celebration, of mourning, of regret, of catharsis, and reconciliation. Cohen's song tells a story of broken love, true love remembered and mourned, guilt, penance, and of finding peace.

Judaism in the Song "Hallelujah"

The song’s thematic content is oddly fitting for its history. The song’s constant refrain, "hallelujah," takes the listener through a journey of pain, joy, suffering, and celebration. This is a journey that all peoples know well but speaks volumes in Jewish History. Some have gone as far as to say that the song reflects both Cohen's struggles with faith and tests of faith inflicted upon the Jewish people.

1 Samuel 16 V 14-23 talks of how the lowly shepherd boy David and future King of Israel was summoned to play his lyre and sing to King Saul and relief would come to the King’s evil spirits which we can assume was a form of terrible depression.

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

The song, as Cohen wrote it, is rich with references to Jewish Scriptures, including further references to former shepherd and now King David and his stolen love Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11 v 2). David’s fall from God’s favour to his eventual restoration to God as one of Israel’s most famous kings.

Your faith was strong, but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you

and Samson's tragic romances and his love for Delilah who betrayed him by telling his enemies of how his amazing strength was apparently obtained through the length of his hair. (Judges 16 V 4).

She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

The song’s meaning is vague, and numerous interpretations have been garnered however its breath-taking beauty is unquestionable. Cohen's lyrics are haunting and filled with lamentation, especially when he sings:

 I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah...

The song largely went unnoticed for many years. Bob Dylan was taken with the song and would play it live on occasion. Still, it took nearly another decade before it garnered a large popular or critical audience.

Jeff Buckley's Cover of "Hallelujah"

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8AWFf7EAc4

Early in his career Jeff Buckley started playing Cohen’s "Hallelujah" and his unique musical disposition took the under-appreciated masterpiece and turned it into something of a legend. Recordings of his early live performances reveal a treatment of the song that is undeniably both haunting and beautiful. He would eventually record it on his debut album, Grace.

Sadly, Buckley would pass away just before the release of his second album – cutting short a career that had barely begun.

Buckley has been posthumously recognized as a musical genius and his cover of Cohen’s Hallelujah was soon considered a classic. In 2004, Rolling Stone declared Buckley’s cover one of the greatest songs ever recorded.

Certainly, the song will continue to be played at funerals as well as many other occasions as its lament manages to eventually comfort, encourage and inspire.

Leonard Cohen lyrics

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong, but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the Name in vain
I don't even know the Name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah...