Jammin’ With The Torah?

By Ron Benvenisti. [Audio below]  Truth be told, my formative experience with Information Technology was with the Apple II computer introduced in 1982, writing assembly code that would create synthesized sound. Today that technology has exploded to revolutionize the music production industry and can be had for less than $100 in many electronic digital instruments and literally recreates a quarter of a million dollars of studio production equipment for less than $2000. In this article I want to focus on the shidduch between music and technology and how the basic premise of that started with the measurements of the Shnei Luchot Habrit (the Two Tablets of the Covenant received by Moshe Rabbenu accompanied by the sound of the Shofar).

Before I elaborate on my research and experiments using computers to arrive at some outstanding conclusions, I would like to discuss the Torah perspective on music.

In an essay entitled “Omek Simchas Purim – Zamru Maskil” that was published in “Mevakshei Torah”, Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon quotes R’Shlomo Alkabetz, the author of Lecha Dodi in Manos Levi on Megillah, R’ Alkavetz asks: Why didn’t Achashveirosh provide any temptations for the sense of hearing at the party described in the beginning of Megilas Esther? He provided temptations for all of the other senses; smell – scents from the garden; sight – beautiful tapestries to see; touch; luxurious gold and silver beds; and taste – “Yayn malchus rav.” Why didn’t he provide music to tempt the sense of hearing?

R’ Shlomo Alkabetz explains that a song is tremendously powerful. It can raise man’s soul to dveykus; the angels communicate through shira; the nigun is the language of heaven. He writes that’s why babies feel comfortable when we sing to them, because it reminds their neshamos of shamayim where they were just recently listening to the angel’s shira.

Based on this, he answers that Achashveirosh’s intention at the party was to use the senses to entice the Jews to sin, and he was afraid to have music at the party because then they might have been spiritually uplifted by the music, enabling them to transcend their surroundings and avoid succumbing to temptation.

Rav Salomon Shlita asks: The Nesivos (in Megilas Sesarim) explains that Achashveirosh’s intent was that each thing would incur a direct violation, for example, he had zonos there to tempt the people, so why didn’t he have musician’s playing tumadig music? We all know the power of music in being moshech people to ta’avah.

To answer, he quotes “Zaken Echad” (based on Radak) who says that we’ll never totally understand Tehillim until we understand the musical instructions and instruments assigned to each piece. The power of a nigun is to add “hesber v’havana b’dakus hadevarim.” To this point, the Meiri explains the pasuk of “Zamru maskil”; that singing gives insight. However, it only gives insight, or is meorer that which is hidden in our hearts and souls. In other words, R’ Salomon feels, a nigun is neither tameh or kadosh, rather the tune is meorer what’s in one’s heart. Even if a given tune is meorer some to ta’avah, nevertheless, the same tune can bring an Ish Kodesh to dveykus.

This answers R’ Salomon’s question. Achashveirosh didn’t have music at the party because he knew that it’s possible to find the kedusha in any melody, so the music might actually have had the opposite effect of inspiring the Jews to do teshuva.

The obvious conclusion – even coarse secular music – presumably what Achashveirosh would have had playing – can be used to grow spiritually.

Incidentally, in this essay, HaRav Salomon protests today’s Jewish pop music. He says that it’s commercial—designed to hook people and get them into it. He says that the “star” mentality of promoting the individual entertainers is abhorrent and that certainly most of them aren’t worthy of being role models! But that’s another discussion altogether.

The Gemara speaks of the songs of the Levi’im, Bnei Asaf in particular, whether it was me’akev or not on certain Korbanot in the Mikdash. (Eirachin 11a) (Rambam Hilchot Klei HaMikdash 3:2, 3, 5, 8) (Succah 50b) for example.

Music was instrumental (pun intended) for attaining nevu’ah. See the story of Elisha (Melachim B 3:16) or the story of Shaul with David (Shmuel A 16:23). Also see R. Chaim Vital (Sha’arei Kedusha, Sha’ar 4) and Rambam (Yesodei Hatorah 7:4)

The Nevi’im always had in front of them a tambourine and a flute, since it was only because of the music that they were able to attain nevu’ah.

Shabbat 30b states that the shechina rests only on a person who is of joyous heart. The pasuk of Elisha, mentioned above, is cited as proof of this point. Music is what puts a person in a joyous mood. Rashi in Devarim, also discusses this point. In fact, without music B’nai Yisroel would not have succeeded in being Mekabel Torah at all.

Yehuda Ha’Levi, in Kuzari – Ma’amar Sheni 4:5 states that music is a fundamental part of Judaism. The division of song and learning is an important one. It was therefore bestowed upon B’nei Levi to learn how to play music in the mikdash. And this was a respected and honored endeavor for all mankind, since it was responsible for uplifting souls, and it can change a person’s attitudes or feelings at any time.

In the Midrash Rabbah on Va’yetze it is related that when Ya’akov was working for Lavan for 22 years, he was unaffected by Lavan the Rasha, since Ya’akov was singing Shirei Hallel to Hashem.

Everyday we say in davening in Tehillim 100:2: “Ivdu et Hashem B’simcha Bo’u L’fanav B’ranana”

In Likutei Moharan – 63, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov talks about two types of Nigunim: one is the kedusha of Eretz Yisrael, and one is the tummah of other lands. Ya’akov Avinu accompanied his children to Mizrayim with a nigun of Eretz Yisrael and this protected them throughout their stay, however the “nigunim” of other lands cause one to be involved and sin during Arayot!

The Maharal in Netzach Yisroel 52 says, “A person needs to have song and to sing in order to be shalaim.”

I could go on and on but I want to quote what is perhaps the most pivotal statement to this article, the Midrash of Otiyot Shel Rabbi Akiva where the Hashem says; “If it were not for the songs that they sing (the letters) before me each day, I would not have created the world.”

Which brings me to the Ikkar of this article: The Chumash describes the measurements of the Holy Ark (which held the Tablets) in Shemot 37:1 as being 2.5 (= 10 * 0.25) cubits long, and 1.5 (= 6 * 0.25) cubits wide, 10 by 6 quarter-cubits. There is room in the ark for the two tablets of 6 by 4 quarter-cubits each, with 6 by 2 quarter-cubits left empty. When the dimensions of the Luchot are divided by two (2 by 3 half cubits) the diagonals form right triangles of 3 by 4 by 5, which intersect to form 4 isosceles triangles. Also see the Gemara (Nedarim 38a). Furthermore each tablet is inscribed with 10 by 15 letter-units, and one letter-unit thick, so that it consists of 150 cubic letter-units. Since 15 units match the 1.5 cubits width of the Ark, the absolute measurements in cubits, one letter-unit being one tenth of a cubit which is known as a Peka. This renders the Tablets of the Law as one cubit wide, 1.5 cubits high, and one tenth of a cubit thick. This leaves room for one hand between the Tablets, between the stones themselves and the wood on either side, adding up to three handbreadths or half a cubit, which is necessary for handling the tablets. I know this gets complicated but the mathematics and geometry set the stage for establishing the 12 tone musical scale.

The classical Hebrew lyre (Kinor) was a rectangle, which had 10 strings according to Josephus Flavius, just like the Ten Commandments were written on the Tablets of the Law in 10 vertical columns and therefore 15 horizontal lines on every tablet, resulting in 150 squares of one tenth of a cubit each. The musical relevance is hinted at by the musical note B, which is a semitone below C and generally defined as 8/15 of the length of a string, while the C above is half the string or 7.5/15. 15 is the common denominator of the frequency ratios if we continue along the frequencies we get the upper tetra chord of a musical Octave, adding the note A = 9/15 = 3/5 and G = 10/15 = 2/3. Continuing along these lines the entire 12 tone scale is derived from the measurements of the Luchot!

(The discovery of the musical scale is attributed to Pythagoras who lived from 570 to 495 BCE but the Luchot were given to Moses in the Hebrew year 2448 or 1313 BCE!)

For some reason, our Mystical teachings only account for only seven of the twelve tones as in the well known Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti (Do, etc.) Each note, according to Mesorah, corresponding to the 22 letters of the Alef-Bet, thus encompassing three octaves with the last and highest note being Tav which our Holy Mystics considered indicative of the World to Come. (See “Music and Kabbalah” by Rabbi Matityahu Glazerson).

Now here comes my Chiddush on the matter. The Kabbalah only accounts for the three octaves based on the seven tones, but really there are twelve tones in the scale. With the advent of Torah Codes derived from letter skips I have employed the same methodology to derive music from the Hebrew texts of Chumash, Navi and Tehillim. The Torah Code methodology has the endorsement the renowned Jerusalem Posek and Rov, Rav Shlomo Fisher. In addition to his own 1989 Psak Din stating that “it is a Mitzvah to teach Codes,” Rabbi Fisher recently issued a public letter wherein he states that he met with Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Zt’l. He testifies that Harav Auerbach not only gave his unequivocal approval of the Codes research but also strongly encouraged the use of this material in Kiruv Rechokim efforts.

Numerous prominent Roshei Yeshiva and Rabbonim have personally sat through Codes presentations at Discovery seminars and have gone on record in supporting the use of Codes are Rav Yaakov Weinberg, Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky, Rav Moshe Heinemann, and Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan. In fact Mr. Harold Gans, a former senior cryptologic mathematician with the United States’ National Security Agency for twenty-eight years, has had a number of long discussions about the Codes with Rav Moshe Heinemann. Despite the recent controversy surrounding the topic, Rav Heinemann remains emphatic in characterizing the Codes as “absolutely part of our Mesorah, and a Kiddush Hashem to teach.

Having said that, let me continue about the Kabbalists using only seven of the twelve notes in the scale. It maps perfectly to the Alef-Bet which form the three octaves encompassing twenty-one notes (each octave representing 2000 years of the 6000 years of creation – as explained in the Gemara in Avodah Zara, 9a: “Tannah D’vai Elihayu, “6000 years is the length of time of this earth, afterwards it will be destroyed”. This is divided into “Two Thousand Years of Chaos”, “Two Thousand Years of Torah”, and “Two Thousand Years of the Days of Messiah”; with the Tav representing the Post-Messianic Era.

Applying computer software to analyze the plain text, assigning each note to its corresponding letter in the Alef-Bet I was able to obtain melodies from various Perachim in Tanach. Unfortunately they were melodies that were dissonant, harsh and very unmusical to the human ear. This puzzled me for many years. Since the Torah is written for humans, how could it be that my application yielded such terrible sounding music? After all the Torah Codes revealed much astounding information. Not only that but how dare I question our Holy Sages, especially the masters of the Kabbalah.

Nevertheless I felt something was missing. It gnawed at me. The seven “white keys” do not encompass the basis of our Chazzanut or Nigunim, the twelve tones needed to obtain the backbone of our traditional music: The “Ahavah Rabbah”, the “Hashem Malach” and the “Magen Avos” modes.

One night, about six years ago I awoke in the middle of the night with the five Sofit letters burning in my mind. These are the letters that mysteriously sweeten the Judgment in the days of the Mashiach. Then it dawned on me that those letters were not mapped to the notes included in the Mesorah!

I immediately went into my studio and assigned those five letters to the missing notes of the twelve tones that make up the octave and reprogrammed the software. I ran it on a 42 letter skip on Bereshit (according to a tradition from Rabbenu Bachya implied in the Rashi on Bereshit 1.1) and there it came out of the monitors, a real listenable if not awesome melody. Soon I arranged the melody into some instrumentation and time signature and nearly fainted at the results. I was up the whole night plugging in Pesukim from Navi and Tehillim, quickly arranging the melodies with harmony and instrumentation that I felt expressed the melodies that the Pesukim revealed. I was literally trembling with every result.

I offer the reader two samples which I feel appropriate to this time of year where we say “Hashem is in the voice of the Shofar”. We will soon be starting Bereshit and experience the elation of having our sins cleared on Yom Kippur and the joy of Succoth climaxing in Shemini Atzeret. Here are two MP3’s, one of Bereshit and another of Psalm 1 “Ashrei Ha Ish.” Each track is totally digital and uses synthesized instruments only so there is no issur. I hope you enjoy them. I made a presentation which I gave in the Strand gallery, where mostly Gentiles showed up and they were astounded. When I gave it at the Lakewood Courtyard (twice) people were in tears of joy. Chasdei Hashem.

If you want to dance, as a bonus I’m including my arrangement of the traditional Shir HaMaalos (I’m playing all the parts on a one-man band keyboard! Enjoy!

May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a year of sweet blessings, including the imminent arrival of Mashiach Tzidkenu.



Shir Hamaalos

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  1. I’m afraid we are mixing in to something meant to be hidden. As much research as was done, this is just conjecture much like the search for Techailis. IY”H when Moshiach comes, we will have all the answers but in the meantime, we will have remain curious and let our curiousity fuel our yearning for the Melech HaMoshiach to arrive.

  2. @1

    Agreed regarding Mashiach. Shall ewe wait til then to be Me’Sameach? There is no issur here and the facts and methodology are solid.

    I admit this is a new twist from the music angle but please do the research if you like, can’t be done in 5 minutes. See the sources quoted.

    While somethings are meant to be hidden (until there proper time) this is NOT meant to be hidden at this time.

    Again, please review the approbations and references in the article and if you wish advise them as to your findings.

    As Chazal say, “teach wisdom to the wise”. In the meantime until Melech HaMashiach arrives we are commanded to act and anticipate with song and joy to expedite his coming. May it be today!

    Relax and enjoy and hopefully be inspired by the music. The Torah has many facets according to Mesorah this music is undoubtedly one of them. The works of the Almighty are meant to be expounded in any Kosher manner, Mesameach Lev and as a Kiddush Hashem.

  3. I don’t know where you got your measurements for the Luchos. Chazal tell us that the luchos were made from a stone cube of one Amah on a side, split in half so each tablet was one Amah by one Amah and half an Amah thick.

    As far as the music….I don’t think Dovid Hamelech was into that jazzy, swingy stuff 🙂

  4. @4

    No problems. An Amah is a “sacred” cubit… however:

    The size of the cubits used in the Temple vessels, as opposed to in the basic structure, of the Temple differ. See the Gemara in Eruvin 4a, 4b; Succah 5b, 6b.

    That jazzy swingy stuff is only a vessel for the derivative melody. If you want I can make you any kind of version from classical to Yeshivishe!!!

  5. @6

    I know. Just as I finished my first “professional installation” in a studio in Crown Heights in 1985 – I think – (of a well known Frum musician and band leader). The phone rang and it was Rabbi Krinsky telling me that the Rebbe wanted me to record a completely electronic version of “Dedan Netzach”. That was the first composition produced on the new system!!! Rabbi Krinsky said the Rebbe wanted the tape that same day! I delivered it to 770 a couple of hours later. It was weird, that wasn’t the first time I was called to do some artistic project for him.

    I went to a Farbrengen at 770 soon after that and I almost fainted when I heard it over the huge sound system. I asked one of the Hasidim, what’s up with the music? He told me that’s what the Rebbe wants playing before he arrives and when he comes in. I din’t know whether to cringe or laugh!!!!!!

  6. I would love to hear the notes (melody only, no harmony, equal value to each note) without stressing any notes. As much as I’m sure your interpretation is creative, I’d like to hear the bare-bones melody only and supply the harmony in my mind.


  7. Ron:
    With more time to reflect, I have been wondering: When you assigned the five Sofiot to the black keys, which scale were you working with? Major, minor (whether harmonic or melodic, freygish? Or perhaps, more intuitively, chromatic?

    Buft if it’s chromatic, where would the sofiot be? At the end of the scale? Or would each appear after its non-sofit?

    Most of all, it occurs to me that there might be a relation between the vowels and the value of each note. For instance, a Chirik would perhaps have a low value, a Tzeireh a higher value. A Kamatz would have a value less than a Patach, and so on. THere would be a value for triplets, I suppose.

    Moreover, the space between words perhaps would be a rest. Of course, rests have values as well and I have yet to see a punctuated rest!

    Finally, the trop should really be represented as well. Maybe the trop would indicate dynamics, such as piano vs forte, or legato vs. staccato?

    This could lead somewhere intriguing!

  8. Dear Menagen,

    I assigned the Sofiot, in order to the 5 accidentals in the diatonic scale thus encompassing all 12 tones of the octave creating chromatic steps. Now with all 12 tones accounted for and included all modes and scales are possible raher than just a C Major scale or A Minor scale. (As you know).

    I’m so glad you brought up the questions of nekudot, trop, rests and time signatures. I am still trying to figure out how those fit in with the Otiot code techniques. I would love to hear your ideas. Perhaps we can take this to another Madrega.

    Thanks for your input. I hope you will contact me off-line. TLS has my contact info, or you can click on “E-mail Ron” on the http://soundassets.com site. Again thank you so much for your great comments.

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