Sukkah No.4: A Song of Water and Fire

Building Singing Communities, a Practical Guide to Unlocking the Power of Music in Jewish Prayer

Joey Weisenberg

Building Singing Communities” is an easy-to-read, how-to guide to making music a lasting and joy-filled force in shul and Jewish life. In this short book, author, musician, and educator Joey Weisenberg presents us with a veritable treasure house of musical opportunities. “Just think how far we could come,” says Weisenberg, “if we treated the songs sung by our day-to-day, lay synagogue community as seriously as we do the music created by professional stage musicians? We could create an atmosphere of both great beauty and drama in our spaces of prayer; we would value each and every individual in our community as a creative musician, and encourage his or her efforts in an attitude of musical collaboration.

The Torah of Music

Joey Weisen­berg

Music is the soul’s native lan­guage: a prayer, a divine lad­der upon which we climb between the Earth and the Heav­ens. But music also reach­es hor­i­zon­tal­ly across our social frac­tures and dog­mas and con­nect us one with the oth­er. Just as it cuts the non­sense away from our hearts, music opens our ears so that we can lis­ten to the sub­tle nuances and sacred whis­pers of the world around us. In every moment, music encour­ages us to ask our­selves: Can we hear the songs that are already being sung by all of creation?

In The Torah of Music, Joey Weisen­berg brings togeth­er a com­pre­hen­sive col­lec­tion of 180 curat­ed texts from the Jew­ish musi­cal-spir­i­tu­al imag­i­na­tion. In the first half, Weisen­berg reflects on ancient texts along­side sto­ries from his life as a musi­cian. In the sec­ond half, Weisen­berg presents a bilin­gual ​‘open library’ of tra­di­tion­al texts on the sub­ject of music and song, gar­nered from over three thou­sand years of Jew­ish his­to­ry, to open up the world of Jew­ish musi­cal thought to all who are will­ing to join the song.

לֵוִי הֲוָה מְטַיֵּיל קַמֵּיהּ דְּרַבִּי בְּתַמְנֵי סַכִּינֵי. שְׁמוּאֵל קַמֵּיהּ שַׁבּוּר מַלְכָּא בִּתְמָנְיָא מְזָגֵי חַמְרָא. אַבָּיֵי קַמֵּיהּ (דְּרָבָא) בִּתְמָנְיָא בֵּיעֵי, וְאָמְרִי לַהּ בְּאַרְבְּעָה בֵּיעֵי.
Apropos the rejoicing of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel at the Celebration of the Place of the Drawing of the Water, the Gemara recounts: Levi would walk before Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi juggling with eight knives. Shmuel would juggle before King Shapur with eight glasses of wine without spilling. Abaye would juggle before Rabba with eight eggs. Some say he did so with four eggs. All these were cited.
הֶחָלִיל — חֲמִשָּׁה וְשִׁשָּׁה. זֶהוּ הֶחָלִיל שֶׁל בֵּית הַשּׁוֹאֵבָה, שֶׁאֵינוֹ דּוֹחֶה לֹא אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת וְלֹא אֶת יוֹם טוֹב.
MISHNA: The flute is played on the festival of Sukkot for five or six days. This is the flute of the Place of the Drawing of the Water, whose playing overrides neither Shabbat nor the Festival. Therefore, if the first Festival day occurred on Shabbat, they would play the flute for six days that year. However, if Shabbat coincided with one of the intermediate days of the Festival, they would play the flute for only five days.
תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: הֶחָלִיל דּוֹחֶה אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת, דִּבְרֵי רַבִּי יוֹסֵי בַּר יְהוּדָה. וַחֲכָמִים אוֹמְרִים: אַף יוֹם טוֹב אֵינוֹ דּוֹחֶה. אָמַר רַב יוֹסֵף: מַחְלוֹקֶת בְּשִׁיר שֶׁל קׇרְבָּן, דְּרַבִּי יוֹסֵי סָבַר: עִיקַּר שִׁירָה בִּכְלִי, וַעֲבוֹדָה הִיא, וְדוֹחָה אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת. וְרַבָּנַן סָבְרִי: עִיקַּר שִׁירָה בַּפֶּה, וְלָאו עֲבוֹדָה הִיא, וְאֵינָהּ דּוֹחָה אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת. אֲבָל שִׁיר שֶׁל שׁוֹאֵבָה, דִּבְרֵי הַכֹּל שִׂמְחָה הִיא, וְאֵינָהּ דּוֹחָה אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת.
§ The Sages taught: The flute overrides Shabbat; this is the statement of Rabbi Yosei bar Yehuda. And the Rabbis say: It does not override even a Festival. Rav Yosef said: The dispute is with regard to the song that the Levites sang accompanying the daily offering. As Rabbi Yosei bar Yehuda holds that the primary essence of song is the accompaniment by musical instruments, and consequently these instruments are a component of the Temple service and override Shabbat. The Rabbis hold that the primary essence of song is singing with the mouth, and consequently the instruments are not a component of the service; they merely accompany the singing on occasion and therefore they do not override Shabbat. However, with regard to the song of the Drawing of the Water, everyone agrees that it is rejoicing and not a component of the Temple service; therefore it does not override Shabbat.
רַבִּי חֲנִינָא בֶּן אַנְטִיגְנוֹס אוֹמֵר: לְוִיִּם הָיוּ. מַאי לָאו בְּהָא קָא מִיפַּלְגִי, דְּמַאן דְּאָמַר עֲבָדִים הָיוּ, קָסָבַר: עִיקַּר שִׁירָה בַּפֶּה. וּמַאן דְּאָמַר לְוִיִּם הָיוּ, קָסָבַר: עִיקַּר שִׁירָה בִּכְלִי.
Rabbi Ḥanina ben Antigonus says: They were Levites. What, is it not that they disagree with regard to this; that the one who said that the musicians were slaves holds that the primary essence of song is singing with the mouth. Since the instrumental music is mere accompaniment, it could be performed by slaves. And the one who said that the musicians were Levites holds that the primary essence of song is accompaniment by musical instruments. Therefore, the musicians were Levites, who were tasked with the song that was part of the Temple service.
אָמַר רַב יוֹסֵף: מְנָא אָמֵינָא דִּבְהָא פְּלִיגִי, דְּתַנְיָא: כְּלֵי שָׁרֵת שֶׁעֲשָׂאָן שֶׁל עֵץ, רַבִּי פּוֹסֵל וְרַבִּי יוֹסֵי בַּר יְהוּדָה מַכְשִׁיר. מַאי לָאו בְּהָא קָמִיפַּלְגִי, מַאן דְּמַכְשַׁיר סָבַר: עִיקַּר שִׁירָה בִּכְלִי, וְיָלְפִינַן מֵאַבּוּבָא דְמֹשֶׁה. וּמַאן דְּפָסֵיל סָבַר: עִיקַּר שִׁירָה בַּפֶּה, וְלָא יָלְפִינַן מֵאַבּוּבָא דְמֹשֶׁה.
Rav Yosef said: From where do I say that they disagree about this matter? It is as it is taught in a baraita: With regard to Temple service vessels that one crafted of wood, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi deems them unfit and Rabbi Yosei bar Yehuda deems them fit. What, is it not that they disagree with regard to this matter? The one who deems the wooden vessel fit holds that the primary essence of song is accompaniment by musical instruments, and we derive that sacred vessels may be crafted of wood from the wooden flute of Moses, which according to this opinion was a service vessel. And the one who deems the wooden vessel unfit holds that the primary essence of song is singing with the mouth, and therefore we do not derive any halakha relevant to service vessels from the wooden flute of Moses, as according to this opinion it was not a service vessel.

מַתְנִי׳ מִי שֶׁלֹּא רָאָה שִׂמְחַת בֵּית הַשּׁוֹאֵבָה, לֹא רָאָה שִׂמְחָה מִיָּמָיו.

MISHNA: One who did not see the Celebration of the Place of the Drawing of the Water never saw celebration in his days.

חֲסִידִים וְאַנְשֵׁי מַעֲשֶׂה הָיוּ מְרַקְּדִין בִּפְנֵיהֶם
The pious and the men of action would dance before the people who attended the celebration,

אַהֲבָה רַבָּה אֲהַבְתָּֽנוּ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ חֶמְלָה גְדוֹלָה וִיתֵרָה חָמַֽלְתָּ עָלֵֽינוּ: אָבִֽינוּ מַלְכֵּֽנוּ בַּעֲבוּר אֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ שֶׁבָּטְ֒חוּ בְךָ וַתְּ֒לַמְּ֒דֵם חֻקֵּי חַיִּים כֵּן תְּחָנֵּֽנוּ וּתְלַמְּ֒דֵֽנוּ: אָבִֽינוּ הָאָב הָרַחֲמָן הַמְ֒רַחֵם רַחֵם עָלֵֽינוּ וְתֵן בְּלִבֵּֽנוּ לְהָבִין וּלְהַשְׂכִּיל לִשְׁמֹֽעַ לִלְמֹד וּלְ֒לַמֵּד לִשְׁמֹר וְלַעֲשׂוֹת וּלְקַיֵּם אֶת־כָּל־דִּבְרֵי תַלְמוּד תּוֹרָתֶֽךָ בְּאַהֲבָה: וְהָאֵר עֵינֵֽינוּ בְּתוֹרָתֶֽךָ וְדַבֵּק לִבֵּֽנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתֶֽיךָ וְיַחֵד לְבָבֵֽנוּ לְאַהֲבָה וּלְיִרְאָה אֶת־שְׁמֶֽךָ: וְלֹא נֵבוֹשׁ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד כִּי בְשֵׁם קָדְשְׁ֒ךָ הַגָּדוֹל וְהַנּוֹרָא בָּטָֽחְנוּ נָגִֽילָה וְנִשְׂמְ֒חָה בִּישׁוּעָתֶֽךָ: וַהֲבִיאֵֽנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם מֵאַרְבַּע כַּנְפוֹת הָאָֽרֶץ וְתוֹלִיכֵֽנוּ קוֹמְ֒מִיּוּת לְאַרְצֵֽנוּ: כִּי אֵל פּוֹעֵל יְשׁוּעוֹת אָֽתָּה וּבָֽנוּ בָחַֽרְתָּ מִכָּל־עַם וְלָשׁוֹן. וְקֵרַבְתָּֽנוּ לְשִׁמְךָ הַגָּדוֹל סֶֽלָה בֶּאֱמֶת לְהוֹדוֹת לְךָ וּלְיַחֶדְךָ בְּאַהֲבָה: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה הַבּוֹחֵר בְּעַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּאַהֲבָה:

[With] everlasting love You have loved us Adonoy, our God; [With] great and abundant pity have You pitied us. Our Father, our King! for the sake of your great Name and for the sake of our forefathers who trusted in You, and whom You taught statutes of life, carry out Your will with a perfect heart, so too, be gracious to us and teach us. Our Father, merciful Father, Who acts with compassion, have compassion on us and put into our hearts [comprehension] to understand and to be intellectually creative, to listen, to learn, and to teach, to preserve, to practice, and to fulfill all the words of instruction in Your Torah with love. And enlighten our eyes in Your Torah, and cause our hearts to hold fast to Your commandments, and unify our hearts to love and fear Your Name; and may we not be subject to shame, disgrace or stumbling forever, for in Your holy Name— great, mighty and awesome— have we trusted; may we exult and rejoice in Your deliverance. And may Your mercy Adonoy our God, and Your abundant kindness never forsake us. Hasten and bring upon us blessing and peace quickly from the four corners of the earth; break the yoke of the nations from our neck and speedily lead us upright to our land. Because, You are the Almighty, Who performs acts of deliverance, and You have chosen us from among all peoples and tongues, and You have brought us near our King to Your great Name, forever in truth; with love, that we may give thanks to You, and proclaim Your Oneness, with love. and love Your Name. Blessed are You, Adonoy, Who chooses His people Israel with love.
חֲסִידִים וְאַנְשֵׁי מַעֲשֶׂה כּוּ׳. תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן, יֵשׁ מֵהֶן אוֹמְרִים: אַשְׁרֵי יַלְדוּתֵנוּ שֶׁלֹּא בִּיְּישָׁה אֶת זִקְנוּתֵנוּ — אֵלּוּ חֲסִידִים וְאַנְשֵׁי מַעֲשֶׂה. וְיֵשׁ מֵהֶן אוֹמְרִים: אַשְׁרֵי זִקְנוּתֵנוּ שֶׁכִּפְּרָה אֶת יַלְדוּתֵנוּ — אֵלּוּ בַּעֲלֵי תְשׁוּבָה. אֵלּוּ וָאֵלּוּ אוֹמְרִים: אַשְׁרֵי מִי שֶׁלֹּא חָטָא, וּמִי שֶׁחָטָא — יָשׁוּב וְיִמְחוֹל לוֹ.
§ The mishna continues: The pious and the men of action would dance before the people who attended the celebration. The Sages taught in the Tosefta that some of them would say in their song praising God: Happy is our youth, as we did not sin then, that did not embarrass our old age. These are the pious and the men of action, who spent all their lives engaged in Torah and mitzvot. And some would say: Happy is our old age, that atoned for our youth when we sinned. These are the penitents. Both these and those say: Happy is he who did not sin; and he who sinned should repent and God will absolve him.

chasidut, purest type of song just comes to you

תַּנְיָא: אָמְרוּ עָלָיו עַל הִלֵּל הַזָּקֵן, כְּשֶׁהָיָה שָׂמֵחַ בְּשִׂמְחַת בֵּית הַשּׁוֹאֵבָה, אָמַר כֵּן: אִם אֲנִי כָּאן — הַכֹּל כָּאן, וְאִם אֵינִי כָּאן — מִי כָּאן. הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר כֵּן: מָקוֹם שֶׁאֲנִי אוֹהֵב — שָׁם רַגְלַי מוֹלִיכוֹת אוֹתִי. אִם תָּבֹא אֶל בֵּיתִי — אֲנִי אָבֹא אֶל בֵּיתֶךָ, אִם אַתָּה לֹא תָּבֹא אֶל בֵּיתִי — אֲנִי לֹא אָבֹא אֶל בֵּיתֶךָ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״בְּכׇל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַזְכִּיר אֶת שְׁמִי אָבֹא אֵלֶיךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּיךָ״.
It is taught in the Tosefta: They said about Hillel the Elder that when he was rejoicing at the Celebration of the Place of the Drawing of the Water he said this: If I am here, everyone is here; and if I am not here, who is here? In other words, one must consider himself as the one upon whom it is incumbent to fulfill obligations, and he must not rely on others to do so. He would also say this: To the place that I love, there my feet take me, and therefore, I come to the Temple. And the Holy One, Blessed be He, says: If you come to My house, I will come to your house; if you do not come to My house, I will not come to your house, as it is stated: “In every place that I cause My name to be mentioned, I will come to you and bless you” (Exodus 20:20).
אם אני כאן הכל כאן - דורש היה לרבים שלא יחטאו בשמו של הקב"ה אם אני כאן הכל כאן כל זמן שאני חפץ בבית הזה ושכינתי שרויה בו יהא כבודו קיים ויבאו הכל כאן ואם תחטאו ואסלק שכינתי מי יבא כאן:
תַּנְיָא, רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר: מִי שֶׁלֹּא רָאָה דְּיוֹפְּלוּסְטוֹן שֶׁל אֲלֶכְּסַנְדְּרִיָּא שֶׁל מִצְרַיִם, לֹא רָאָה בִּכְבוֹדָן שֶׁל יִשְׂרָאֵל. אָמְרוּ: כְּמִין בָּסִילְקֵי גְּדוֹלָה הָיְתָה, סְטָיו לְפָנִים מִסְּטָיו. פְּעָמִים שֶׁהָיוּ בָּהּ (שִׁשִּׁים רִבּוֹא עַל שִׁשִּׁים רִבּוֹא), כִּפְלַיִם כְּיוֹצְאֵי מִצְרַיִם. וְהָיוּ בָּהּ שִׁבְעִים וְאַחַת קָתֶדְרָאוֹת שֶׁל זָהָב, כְּנֶגֶד שִׁבְעִים וְאַחַת שֶׁל סַנְהֶדְרִי גְּדוֹלָה, כׇּל אַחַת וְאַחַת אֵינָהּ פְּחוּתָה מֵעֶשְׂרִים וְאֶחָד רִבּוֹא כִּכְּרֵי זָהָב. וּבִימָה שֶׁל עֵץ בְּאֶמְצָעִיתָהּ, וְחַזַּן הַכְּנֶסֶת עוֹמֵד עָלֶיהָ וְהַסּוּדָרִין בְּיָדוֹ. וְכֵיוָן שֶׁהִגִּיעַ לַעֲנוֹת אָמֵן, הַלָּה מֵנִיף בַּסּוּדָר וְכׇל הָעָם עוֹנִין אָמֵן.
It is taught in a baraita that Rabbi Yehuda says: One who did not see the great synagogue [deyofloston] of Alexandria of Egypt never saw the glory of Israel. They said that its structure was like a large basilica [basileki], with a colonnade within a colonnade. At times there were six hundred thousand men and another six hundred thousand men in it, twice the number of those who left Egypt. In it there were seventy-one golden chairs [katedraot], corresponding to the seventy-one members of the Great Sanhedrin, each of which consisted of no less than twenty-one thousand talents of gold. And there was a wooden platform at the center. The sexton of the synagogue would stand on it, with the scarves in his hand. And because the synagogue was so large and the people could not hear the communal prayer, when the prayer leader reached the conclusion of a blessing requiring the people to answer amen, the sexton waved the scarf and all the people would answer amen.
(יא) וְהָיָ֗ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֨ר יָרִ֥ים מֹשֶׁ֛ה יָד֖וֹ וְגָבַ֣ר יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְכַאֲשֶׁ֥ר יָנִ֛יחַ יָד֖וֹ וְגָבַ֥ר עֲמָלֵֽק׃ (יב) וִידֵ֤י מֹשֶׁה֙ כְּבֵדִ֔ים וַיִּקְחוּ־אֶ֛בֶן וַיָּשִׂ֥ימוּ תַחְתָּ֖יו וַיֵּ֣שֶׁב עָלֶ֑יהָ וְאַהֲרֹ֨ן וְח֜וּר תָּֽמְכ֣וּ בְיָדָ֗יו מִזֶּ֤ה אֶחָד֙ וּמִזֶּ֣ה אֶחָ֔ד וַיְהִ֥י יָדָ֛יו אֱמוּנָ֖ה עַד־בֹּ֥א הַשָּֽׁמֶשׁ׃
(11) Then, whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; but whenever he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. (12) But Moses’ hands grew heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur, one on each side, supported his hands; thus his hands remained steady until the sun set.
(ז) וַיְהִ֨י אֹמֵ֜ן אֶת־הֲדַסָּ֗ה הִ֤יא אֶסְתֵּר֙ בַּת־דֹּד֔וֹ כִּ֛י אֵ֥ין לָ֖הּ אָ֣ב וָאֵ֑ם וְהַנַּעֲרָ֤ה יְפַת־תֹּ֙אַר֙ וְטוֹבַ֣ת מַרְאֶ֔ה וּבְמ֤וֹת אָבִ֙יהָ֙ וְאִמָּ֔הּ לְקָחָ֧הּ מׇרְדֳּכַ֛י ל֖וֹ לְבַֽת׃
(7) He was foster father to Hadassah—that is, Esther—his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. The maiden was shapely and beautiful; and when her father and mother died, Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter.
וְלֹא הָיוּ יוֹשְׁבִין מְעוֹרָבִין, אֶלָּא זֶהָבִין בִּפְנֵי עַצְמָן וְכַסָּפִין בִּפְנֵי עַצְמָן וְנַפָּחִין בִּפְנֵי עַצְמָן וְטַרְסִיִּים בִּפְנֵי עַצְמָן וְגַרְדִיִּים בִּפְנֵי עַצְמָן. וּכְשֶׁעָנִי נִכְנָס שָׁם, הָיָה מַכִּיר בַּעֲלֵי אוּמָּנֻתוֹ וְנִפְנֶה שָׁם. וּמִשָּׁם פַּרְנָסָתוֹ וּפַרְנָסַת אַנְשֵׁי בֵיתוֹ.
And the members of the various crafts would not sit mingled. Rather, the goldsmiths would sit among themselves, and the silversmiths among themselves, and the blacksmiths among themselves, and the coppersmiths among themselves, and the weavers among themselves. And when a poor stranger entered there, he would recognize people who plied his craft, and he would turn to join them there. And from there he would secure his livelihood as well as the livelihood of the members of his household, as his colleagues would find him work in that craft.
יִתְגַּדַּל וְיִתְקַדַּשׁ שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא (אָמֵן) בְּעָלְ֒מָֽא דִּי־בְרָא כִרְעוּתֵהּ וְיַמְלִיךְ מַלְכוּתֵהּ בְּחַיֵּיכוֹן וּבְיוֹמֵיכוֹן וּבְחַיֵּי דְכָל־בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּעֲגָלָא וּבִזְמַן קָרִיב וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן: יְהֵא שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ לְעָלַם וּלְעָלְ֒מֵי עָלְ֒מַיָּא יִתְבָּרַךְ וְיִשְׁתַּבַּח וְיִתְפָּאַר וְיִתְרוֹמַם וְיִתְנַשֵּׂא וְיִתְהַדָּר וְיִתְעַלֶּה וְיִתְהַלָּל שְׁמֵהּ דְקוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא לְעֵֽלָּא מִן־כָּל־ (בעשי"ת לְעֵֽלָּא לְעֵֽלָּא מִכָּל) בִּרְכָתָֽא וְשִׁירָתָֽא תֻּשְׁבְּ֒חָתָֽא וְנֶחָמָתָֽא דַּאֲמִירָן בְּעָלְ֒מָֽא וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן: תִּתְקַבֵּל צְלוֹתְ֒הוֹן וּבָעוּתְ֒הוֹן דְּכָל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל קֳדָם אֲבוּהוֹן דִּי בִשְׁ֒מַיָּא וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן: יְהֵא שְׁלָמָֽא רַבָּֽא מִן־שְׁמַיָּֽא וְחַיִּים עָלֵֽינוּ וְעַל־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן: עוֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם (בעשי"ת הַשָּׁלוֹם) בִּמְרוֹמָיו הוּא יַעֲשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם עָלֵֽינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן:
Exalted and sanctified be His great Name in the world which He created according to His will and may He rule His kingdom. In your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of the entire House of Israel, speedily and in the near future— and say Amein. May His great Name be blessed forever and for all eternity. Blessed and praised, glorified, and exalted and uplifted, honored and elevated and extolled be the Name of the Holy One, blessed is He; above (Ten Days of Penitence: far above) all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations which we utter in the world—and say Amein. May there be acceptance of the prayers and supplications of the entire House of Israel before their Father in heaven. And say, Amein. May there be abundant peace from heaven and life for us and for all Israel, —and say Amein. He Who makes peace (Ten Days of Penitence: the peace) in His high heavens may He, make peace for us and for all Israel, and say, Amen.