Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Music and Kabbalah

The musical scale is made up of seven notes: do; re; mi; fa; so; la; ti.  These notes are then repeated on a higher scale, then again on a higher scale "ad infinitum." Each seven note scale is equal to one cycle. In Judaism, the number seven is significant for several reasons. One is that there are seven Kabbalistic spheres (sefirot) each of which corresponds to one week of the Omer, which is itself seven weeks of seven days each, from Pesach to Shavuoth: Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet is parallel to a different note of the scale, and hence to the appropriate sphere. Each sphere has its own position being either to the right, left or middle. Therefore the corresponding letters of the alphabet, and notes of the scale are in the same position as its complementary sphere.

The letter alef א, and the note "do," both being first, are parallel to the sphere chesed. loving-kindness and are positioned accordingly on the right. The bet ב, and the "re" are parallel to gevurah, strength on the left, the gimel ג and the "mi" to tipheret, beauty, which is placed in the middle and as such represents balance and harmony. Further, the letter daled ד and the note "fa," corresponds to  netzach, eternity on the right; and "so" equal to hehה  hod, glory on the left; "la" is vuv ו yesod, foundation in the middle; and "ti" zayin ז malchut, kingdom also in the middle.  The notes then continue on a higher octave and the alphabet continues accordingly; het ח equal to do; tet ט to re; and so on.  Hence, each letter of the alphabet relates to a different sphere and is in a specific position.

It is interesting to note that the difference between the major key and the minor key is explained through the build up of the notes in the key. In the minor key the middle tones (i.e., the "mi" and the "la") are nearer to the left side (being only a semitone away) which is the side representing the heart.

The Hebrew words for the three positions of the spheres are emtza, middle, yemin, right; and smol, left.  If we take the initials of these words, it spells the word ish, man.  Ish has the connotation of the perfect man; for example Moshe is called ish HaElokim, "man of G-d": Deuteronomy 33:1, also see Psalms 90:1, Samuel 2:27, 9:6; Kings I 12:22; 31:1; Kings II 1:13, 4:9; Nehemiah 12:24; Chronicles II 25:7.  Consequently, we see that when the middle, right, and left are together they form a perfect combination.

The spheres also represent midot, Divine attributes, through which we understand Hashem's actions and creations.  In astrology, the seven midot that we have seen are parallel to the seven mazalot, celestial bodies (see chart below).  Jupiter is parallel to chesed, the first sphere, on the right, and to the letter alef; Mars corresponds to gevura, the second sphere on the left, and to bet; the Sun to tipheret in the middle and to gimel; Venus to netzach and to daled; Mercury to hod and to heh; the Moon to yesod and to vuv; and the Earth to malchut and to zayin.

According to the Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato) in his book Adir BaMarom (page 40) the planets are moved by musical waves. These are his words: "All those things above are carried out by music and all the luminaries, when they go out from their source, are motivated by music."  Each planet has its music.  It is interesting to note that recently in the United States they discovered that each planet produces different melodies.  As has been seen, according to the Ramchal, it is really the music itself which effects and hence moves the planets.  The Zohar (Exodus, Parshat Sh'lach) says that the constellations themselves create music.  According to the Zohar (Exodus, VaYakel) the music of the sun is so wonderful that if the ears of man would not be blocked then he would be capable of hearing this music.  He would, however, not be able to exist as his soul would leave his body.  The Rambam, in his book "The Guide for the Perplexed" (part two, chapter 8), also mentions this and other theories of how the stars create different sounds

The major key is the plan of the cycle of the nineteen years which contain seven leap years.  The seven leap years occur on the third, the sixth, the eighth, the eleventh, the fourteenth, the seventeenth and the nineteenth years respectively.  Observing the order of these years one can notice that they follow the same sequence as the intervals between the notes (or tones) in the major key, for example two years correspond to one tone, for example between the "do" and the "re" there is a "full space", a tone.  When there is only one year difference this relates to the semi-tone, for example the space between the "mi" and the "fa."

The seven-note-letter cycle is also parallel to the seven Shepherds of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Josef, and David.  This order follows that in which they are led as guests into the succah on the seven days of the festival of Succot.  Hence Abraham, whose attribute was chesed is the first, corresponding to the "do" and the sphere of chesed, loving-kindness, Josef, whose attribute was tzidkut, righteousness, is the sixth, parallel to the "la" and the sphere of yesod. " the sixth letter, also represents the zaddik; righteous man, since it stands for a straight line between heaven and earth.  This helps us understand the verse in Proverbs (10:25): "The righteous one is the foundation of the world."  Indeed, when a violinist tunes his instrument, he tunes it to the sixth note, "la", which as we have seen represents "foundation."

The last note of the scale, the "ti," corresponds to the seventh letter of the alphabet, zayin, and to the Shabbat, the seventh day of the week.  These are parallel to the attribute of malchui, kingdom, as Shabbat attests to Hashem's kingdom on earth.  The Jewish People by keeping Shabbat properly, testify to the fact that Hashem created the world in seven days.  This is one reason why one who keeps Shabbat is regarded as though he kept all the mitzvot (Shemot Raba, end Parsha 25; Talmud Yerushalmi Brachot 9a, Chap 1, law 5).

The alphabet continues above zayin as the notes continue on a higher scale.  The scale is repeated for a third time to complete the alphabet, the first seven notes consist of the letters from alef to zayin, the second from chet to nun, and the last scale from samech to shin. The letter tuv is not represented as it is one above the number seven, representing the number 8.

In the second scale, the same principles apply.  The chet which stands for chayim, life, signifies the note "do" in a higher key, and the attribute, chesed, and hence is on the right. The tet stands for tahara; purity, which is analogous to "re", and gevura; and so is on the left.  The yud matches "mi", and tipheret and is in the middle, etc.  We see then that the second scale is of a similar structure to the first.

The last seven letters forming the third scale are constructed in the same manner (see the chart above).  The book Hafla'a of the Baal HaKane says that exactly the same insight and erudition which applies to connecting letters into words, applies to connecting notes into song.

The Tikunei Zohar mentions three things that music effects: the Torah; the Shechina (the Divine Glory), and the Geula (redemption).  These three things in turn are parallel to the mind, heart, and body, respectively.  Firstly, the Torah represents the moach, the mind, brain.  This is because music has the power to open one's mind and improve one's seich'l, mind.  In his book, Pirkei Hatzlacha, the Rambam writes that if a man wants to feel elevated he should sing.  Singing has the prepotency to elevate a man as it opens his mind.  The Talmud says that one should learn Torah with (a tune) music as this aids one's studies.  Hence, one can frequently hear men learning in a sing-song manner in yeshivot.

Next, the Shechina represents the lev, heart.  Similarly, the Beit Haidikdash; the Temple, represents the heart.  The ancient Levites and prophets used music to bring down the Shechina upon them.

Thirdly, the Geula; represents the kaved. liver, which itself represents the guf, body.  The Jewish people were redeemed with music when Hashem took them out of Egypt as we see in Exodus (14:32): "Then Moshe and the Children of Israel chose to sing this song to G-d."  The Torah does not use the verb shar, sang, but rather yashir, will sing.  Rashi says this means that in Messianic times the righteous Jews who died will be brought back to life and sing again.

This idea is further illustrated in the sequence of the three scales.  The first scale represents the kave, liver.  The middle scale represents the lev, heart, and the third scale the moac, brain.  The first scale elevates the physical body and world into the second higher scale which in turn leads to the third. The order of the daily prayers prescribed in the Jewish siddur, prayer book, progresses in a like manner.  The morning blessings lead into the Pesukey D'Zimra; songs and psalms of praise, which lead into the recitation of the Shema; the declaration of Hashem's unity.  These in turn lead up to, and prepare ones emotions for, the final Shemona Esrei, the eighteen benedictions, which represents the intellect and the perfection of man.

The initials of kaved), lev and moach form the word melech, king, and the word kulam, all.  This indicates that perfection is obtained by unifying these three aspects.  The numerical value (gematria) of melech is 90.  90 is also the value of the letter tzadai which represents the tzaddik, righteous man, who symbolizes purity.  The lower numerical value (found by adding the digits together to obtain one figure) is 9 (90 = 9+0 = 9).  The number 9 represents the highest level, being the highest numeral We can deduce then, that through the unification of these three components, one may realize perfection and fulfilment.
 Judaism and the Hebrew language, the holy tongue, is vast and deep, embracing incomprehensible knowledge of every aspect and sphere of life. One can only scratch the surface, as it were, to realise the depth and beauty of the Divine language and way of life.  There was no way that I could have covered this subject in a single blog post.  It just was meant as a glimpse to its profound beauty and depth.  There is a wonderful book by Rabbi M. Glazerson, called "Music and Kabbala" that touches upon the subject with greater insight.


  1. the vast amount of torah knowledge , and the ability of expresing and combining these ideas is remarkable...tizku l'mitzvot !
    i saw once in a book called :"likutey diburim" that there are 3 levels of pleasure: physical,musical, and intelectual

  2. Beautiful! Interesting note to the comment above. I cannot quote it though, sorry. It has to do with the three things that are problematic in this generation (and others) stadium, theater and music if made in negative fashion. (movies, stadium (sports- meaning to the level it has gone to) and music(the non- jewish affiliated music...interesting that those things are derivatives of physical, musical and intellectual etc.....

  3. we could have pleasure from godliness or impurity at all these levels . the main/central limbs of the body :liver, heart, and brain,are vessels for the 3 lower levels of the soul: nefesh,ruach,neshama.each one corresponds to each level of pleasure (physical, musical,intelectual)

  4. Yes, very true. One must be careful to observe the holiness in these.

  5. Interesting blog on music and Torah. May I share a blog on song in the Zohar?כְ%D6%BCל%D6%B4י-זֶמֶר-kli-zemer-vessel-of-song/