LTTN med xp logoHoly Temple Studies:
The Daily Song of theLevitical Choir

by Rabbi Chaim Richman

1996 Light to the Nations, Rabbi Chaim Richman - All Rights Reserved
Reprinted from The Restoration newsletter, September, 1996 (Tishrei, 5757)

Although the Levites sang upon many occasions in the Holy Temple, one of their most important and basic musical tasks was the daily song. Each day, the Levite choir stood atop the platform located in the Court of Israel facing the outer altar, just inside the Nikanor Gates, and sang a special song for that particular day. On the Festivals and New Moon, different songs were sung. All of these songs, with their instrumental arrangements, were performed while the morning and evening wine libations were poured out on the altar by the officiating priests. Thus the Levites accompanied the Divine service of the priests with a service of their own. They complimented each other; in many ways, the Levitical songs were as important a Temple function as the priestly service of the sacrifices itself, for the one could not function without the other. Each day, during the wine libation, the overseer of the choir stood atop one of the horns of the altar and signaled to the Levites “with a kerchief in his hand” to begin their song. At three points in their song, they would pause, when the priests would sound the silver trumpets and all the people in the court prostrated themselves before the Presence of G-d.

The order of the daily songs have a deep significance, and there is a mystical connection which each song had for the particular day it was sung. The Oral Tradition has preserved the listing of the Levitical songs that were sung each day in the Holy Temple, and various commentators and sages have explained some of the connections which can be seen between these songs and the days of the week. (Based on Tamid 7:4)

The Six Week-Day Songs Correspond to the Original Six Days of Creation

On Sunday, the first day of the week, they sang Psalm 24, which begins with “The earth is the L-rd’s, and the fullness thereof.” For Sunday is the first day of creation; on this day G-d acquired heaven and earth for Himself, and established sovereignty over His world.

On Monday, the second day of the week, they sang Psalm 48, which begins with “Great is the L-rd, and highly to be praised in the city of our G-d, in the mountain of His holiness.” It was on this day that the waters were divided, and a firmament was put in place between the upper and lower waters (Gen. 1:6–7). The rabbis explain that this psalm was chosen for this day because G-d departmentalized His creation and reigned over it (see the psalm in its entirety).

On Tuesday, the third day of the week, the Levites sang Psalm 82, beginning with the words “G-d stands in the congregation of G-d; He judges among the judges.” For on this day of creation the dry land became visible. Upon this land, the judges stand to render their decisions. As the sages put it, “G-d caused the land to be revealed through His wisdom, thus preparing the world for His congregation.”

On Wednesday, the fourth day of the week, they sang Psalm 94, which begins with “O L-rd G-d, to whom vengeance belongs; O G-d, to whom vengeance belongs, shine forth!” This was the day wherein the sun, moon and stars were created…and in the future, He will exercise judgment and exact vengeance from those idolaters who worship these heavenly bodies as if they were G-ds themselves.

On Thursday, the fifth day of the week, they sang Psalm 81, beginning with “Sing aloud to G-d our strength: make a joyful noise to the G-d of Jacob.” The living creatures were created on this day, and one who sees these creatures gives praise to their Creator. For truly, when a person perceives the myriad variations and diversity of G-d’s handiwork, he is filled with awe and wonder at His great wisdom.

On Friday, the sixth day of the week, the Levites sang Psalm 93, which begins with “The L-rd reigns, He is clothed in majesty.” Creation was crowned and completed on this day, the last of the original six days of creation. Today man was created, and only he can recognize G-d’s true greatness. Of all the vastness of creation, man alone has the capacity to understand the Creator’s rulership, and accept it upon himself to be the king’s subject.

On the holy Sabbath, the Levites sang “A psalm, a song for the Sabbath day”— psalm 92.

The sages of Israel taught that this psalm is a song for the future, rectified world “the day which is complete Sabbath tranquillity, for everlasting life.”

The Talmud explains this according to a deeper understanding: the world was created with the intention that it was to last for only 6,000 years, and in the 7,000th year it would be destroyed — at which time, only G-d Himself would remain. This mystery is alluded to by Isaiah the prophet (Is. 2:12) as “the L-rd alone shall be exalted on that day.” This song was sung with reference to that Sabbath day, the 7th one thousand-year period…for one day of the Holy One is like a thousand years (Psalms 90:4).

The Six Daily Songs Correspond to Six Thousand Years

The Zohar teaches that every day, the Levites’ song corresponded to that thousand-year period: On Sunday, it stood for the first; on Monday, the second, etc. Thus:

Six Thousand Years of Creation

The first day corresponds to the earth’s first thousand years, when the earth was complete in its “fullness;” this was the time until the flood, when humanity enjoyed the full benefit and pleasure of the earth’s bounty. Therefore the Levites sang “The earth is the L-rd’s, and the fullness thereof.”

On the second day of the week, the Levites sang “Great is the L-rd, and highly to be praised in the city of our G-d, in the mountain of His holiness.” For it was during this historical period that Mount Moriah was chosen by G-d to rest His holy presence amongst mankind forever.

The third day’s song was “G-d stands in the congregation of G-d; He judges among the judges.” For it was in the world’s third thousand-year period that G-d presented the Torah to Israel, and rested the Divine Presence in their midst.

On the fourth day the Levites sang “O L-rd G-d, to whom vengeance belongs; O G-d, to whom vengeance belongs, shine forth!” For this day corresponds to the epoch when the Temple was destroyed, and the Holy One has vowed to bring His vengeance against those who were responsible.

The fifth day’s song was “Sing aloud to G-d our strength: make a joyful noise to the G-d of Jacob.” For during this entire thousand years, Israel was without the Holy Temple; no means of serving G-d remains for her save singing.

On the sixth day, G-d alone will reign, and the kingdom will be His. And the holy Sabbath which is sanctified by G-d and sacred to Israel is an allusion to the 7,000th year—the future rectified world.

These songs, and the lore surrounding them, deserve to be examined in greater detail, for they constitute an entire treatise for study in their own right. While this is not the place for such a treatment, we can already sense that they are replete with meaning and significance, and that each song is inexorably connected to its corresponding day by an intricate web of thought and symbolism.

A Prophecy For Our Times

On this note, it is fitting that we ponder one particular Midrashic teaching that deserves our attention.

According to tradition, the Second Holy Temple, like the first, was destroyed at the conclusion of the Shabbat — on Saturday night. Both Josephus and the Midrashic writings describe how even though the flames of destruction raged all around, and the blood of the slain flowed through the Temple, the priests nevertheless continued to serve atop the altar, and the Levites did not cease to sing, right up until the very end.

Yet despite the fact that the actual destruction of the Holy Temple took place on a Saturday night, the Midrash records that at those moments the Levites sang the song for Wednesday— “O L-rd G-d, to whom vengeance belongs; O G-d, to whom vengeance belongs, shine forth!” Why did they not sing the song for that day of the week, which was Saturday?

Now according to the insight from the Zohar which we have quoted above, we can understand that the Levites were addressing their song to the destruction itself, and consoling Israel by reminding her that G-d has sworn vengeance against His enemies. In this context perhaps their song was even meant to “remind” G-d to keep His word, and to “shine forth” at the proper time, to manifest Himself in the garb of Divine vengeance.

But now that we have examined the close relationship between each day of the week and its respective song, perhaps we can shed new light on this perplexing question…based on our own contemporary knowledge, and the wisdom and experience that we have acquired from hindsight in our own times. For although the sages of yore were great and inspired, we in our own generation, are privy to new understanding to which those great men had no access; in short, we have new evidence.

For on that fateful evening of destruction, it is true that the priests and Levites consoled each other and all of Israel with the knowledge that G-d will avenge His honor; perhaps their song summarized the entire epoch. It is certainly possible that they chose to remind the Holy One of His own vow, as well.

But while all of these explanations are acceptable, it is also quite possible that as the Levites stood atop the platform in that place of sublime inspiration and holiness for the last time, all of a moment they received the most profound flash of prophetic revelation

And they prophesied, seeing with perfect clarity of vision, that although the terrible destruction now loomed all around them on this Saturday evening, the continuation of their service would most certainly come about as well. The day would come when the Holy Temple would be rebuilt. Though it may be far off in the distance, it would certainly transpire, for it is a Divine promise…

At that moment they could see that it would truly come to be. The rebuilding would happen, very slowly and in stages, one step at a time. For like the morning dawn, “such is the way of Israel’s redemption. In the beginning, it progresses very slowly…but as it continues, it grows brighter and brighter” (JT Berakhot 1:1).

So too, the Levites perceived that the long process of Israel’s redemption, hinging on the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, would begin again on a Wednesday…thus they sang the song of Wednesday, for they sang not of destruction, or revenge, but of the promise of continuation, renewal and rebirth: They saw that Jerusalem and the Temple Mount would stand desolate for nearly two millennia…but they would be regathered by Israel once again on a Wednesday: Wednesday, June 7th, 1967 was the day they saw, and perhaps this day could be considered the first step towards the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. For this day marked a turning point in Jewish history, and began a new era, which progresses in our own time, and moves towards the great destiny of the Jewish people, to be a light to the nations and a people who walk with G-d in their midst.