King David: כְּלִי-זֶמֶר (Keli-Zemer), Vessel of Song


“Rabbi Yehudah said, The lyre of the Temple had seven strings, as is written: A satiety of joys in Your presence (Psalms 16:11); do not read, שֹׂבַע (sova), satiety, but שֶׁבַע (sheva), seven! In the days of the Messiah eight, as is said: For the leader player, on הַשְּׁמִינִית (ha-sheminit), the eight-stringed lyre (ibid. 12:1). Of the world that is coming ten, as is said: On ten-stringed instrument and on lute, on the lyre with chanted sound (ibid. 92:4). Furthermore, it is said: Acclaim YHWH with the lyre, with ten-stringed lute hymn to Him. Sing Him a new song, play deftly with joyous shout (ibid. 33:2). You could say also that [our Mishnah will be] in accord with Rabbi Yehudah: Since, in the world that is coming, it will have more strings and its sound will be stronger, like that of a lute” (BT Arakhin 13b).

“Rabbi Yehoshu’a son of Levi said: The Book of Psalms was uttered with ten expressions of שֶׁבַח (sheva), praise, namely: נִיצוּחַ (nitsua), leading [Netsaḥ], נִגּוּן (niggun), melody [Ḥesed], מַשְׂכִּיל‎ (maskil), insight [Binah], מִזְמוֹר (mizmor), psalm [Gevurah], שִׁיר (shir), song [Ḥokhmah]; with אַשְׁרֵי (ashrei), happiness [Keter], תְהִלָּה (tehillah), praise [Malkhut], תְּפִלָּה (tefillah), prayer [Yesod]; הוֹדָאָה (hoda’ah), thanksgiving [Hod]; with הַלְלוּיָהּ (haleluyah), hallelujah [Tif’eret]. The greatest of them all is hallelujah, which includes the Name [יָהּ (Yah)] and praise [הַלְלוּ (halelu)] simultaneously.

Rav Yehudah said in Shemu’el’s name: the Song in Torah was uttered by Moses and Israel when they ascended from the Sea [see Exodus 15:1–18]. And who recited this הַלְל (halel), praise? The prophets among them ordained that Israel should recite it at every important epoch and at every misfortune—may it not come upon them! And when they are redeemed they recite [in gratitude] for their redemption….

Our Rabbis taught: As for all the songs and praises to which David gave utterance in the Book of Psalms, Rabbi Eli’ezer said: He spoke them in reference to himself; Rabbi Yehoshu’a said: He spoke them with reference to the community; while the Rabbis maintain: Some of them refer to the community, while others refer to himself. [Thus:] those which are couched in the singular bear upon himself, while those which are couched in the plural allude to the community. נִיצוּחַ (Nitsua), leading, and נִגּוּן (niggun), melody, [introduce psalms] relating to the future; מַשְׂכִּיל‎ (maskil), insight [indicates that it was spoken] through an interpreter [since it shares a root with שָׂכַל (sakhal), instructive]; [the superscription] לְדָוִד מִזְמוֹר (le-David mizmor), David psalm, intimates that the Shekhinah rested upon him and then he uttered [that] song; mizmor le-David, a David psalm, intimates that he [first] uttered [that particular] song and then the Shekhinah rested upon him. This teaches you that the Shekhinah rests [upon man] neither in indolence nor in gloom nor in frivolity nor in levity, nor in vain pursuits, but only in the joy of a mitsvah, for it is said, ‘But now, fetch me a lyre-player.’ And it happened, as the lyre-player played, the hand of YHWH was upon him (2 Kings 3:15)” (BT Pesaim 117a, cf. Rabbi Naḥman of Bratslav, Tiqqun ha-Kelali).

And this great fire let me not see again, that I may not die (Deuteronomy 18:16)—the blessed Holy One’s left [hand]. And what is that? The holy ḥayyot, living beings [whirling angels, wheels of the Chariot], and the holy seraphs, from the right and from the left. They are הַנְּעִימִים (ha-ne’imim), sweet melodies, which [ascend] high above, as is written, and still higher ones over them (Ecclesiastes 5:7). And it is also written, [… and their look and their fashioning as when a wheel is within a wheel….] As for their rims, they were high and they were fearsome, and their rims were filled with עֵינַיִם (einaim), eyes, all round the four of them […. And I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters…] (Ezekiel 1:18). And around Him are angels. Those around them also bow down before them, kneeling and declaring: YHWH He is God! YHWH He is God!” (Bahir §145, cf. Zohar Ḥadash 5d–6a [MhN]).

“Rise, Rabbi Shim’on, and let us hear new matters from you on this verse [For the lead player, on shushan-edut, a David mitam]. First: לַמְנַצֵּחַ (la-menatseaḥ), For the lead player (Psalms 60:1), contains נֵצַח (Netsaḥ), Victory—נִגּוּן צַח (niggun tsaḥ), pure melody [lit., shining white melody], and by it יהוה (YHWH) is called a Man of War towards the nations of the world, but of Mercy and Justice towards Israel. And the mystery of the matter is contained in: and when the wicked perish—רִנָּה (rinnah), glad song (Proverbs 11:10) [thus when the blessed Holy One is menatseaḥ, victorious, over the wicked there is niggun tsaḥ, pure melody]. מ (Mem) and ל (lamed) are the secret of the seventy names that He has. Together with Netsaḥ and Hod they amount to seventy-two, which is numerically equivalent to חֶסֶד (Ḥesed). And the mystery of the matter: delights in Your right hand נֶצַח (netsaḥ), forever (Psalms 16:11).

הוֹד (Hod): הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה (Hodu l’Adonai), Give thanks to YHWH (1 Chronicles 16:8). צַדִּיק (Tsaddiq), Righteous One [Yesod], it is written: רַנְּנוּ צַדִּיקִים בַּיהוָה (rannenu tsaddiqim ba-Adonai), sing gladly, O righteous, of YHWH (Psalms 33:1), and also: רָנּוּ לְיַעֲקֹב שִׂמְחָה (rannu le-Ya’aqov simḥah), sing with gladness [Malkhut] for Jacob [Tif’eret] (Jeremiah 31:6). תִּפְאֶרֶת (Tif’eret) in Him: הַלְלוּ אֵל (hallelu El), praise God; הַלְלוּיָהּ (halleluyah): hallelu Yah, praise Yah (Psalms 150:1)—the Name of יְהֹוָה (YHWH). In נִגּוּן (niggun), melody, and in זֶמֶר (zemer), plucked song [cf. Song of Songs. 2:12]—Ḥesed and Gevurah. In שִׁיר (shir), song, and בְרָכָה (berakhah), blessing—Ḥokhmah and Binah. In אַשְׁרֵי (ashrei), happy—Keter. In תְהִלָּה (tehillah), praise—Malkhut.

מִזְמוֹר (Mizmor), a psalm [Gevurah], that has in it: רָז (raz), secret, and מוּם (moom), blemish, from the side of the זֶמֶר דְּאוֹרַיְיתָא (zemer de-orayyita), song of Torah, and זֶמֶר דִּצְלוֹתָא (zemer de-tselota), the song of prayer [cf. BT Sanhedrin 98b]. A zemer, plucked song, of the Other Side contains: זָר מוּם (zar moom), foreign blemish—‘Zemer in the house is destruction in the house’ (BT Sotah 48a). A menstruate, a slavegirl, a daughter of star and constellation worshipers, a prostitute—these are the letters of mizmor, a psalm [alluding to the offspring of any of these relations, namely, מַמזֵר (mamzer), bastard]. נִגּוּן (Niggun), melody [Ḥesed]—containing גַן (gan), garden [Malkhut]. And such is the beauty of the niggun, melody, which has in it הַלֵּל (hallel), praise, like: it is הוּא הַלַּיְלָה (hu-hallaylah), a night of watch, to YHWH, for His taking them out of the land of Egypt (Exodus 12:42) [in other words, not the whole melody is Loving-kindness but only the beauty of the melody tends towards it, which is the mystery of Hallel of the Exodus from Egypt]. אַשְׁרֵי (Ashrei), happy—with which everyone begins to offer praises [at the start of the AmidahAshrei, happy, is Keter, since א (alef) like Keter, is the beginning of the alefbet and the sefirot]. Ashrei, happy, the people who has it thus (Psalms 144:15). Of בְּרָכָה (berakhah), blessing, it is as in: אֲבָרְכָה (avarkhah), let me bless, YHWH at all times (Psalms 34:2) [בְּרָכָה (berakhah), blessing, is Binah, since the emanation of Binah is unceasing as blessings should be, see Zohar 3:290b (IR): ‘The world that is coming (Binah), constantly coming, never ceasing’]. תְהִלָה (Tehillah), praise: Always תְּהִלָּתוֹ (tehillato), His praise, in my mouth [Malkhut] (ibid.).

[For the lead player] עַל שׁוּשַׁן עֵדוּת (Al shushan-edut), on shushan-edut (Psalms 60:1)—Hod, a שׁוֹשַׁן (shoshan), rose, in which the red dominates the white, while with Netsaḥ the white dominates the red. But what is עֵדוּת (edut), testimony? The Righteous One [Yesod]—the covenant held by the heavens [Tif’eret/Ze’eir Anpin] and the earth [Malkhut]. As is written: הַעִידֹתִי (Ha-eidoti), I have called to witness, against you this day the heavens and the earth (Deuteronomy 4:26). What is מִכְתָּם (mikhtam), writ (Psalms 60:1)? It forms two words מָך (makh), humble, and תָם (tam), simple [alt., complete, consummate. Cf. Zohar 3:101a]. Humble—the Righteous One [Yesod]. Simple—the middle pillar [Tif’eret] on the rung of and Jacob was a אִישׁ תָּם (ish tam), simple man (Genesis 25:27). We consider the body and the covenant [Tif’eret and Yesod] to be one [which is why מָך (makh) and תָם (tam) are written as one word: מִכְתָּם (mikhtam), writ]. לְלַמֵד (Le-lamed), to teach—Ḥesed and Gevurah, for from there Torah was given ‘לִלמוֹד (Lilmod), to study, and לְלַמֵד (le-lamed), to teach’ (M Avot 4:5).

[Moses the Faithful Shepherd] said to him: What you say is all very well, however: To the lead player, הַשְּׁמִינִית (ha-sheminit), the eight-stringed (Psalms 12:1)—Netsaḥ should not move from Hod, which is the eighth sefirah, and that is why he says: לַמְנַצֵּחַ (la-menatseaḥ), To the lead player, the eight-stringed [rather than To the lead player on shushan-edut as you have it]. The Holy Lamp [Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai] responded: If that is so [i.e., if you want to be pedantic, one can ask an even more profound question]. Your rung is that of Binah; why, then, was it taught that ‘He gave Hod to Moses, as is written: And you shall set something of מֵהוֹדְךָ (me-hodekha), your grandeur, upon him (Numbers 27:20)?’

That is a good question that you have asked. The letter ה (he) ascends by the י (yod), five times ten, the fifty gates of Binah, expanding from esed to Hod. Indeed in each sefirah there are ten making fifty. Therefore, just one expansion from Binah to Hod [in other words Binah is included in Hod]. Subsequently the Righteous One [Yesod] comes and by himself takes all fifty gates, it being equivalent to all five [sefirot]. And it is called כֹּל (Kol), All [numerically equivalent to fifty], because it takes all fifty gates. And so too the כַּלָּה (kallah), bride [Malkhut], takes all of them [כֹּל (Kol), All, with the addition of ה (he) is feminine, i.e., kallah, bride]. He said ‘Now surely everything is falling into place.’

Moreover, לַמְנַצֵּחַ (la-menatseaḥ) can be rearranged as מַל עִם נֶצַח (mal im Netsaḥ), sputter within Netsaḥ. And that mal, sputter, is from חַשְׁמַל (ḥashmal), amber, from ח ש (ḥet, shin) [which are the first and last letters of חַיּוֹת אֵשׁ (ḥayyot esh), beings of fire]. And these are Hod and Netsaḥ, which correspond to two lips. Therefore lips are called חֵיוָן אֶשָּׁא מְמַלְּלָן (ḥeyvan esha memallelan), fiery beings speaking. And in Ḥagigah [12a–13b] the question is asked: ‘Until where is the Account of the Chariot?’ And the answer was given: From וָאֵרֶא (va-ere), and I looked (Ezekiel 1:4) until ḥashmal, amber (ibid., 27) [cf. Septuagint: ἠλέκτρου (elektron); Arabic: كهرباء (anbar)]. [חַשְׁמַל (Ḥashmal), amber, is an acronym for:] חַיּוֹת אֵשׁ מְמַלְּלוֹת (ḥayyot esh memallelot), fiery beings speaking. For from the side of Gevurah, they are called חֵיוָן אֶשָּׁא (ḥeyvan esha), beings of fire, and the river that flows from the humidity [lit., perspiration] of these living beings is Yesod. All three of them [Netsaḥ, Hod, and Yesod] form a chariot for the תִפְאֶרֶת אָדָם (Tif’eret Adam), Beauty of Man [Ze’eir Anpin]….

David removed [the shell called whirlwind] from his heart-mind and killed it, as is written: And my heart is חָלַל (ḥalal), pierced, within me (Psalms 109:22). And for this reason, he was privileged that a north wind should blow on his lyre [Malkhut], and about it is said: ‘Thus says YHWH God; Come from the four winds, O breath, [and breathe upon these slain, that they may live] (Ezekiel 37:9). And he used to play through it four kinds of melody on his lyre: a simple song, which is the secret of י (yod); a double song, which is the secret of יָהּ (Yah); a triple song, יהו (yod, he, vav); and, a quadruple song, יהוה (YHWH)” (Zohar 3:222b–227a, Ra’aya Meheimna Pineas).

And as you come into town there, you shall encounter a band of prophets coming down from the high place, preceded by harp and drum and flute and lyre, and they will be speaking in ecstasy. And the spirit of YHWH shall seize you, and you shall go into ecstasy with them and you shall turn into another man (1 Samuel 10:5).

And so, when the spirit of God was upon Saul, David would take up the lyre and play, and Saul would find relief, and it would be well with him, and the evil spirit would turn away from him (1 Samuel 16:23)