Monday, April 03, 2006

Az Yashir, Another Kabalah Custom Gone Wrong?

One of the most common and troublesome customs based upon kabalah is the addition of verses and targum to אז ישיר.

Everyday, at the end of pesuki de’zimra we recite az yashir. However, we for one, don’t start at the beginning of the shira. The beginning is at the verse that starts ויהי באשמורות הבוקר we begin at the אז ישיר. Secondly, we don’t end at the end of the shira either. Instead, we add either 4 or 6 verses at the end.

The threshold question is why was this change effected? Rashi, R. Shlomo Yitzhaki (1040-1105) in his Sefer haPardes (p. 321) explains, “Whenever we finish anything we end by reciting the verse twice [the end of tehillim, for example] for this reason we double the verse of ה' ימלוך the reason being that really the entire parsha of the shira that is, from ויהי באשמורות הבקר has 18 mentions of gods name. Every name has 4 letters thus forming the 72 letter name of god. The רשאונים, the early ones, enacted that we recite the shira everyday to remember this great miracle . However, we only recite the important or ikar portion thus we start from az yashir. We are therefore lacking 4 mentions of gods name. Therefore we repeat the verse twice and add the four verses afterwards. The last verse’s mention of God’s name does not count as it is future tense.” Thus, according to this passage, we now understand why it is we add the four verses at the end and repeat the verse and why we left out the first four verses. There are many other rishonim that offer similar explanations for this.[1]

Importantly, according to Rashi, the end of the Shira is at ה' ימלוך thus he repeats that verse. It is also clear that he did not say the verse that follows, כי בא סוס as a) he would not have repeated ה' ימלוך as it would not have been the end and b) because there is a mention of God’s name in that verse and thus we would have too many mentions and therefore we lose the numerology as we do not get the 72 letter name.

The many רשונים follow this understand and thus end the שירה and the daily recitation of אז ישיר at ה' ימלוך. In fact, early Ashkenazi Siddurim all end at ה' ימלוך. For example, the earliest printed siddur in Prague, 1513 does that. As does the סידור of R. Shabbti Sofer, first published in the mid-16th century, who was considered the סידור for his time, has the same reading.[2] The Rama, R. Moshe Isserles (1525-1572) in his מפה also cites the custom of repeating ה' ימלוך. Thus, up until the late 16th century we were only repeating ה' ימלוך and not saying כי בא. However, two people changed that. The first was the ארי"זל and the second was R. Yakkov Emden. The R. Avrahom Gombiner (1635-1682), in his commentary the מגן אברהם, (who cites numerous customs from the ארי), on the comments of the רמ"א previously mentioned, states that the ארי said the verse of כי בא after he repeated ה' ימלוך. R. Gombiner does not offer any explanation as to why theארי did so. However, R. Shmuel Kelin (1720-1806), in his מחצית השקל a super-commentary on the מגן אברהם, does offer an explanation. Before we look at his explanation we need to look at one other source for proper background.

The רמב"ן in his commentary on the Torah on the verse of כי בא, notes that although some hold that כי בא is part of the שירה he holds it is not.[3] Some may be questioning why this all matters. However, it is actually quite important. The rule is that in order for a ספר תורה to be כשר the שירה portion must be written in a specific manner. That is called ריח על גבי לבינה or as brickwork. One writes words then leaves a space and then directly underneath that space one writes the next line and so forth. Thus, according to Rashi, and those other cited by רמב"ן one cannot write the verse of כי בא in the שירה format. And according to רמב"ן one MUST write it in the שירה format.

It would appear that in deciding whether to say or not to say כי בא would depend on how our ספר תורה is written.

Getting back to the מחיצת השקל, he argues this very point. He states that the reason that the מגן אברהם and the ארי said to recite כי בא is for the sake of consistency as in our ספרי תורה we include it in the שירה4 However, there is a difficulty with this position or understanding of both the מגן אברהם and the ארי. As both are still advocating repeating ה' ימלוך but also saying כי בא which as we discussed disrupts the numerology and also, if you include כי בא, it makes little sense in repeating ה' ימלוך as it is no longer the end. Because of these questions some commentators note that R. Hayyim Yosef David Azulai (HIDA), the well-known bibliographer, stated that many statements attributed to the ארי are not actually from the ארי. These commentators claim that this is one of those statements that can not be relied upon.[5]

R. Yakov Emden (1698-1776) published his own edition of the siddur. This siddur included both a commentary and notes on the נוסח. 6 He had many alteration in the נוסח. However, his commentary became very popular and was reprinted numerous times. But in these reprints instead of using his נוסח they would put his commentary and notes on the bottom of a regular סידור 7 Thus, one could read in the bottom “don’t say such and such” and on the top you would have that very thing. In regards to the אז ישיר issue, R. Emden notes that his father, the חכם צבי, only said ה' ימלוך once and he included כי בא as because that is how it appears in our תורה. This, of course, works with the numerology, the מסורה, and the correct ending of the שירה. [In the new edition of R. Emden’s siddur which was supposed to utilize his נוסח and correct all the years of neglect, does not correct his error, nor many others. Instead it includes the double recitation and the תרגום and כי בא.]

In truth, it was not clear how we should write our תורה. For instance, the noted Mesora scholar and משומד– Jewish convert to Christianity, Christian David Ginsburg in his edition of the Tanach which is based upon over 70 manuscripts and 19 of the earliest printed editions does not include כי בא. In fact, numerous manuscripts, mainly of Italian or Sefardic origin, which as a side note are generally not considered מידויק , have only up to ה' ימלוך. For us, however, the Rambam includes כי בא in the שירה. Furthermore, the oldest complete and מדויק manuscript, the Leningrad Codex which is very similar to the Allepo Codex which the Rambam based his תורה on has כי בא as part of the שירה.8

For us, as is apparent by looking at any תורה today, we all include כי בא as part of the שירה thus, if we wanted to be consistent we would only say ה' ימלוך once and include כי בא.

In conclusion, the purpose of this was not for anyone to change what their current custom may be, as has been demonstrated there is authority for all practices. Instead, I think that this discussion is demonstrative of how complex and nuanced the תפילות are. If this one verse has so much behind it, there are treasure troves of complexity throughout the סידור.


1] See e.g. from the school of Rashi, Machzor Vitri, 2004, p. 10; see also אבודרהם , אורחת חיים.

[2 See also סדור תפילות כמנחג אשכנז, Hanover, 1616; סדר תפילות לכל השנה כמנהג אשכנז ופולין, Frankfort 1691 available at

3] The Ibn Ezra and Rasbam hold that is part and the Ramban and Rashi hold it is not.

4] R. Kelin argues that if one wants to repeat any verse, according to the Ari, one should repeat the verse of כי בא as that is the end.

5] For more on the Ari’s writings and the transmission of those writings, see R. Hillel, כתבוני לדורות.

[6 This was published in 1745-1747.

7] This edition was known as סידור בית יעקב, the original was called עמודי שמים.

[8 Although, there is some discrepancy on this point in the manuscripts of the Rambam. That is, the manuscripts mainly from אשכנז do not include כי בא which would be in agreement with Rashi and the Ramban. However, many of the Rambam’s manuscripts do include כי בא, especially of note is the signed copy of the יד which includes it. See Jordan Penkower, עדות חדש בנוסח כתר ארם צובא chapter 3.

1 comment:

Fred said...

<span>What I am not following is why they work to have 18 mentions to x4 and get an allusion to the 72 Letter name</span>
<span>when the siddur could have backed up to 14:19-21 and added the real name to davening. Does anyone ask this?</span>

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