LONGING FOR THE SINGING and A NEW BEGINNING!
Cover page of Kedushas Levi
by Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, 1927 Lublin [Poland] edition. Click to enlarge.
My good friend, Sultan Knish has pointed out some of the many connections between the end of the Torah and its beginning, that we have just experienced at Simchas Torah. I would like to add my share in the following piece, with a eye on the following connections: Simchas Torah, which we just celebrated; the yahrzeit of Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, "Defender of the Jewish People," which is tonight and tomorrow; and Parshas Breishis, our "New Beginning" of the Torah, which we started on Simchas Torah, but we will read in full this coming Shabbos. [Note: because of this, this post will be somewhat longer, and in a few parts.]
* * *
The Baal Shem Tov was once sitting with his Holy Chevraya [closest disciples] discussing lofty matters of Divine Service. Suddenly a huge smile broke out on the Baal Shem's face, and he asked someone to bring a L'Chaim [alcoholic beverage] and some dainties [probably cake or biscuits]. "What's going on?" the disciples wondered.
The master replied, "A great and holy neshama [soul] has just entered the world. This soul will be a great advocate and defender of every Jewish person. So we must celebrate!"
That great soul was none other than that of Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev.
* * *
The great Tzaddikim not only knew when great neshamos were to enter the world; they knew when their own would depart. Right after Yom Kippur of 5570 , Rebbe Levi Yitzchak felt very weak and thought that he would soon breathe his last. Every year on the first night of Sukkos, he could not sleep - in fervent anticipation of the upcoming Mitzva of the Four Species [Arba Minim] that he could perform at daybreak. How could it be that this year, although it is so close to Sukkos, he won't be able to perform this beloved Mitzva?
Aware of this, he implored the Ribono Shel Olam [Master of the World] to let him have one last Sukkos here on earth. Probably because his own life was dedicated to defending the Jewish People from all sorts of accusations and tribulations, his request was granted. He departed from this world on the night of the 25th of Tishrei, two days after the Sukkos-Simchas Torah holidays.
* * *
After his wedding, Rebbe Levi Yitzchak was supported by his father-in-law. Still quite young, he had yet to be known as a tzaddik and a holy man. Nevertheless, on the first Simchas Torah after his wedding, he was honored in his father-in-law's Shul with the recitation of the pasukim of "Ata Horeisa," the verses said right before taking out the Sifrei Torah and dancing with them. He went up to the Amud HaTefilla, the place where the one leading the prayers stands in front of the congregation. There he picked up a tallis [prayer shawl], and was about to put it on and begin the prayers, when he suddenly put it down. He waited a few moments, picked up the tallis once more, and again put it down immediately. This happened a few more times, and the congregation was getting edgy, waiting for him to begin leading the prayers.
Suddenly he cried out, "If you're such a lamdan [learned person] and a Chassid, then you say 'Ata Horeisa.' " With that, he left the Amud and returned to his regular place.
This strange behavior of Rebbe Levi Yitzchak's surprised the entire congregation, and was a source of embarrassment to his father-in-law. Nevertheless, they refrained from asking for an explanation until after all the Hakafos were finished. At that point, his father-in-law could no longer refrain from asking for an explanation.
"When I went up to the Amud," explained the young man, "I was about to put on the tallis and begin saying 'Ata Horeisa,' when the yetzer hara - the evil inclination - came to join me in the recitation of the verses. So I asked him, "And who do you think you are that you should be worthy of this?"
So he responded, "And who are you?"
"Why, I'm a lamdan," I responded. "Me, too," was his retort.
"And where did you learn Shas [Talmud] and Poskim [Jewish Law]? I learned by so and so. But you?"
"Was I not with you all that time? This means that I too learned by these teachers."
So then I said to him, "But I am also a Chassid, I learned from tzaddikim and received a derech [path] in Chassidus from them. From whom did you learn?"
So he replied, "I was with you then as well - I received the same path in Chassidus as you did."
When I saw that he would not leave me alone, and he insisted in saying 'Ata Horeisa' together with me - that's when I left the Amud, telling him, "If you're such a lamdan [learned person] and a Chassid, then you can say 'Ata Horeisa' by yourself!"
* * *
Okay, so what does all of this have to do with Negina and Song? We are at a New Beginning, starting this Shabbos the Torah all over again from Breishis - the Beginning. The word Breishis is given numerous explanations in the Holy Zohar, the Book of Splendor and Jewish mysticism. One of them follows.
"Hashem created a longing for Song in the Creation of Heaven and Earth, so that His creatures should praise and glorify Him as the Creator of all. The Heaven sings before him, as it says [Tehillim 19:2]: 'The Heavens tell of the Glory of G-d.' And the Earths sings, as it says [ibid., 96:2], 'The whole Earth sings to Him.' Furthermore, the entire world longs and rejoices in praising its Creator, upon seeing His wonders in Heaven and Earth. That is the explanation of 'Breishis' - look at the letters and see: Shir Ta'eiv, that is, a longing to Sing - for His wonders in Heaven and on Earth." [Zohar Chadash, 10b].
[בראשית = שי"ר תא"ב]
* * *
In the Baruch She'amar prayer recited every morning, we say, "and with the Songs of Your servant [King] David we praise You, O L-rd our G-d, with praise and Songs." Rebbe Levi Yitzchak explains that Niggunim are Avoda, Divine Service. Indeed, part of the service to G-d performed by the Levites in the Holy Temple was to Sing. Music consists of scales with octaves, with one level above the other. This, says the Kedushas Levi, teaches us how we should serve Hashem: just like there are various levels of Love of Hashem, higher and higher, and Awe of Hashem, one above the other, so it is with Niggunim. So - "with the Songs of your SERVANT" - the Divine Service can be learned through the structure of Music [octaves].
* * *
Finally, Rebbe Levi Yitzchak himself composed niggunim! Thousands of Jews thronged to Berditchev, "to see the light of Rebbe Levi Yitzchak's face, to hear his exultations and Tefillos...His Tefillos and Niggunim spread to the multitudes, and many hearts tremble to them, to this very day." [Eliezer Steinman, Shaar HaChassidus, p. 140].