Essay One: Songs of Ascent
The term “song” as used in the Holy Scriptures (Shir and/or Shirah) refers not only to mere singing, but also to a unique type of spiritual phenomenon. A song is the manifestation of feelings into vocalized words, which represent a spiritual connection to esoteric concepts; songs reflect a belief of the intellect fused with the subconscious righteousness of the soul. Songs are especially used to commemorate happy occasions or to express one’s emotion during a joyous occasion. The core focus of a song’s content usually speaks the praises of G-d, but the actual circumstances behind the cause of the thanksgiving are also mentioned within the song. According to Lurianic Kabbalah (from the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchack "Ari HaKadosh" Luria, 1534–1572), there are eleven expressions of song—admitting/acknowledging thanks, praising, lauding, glorifying, extolling, beautifying, blessing, eternalizing His victory, exulting, and exalting. Conversely, song is included in the fifteen languages of praise: Song, laud, praise, music (hymns), strength, rulership, triumph, greatness, powerfulness, epitome of praise, splendor, holiness, kingship, blessings, and acknowledgments of thanksgiving. Thus, song is an expression of praise, and praise is an expression of song; this is because the raison d’etre of song is to be used as a means of expressing praise to the Almighty.
Rabbi Chanoch (Enoch) Zundel ben Yosef Luria of Bialystock (d. 1867) writes that the entire world is compared to a symphony with all its various elements acting as the instruments within the great orchestra of the world. Human song is only one part of this grand orchestra of music that gives praise to the Creator. The animals, plants, celestial bodies, demons, angels, and topographical entities all praise their Creator through song, as well. A Braisa is related that when Dovid HaMelech finished writing Tehillim (Psalms), he grew proud of himself and rhetorically asked HaShem, “Is there anyone who recites more songs and praises than I do?” At that moment a frog appeared and told David that he “spoke three thousand aphorisms and his song was a thousand and five“. The Mabit, Rabbi Moses ben Joseph di Trani the Elder (1505-1585) tells that after King David finished his magnum opus, Psalms, the divine spirit fell upon him once again, and he merited writing Perek Shira (“Chapter of Song”). This treatise details the songs that each of G-d’s creations sings every day to honor and praise their Creator. There are Kabbalistic explanations in understanding why each verse was attributed to whomever or whatever it was attributed to (e.g. see footnote). The Ohr HaChaim HaQadosh (Rabbi Chaim Ben-Attar of Morocco, 1696-1743) writes that HaShem created speech in all creations in order for them to praise Him, for it says, “Everything works for HaShem for its own sake”.
Even the angels in heaven busy themselves by singing of G-d’s praises. Elijah the Prophet writes that the ministering angels do not say their songs of praise above (i.e. in heaven) until the Jews below (on earth) begin saying their songs. Indeed, two later prophets testified to the fact that in heaven the angels (Cherubim and Chayos) spend their time praising the sovereignty of G-d’s rule. When Jews repeat the proclamations of these angels in the Kedusha services at least three times a day, they stand with their feet together to mimic the angelic originators of those phrases. (Angels have only one leg). Furthermore, at the time that Jacob—who was soon-after to be renamed Israel—was engaged in a wrestling match against the ministering angel of the Nation of Esau, Samael, the latter had to leave their fight early in the morning in order to return to heaven so that he may continue saying his praises of G-d. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev (1740-1810) writes that if one wants to sway the attitude of a nation in order for them to have a more favorable view of the Jews, he need only know the song of that nation’s angel when it sings, blesses, and praises HaShem. This is because an angel has to love the man who knows his song, and becomes compelled to do the will of such a man. Therefore, writes the Berditchever Rebbe, one who says Perek Shirah is great.
In a Tannaic preface to this work, three Tannaim (Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol, Rabbi Eliezer, and Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, the compiler of the Mishnah) wrote of great blessings granted to one who busies his or her self with Perek Shirah. Rabbi Mordechai Gross (Chief Justice on the Rabbinical Court of Bnei Barak) writes that the recitation of Perek Shirah is heard in the highest places of Heaven and can have great influence in the Heavenly courts for a favorable judgment. Such songs can ascend and penetrate through all seven layers of heaven and reach directly to HaShem Himself. The power of song is so great that Rashi says that after Deborah’s song, the entire Jewish Nation was forgiven from all their sins. The songs of the animals are so powerful they had the power to destroy the entire Assyrian Army of Sennecharib overnight (on the first night of Pesach), thereby saving Jerusalem from its besiegement. However, despite all these favorable results of performing a song in HaShem’s honor, the converse is also true; the lack of song can sometimes produce unfavorable and even dangerous consequences. The Talmud says that had Chizkiyahu HaMelech (King Hezekiah) sang thanks because of the destruction the Assyrian Army, he would have been anointed at the Messiah and the redemption would have occurred immediately. However, since he did not, the Messiah did not yet arrive and they Jews were subsequently exiled for over millennia. Rashi says that the sun and moon only continued to exist after they were at a standstill and ceased their singing because Yehoshua carried out his singing on their behalf. Had Joshua not have continued the singing, the sun and the moon would have been destroyed. Rabbi Abraham Ben Meir Ibn Ezra (1092 -1167) explained that the sin of Moses was that he did not sing to the rock, which he hit and for this, he was punishment by being banned from the Holy Land. Rabbi Boaz Goldman (from the Kollel Meshech Chochmah in Jerusalem) says it is imperative upon all of Jews to follow suit of the Jews who recognized their divine miracle, realized the need for singing His praise, and actually went out and sang to Him.
Rabbi Yonason Ben Uziel, the top student of the Tanna Hillel, explains that in the history of the world, ten songs were uttered by people as pure praises to their Creator, and were therefore given the title “Song” (in its proper sense). The first man, Adam, thanked G-d for establishing the Sabbath and dedicated a Psalm of thanksgiving to the Holy Sabbath Day (Psalm 92 begins with the words, Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbos, “A psalm: A song for the Sabbath Day.”). Over two millennia later, when HaShem split the Red Sea for the Jewish Nation, thereby rescuing them from their watery graves, the saved nation sung His praises (Exodus 15:1-19, Az YaShir Moshe, “Then [sic] Moses shall sing”, an allusion to the Messianic Era in which Moses will arise from the dead and once again sing). Later, when the Israelites were given water from a well, they sang the praises of G-d’s gift to them. Before his death, Moses sang a fourth song, both rebuking his nation and describing G-d’s kindness to Israel (Deuteronomy 32:1-43, Haazinu HaShomayim, “Hearken O’ Heaven”). A fifth song was sung by Yehoshua, the student of Moses, when HaShem stopped the sun for him. Deborah, the judge and prophetess, as well as her husband Barak, famously sang the praises of G-d who delivered Sisera, the Canaanite General, into their hands. When Chanah was finally granted a son, Samuel, she too sang the exultation of G-d; in doing so, she acknowledged that the vicissitudes of life are temporary conditions. When King David finally calmed all his problems and G-d saved him from all of his enemies, he sang a song of gratitude to HaShem. A ninth song, steeped in imagery and allegory, was composed by Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon) who described the love between Israel and its G-d (Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs). This Song of Solomon, sometimes referred to as Canticum Canticorum (Canticle of Canticles), is considered the most elevated of all ten songs. The tenth song itself will be sung by the Children of the Exile as they are being redeemed in the final redemption (speedily and in our days). According to the Prophet Yeshayah, it will be akin to the Hallel sung on the first night of Passover.
There are two types of Hallels and at any give juncture either one is said, or the other is said, or both are said, or neither are recited. One Hallel is called Hallel Mitzraim, “Egyptian Hallel”, and is recited on Rosh Chodesh, Chol HaMoed (intermediate days), and Chanukka (and in some communities, it is said on the Day of Israeli Independence to commemorate the creation of the Zionist state of Israel, Yom Ha'atzmaut). The other Hallel, recited on Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and every Shabbat, is known as Hallel HaGadol, “The Great Hallel”. Hallel HaGodol is called so because every stanza ends with the words, “for His kindness is everlasting,” especially the penultimate verse, which mentions G-d’s graciousness in sustaining all flesh. In fact, the Gemara initially thought that that verse alone is sufficient to say that one automatically merits a portion in the World To Come for saying Hallel HaGadol thrice a day. This is the greatest praise that one can use to describe for it describes both His abundant kindness and His eternalness that no other being has. Its twenty-six verses correspond to the numerical value of the name of HaShem; alternatively, they correspond to the twenty-six generations between the creation of the world (i.e. Adam) and Moses. The “Egyptian Hallel” is called such because at the time that the Jews were exiting Egypt after two centuries of servitude, they were praising G-d by singing the passage from Tehillim, which constitute this Hallel. The Talmud explains that this Hallel discusses five elements, which makes it greater than the “Great Hallel”: the Exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the sea, the giving of the Torah, the Resurrection of the Dead, and the birth pangs of the Messianic Era. On Festivals (Pesach, Succos, and Shavuos) and on Shabbos-Chol HaMoed, both types of Hallel are sung, while on Purim neither Hallel is recited (because the Megillah itself, which is read, is considered Hallel). The Brisker Rav, Rabbi Yitzchack Zev Soloveitchik of Brisk (1886-1959), explained that even within Hallel Mitzrayim, there are two classifications: a Hallel that is called “singing”, and a Hallel that is considered a “recitation.” On the first night of Passover – on the Seder Night—not only are both types of Hallel sung, but also, both types of Hallel Mitzrayim are recited; thus, there are three Hallels all together on that night which will be echoed by the songs at the coming of the Messiah.
Of the two types of Hallel, one implements usage of the statement “Hallelujah” and one does not. Hallel Mitzrayim contains the phrase “Hallelukah” five times, and repeats the opening stanza from “The Great Hallel” six times; it therefore contains the gist of “The Great Hallel”. The portmanteau “Halleluqah” is the ultimate expression of thanks and happiness combined. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church bans its members from saying “Alleluia” during Passiontide (the time between Lent and Easter) because that time is supposed to be a sad time and the phrase is too joyous, so even the gentiles agree to the joyous power of the phrase. Rabbi Shimon Ben Pazi says that King David did not use the phrase until the 104th chapter of Psalms because that phrase is only appropriate in complete bliss and such bliss is not achieved until all sinners cease to exist. He only used the phrase “Halleluyah” in conjunction with the disappearance of sins from the world and the resulting lack of sinners. Halleluyah is a combination of the Hebrew word “Hallelu” meaning to praise, and “Kah”, a two-letter name of G-d (spelled Yud-Hay). The usage of this particular name of HaShem is somewhat portent because its numerical value is fifteen, which is represented by the fifteen expressions of praise (mentioned above), the fifteen “Songs of Ascent”, and the fifteen steps upon which the Levites will once again sing those songs in the Holy Temple. May it be the will of HaShem that He shall build the Bais HaMikdash (Holy Temple) speedily and in our days: Amen.
 All the songs mentioned below explicitly mention His praise, except for a few in Perek Shirah that make no sense on the surface but in a deeper meaning (see below) are great praises and the entire Shir HaShirim, which is an allegory. If a song like Shir HaShirim was written with holy intentions, as Solomon had when he wrote it, it can achieve high spiritual potential. However, it is not for people nowadays to write love stories and try to pass it off as a song praising G-d. In order for a song to be called a proper song, it should praise G-d. In contemporary times, there are musicians who call their music "songs" but those song are usually devoid of any spiritual content and most of the time have disgusting content (e.g. songs about rape, murder, drinking, etc...). It is best to stick the songs that were written through divine inspiration as a means of praising G-d.
 These eleven expressions are mentioned in the Passover Haggadah, at the end of the Psukei D’Zimrah “Chapters of Hymns” services on Shabbos and Yom Tov, and at the concluding benediction of Hallel. Those who disagree with the Ari HaQodosh omit “eternalizing His victory”.
 These fifteen expressions are mentioned daily in the Yishtabach prayer.
 Kenaf Rananim, printed in 1842
 Yalkut Shimoni, end of Psalms, §150
 Kings 1 5:12
 Beis Elokim
 According to the Arizal, every kosher animal (as defined by Leviticus Chapter 11) gets its lifeline from the first letters of the Tetragrammaton, while the lives of non-Kosher animals are sustained through the latter two letters of HaShem's name. The last verse in Psalms (Psalms 150:6) states, "All souls praise G-d, praise G-d”. According to Kabbalah, this passage means that all soul-bearing creatures praise G-d using His name containing the letters “Yud-Hey.” According to the Arizal that only kosher animals have a connection to that two-letter name, how can every animal praise HaShem with that name? One can answer that every type of animal has a kosher counterpart because the Talmud says (Chullin 127a) every animal that exists on the dry land exists on the sea, and the Talmud elsewhere (Avodah Zarah 39a) explains that one is kosher, and the other is not. So for every animal there is a type (whether it is the sea version or land version) which is kosher and has a connection to the first half of the four-letter name. However, the Talmud in Chullin explicitly excluded the weasel, Chuldah from this sea-land rule, and the weasel is decidedly a non-Kosher animal (Leviticus 11:29), which uses the latter half of G-d’s name, so how can the verse in Psalms say every soul praises G-d through the name of “Yud-Hay”? (This assumes contrary to the words of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin (1749-1821), who wrote in Nefesh HaChaim that animals do not have souls.) The Ben Ish Chai (Chacham Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, 1832-1909) answers (Ben Yehoyada to Chullin 127a) that indeed the weasel does not praise G-d with that name, rather the weasel is the one who recited Psalms 150:6, as he testifies that the rest of the world praises HaShem so. This is why King David ascribed that verse to weasel in Perek Shirah. Perhaps this is the intent of Rabbi Ya’akov Emden (1697-1776) in his cryptic citation of Chullin 127a in his commentary Zimras Ha’Aretz (printed with his famous siddur) to Perek Shira.
 Ohr HaChaim to Genesis 3:1
 Proverbs 16:4
 Tana Devei Eliyahu HaNavi, Seder Eliyahu Zuta, §25
 See Isaiah 6:3, Ezekiel 3:12
 Genesis 32:27
 Chullin 93b
 Kedushas Levi, 2:2
 Judges 6:1
 Sanhedrin 95b
 Sanhedrin 94a
 Avodah Zarah 25a and Joshua 10:13
 Numbers 20:8
 As explained by of Rashi in Exodus 15:1
 Targum Yonason (a divinely inspired translation of the Torah into Aramaic), Shir HaShirim 1:1
 See Sanhedrin 91a
 Numbers 21:17-20
 See Joshua 10:12-14
 Judges, Chapter 5
 Samuel 1 2:1-10
 Samuel 2, Chapter 22
 See Isaiah 30:29
 Psalms 113-118
 Psalms 136
 Pesachim 119a
 Brachos 4b
 Pesachim 119a
 Megillah 14a
 Chiddushei HaGriz Al HaRambam, Laws of Chanukka
 Although, the Introductory Psalm to Hallel HaGadol, Psalm 135, uses the phrase three times.
 Brachos 9b
 Shir HaMa’alos, Psalms 120-134
Friday, April 21, 2006
Essay One: Songs of Ascent
Posted by Reb Chaim HaQoton at 3:07 PM