Introduction to Kabbalat Shabbat Ep.1
Introduction to Kabbalat Shabbat
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
Join Rabbi Fohrman for an in-depth discussion of Kabbalat Shabbat.
Rabbi Fohrman: I wanted to welcome you all. We have a mix of folks here form the Young Israel of Woodmere and from Aleph Beta Land. So welcome to you guys from all. Let me introduce what we're going to be doing here and hopefully this will be the beginning of a series which will continue for a few weeks.
First of all, the topic for this class is going to be an introduction to Kabbalat Shabbat, to the series of psalms that begins with Psalm 95 and continues through Psalm 99, then another Psalm after that. In Kabbalat Shabbat, the prayers we say that introduce Shabbat for us.
This is a series that I've been working on for a while now. I think it started when one long Friday night, as I was listening to the sonorous tones of the local chazan during Kabbalat Shabbat. Having struck a thought about the very first of the Psalms with which the Kabbalat Shabbat begins. Maybe I'll begin by sharing with you that oddity and then we'll go from there. It turned out to be a fascinating rabbit hole to explore. I'm still exploring it, but it's given rise to just a whole bunch of fascinating insights that great meaning to me and so I'm excited to be able to share it with you.
What we're going to be doing over the next few weeks is really taking a deep dive into the beginning of Kabbalat Shabbat, Psalm 95. Which we know as Lechu Neranenah. Maybe I'll begin with the question that struck me as we were singing this Psalm during Kabbalat Shabbat, maybe a year or so ago, or a little bit less. That is the following. If you ever listen to the Kabbalat Shabbat service, they tend to be joyous a lot of times. If you listen to a Carlebach version of a Kabbalat Shabbat service, it's even more joyous. There' s lots of singing. There's lots of dancing. If you stopped and asked somebody to describe, in one word, the emotion that attends Kabbalat Shabbat, I think most people would say joy, or happiness, or peace, or something like that.
What struck me is that if you look at the Psalm that the framers of Kabbalat Shabbat -- I must confess I don't really know the history of Kabbalat Shabbat. My sense is it's not actually that early, it's later, probably Middle Ages at some point. So it's not something which was really framed by Chazal, the Sages of the Midrash, or The Men of the Great Assembly. It doesn't go back in time to the times of the Talmud or anything like that. It's a much later invention.
Nevertheless, however it is, that the ubiquitous minhag, custom, developed in the community of Israel to say Kabbalat Shabbat, to say this collection of Psalms, beginning with Psalm 95. It's a strange custom indeed because the words of the Psalm, at least of Psalm 95, do not seem to fit the emotion. If you take that emotion of joy, of happiness, Psalm 95 seem like it's not really like that. Nominally, you have this notion at the beginning of singing to God, and maybe that's what whoever thought it was a good idea to include this in Kabbalat Shabbat was thinking.
We begin with the words, "Lechu neranenah laHashem." Neranenah is the plural form of, let us sing to God. So it sounds like that's a great way to start Kabbalat Shabbat. We're going to be singing all these songs. Let's come sing to God. But once you get past those three words, "Lechu neranenah laHashem," it's all downhill from there. This Psalm is anything but joyous and it reaches its funhouse mirror climax at the very end of the Psalm. Where if you know something about the tune of Kabbalat Shabbat, the chazan will be singing this beautiful little tune, which will go something like this. Let's see if I can find it here. Here's Psalm 95.
"Arba'im shanah akut b'dor va'omar am to'ei levav hem v'hem lo yad'u derakai. Asher nishba'ati b'api." I'm a little bit off with the tune, "Asher nishba'ati b'api im yevo'un el menuchati." If you just listened to my voice it's like, that's nice, it's wonderful, it's a beautiful song. But the words are not beautiful at all. The words actually express a moment of profound frustration of God with the People of Israel. A tragic moment seemingly borrowed from the Story of the Spies.
The Psalm is saying, "Arba'im shanah," as if the Psalm says, taking up the voice of God. "Arba'im shanah akut b'dor," for 40 years I was provoked, I was needled, by that generation. What's that generation? That generation is the generation of people that came out of Egypt. Almost as if, somehow, the whole generation, that whole lot of people who came out of Egypt who experienced everything. Who experienced the Splitting of the Sea, who experienced the manna, who experienced all those wonderful things, that whole generation.
A generation, which by the way, many of us would've given anything to be a part of. If you imagine yourself sitting here in 2020 thinking about your religious life. So you might say to yourself something like, if only I had lived, or imagine I’m speaking to you from Palo Alto, California, the West Coast. So on the West Coast 400 miles south of me is Disneyland and Universal Studios. So in Universal Studios, I remember from years ago, there's that Charlton Heston moment where you can actually ride the Universal Studios tram through the Parting of the Red Sea, like in the movie The Ten Commandments.
So there you are riding the tram, thinking to yourselves, ah this is glorious but it's all special effects. I wish I would have seen the real thing. Can you imagine what it would be like to see the real thing? If only I had been there. If only I had been able to see the Parting of the Red Sea. If only I had been there for Revelation of Sinai. If only I had been there to taste the manna. All of those wonderful things that the people experienced as they came out of Egypt, then, then I. would be a spiritual person. I would have perfect faith. I would be somebody who would follow God. But here I am, nebach, I live in 2020, there's a pandemic going on; can't really see much of God anywhere; I'm doing my best trying to keep up on Zoom; trying to send the kids to school; trying to wear my mask all day at work and you know it doesn't seem so spiritual. I don't see much of God.
You think it must have been so much easier for that generation. Here you are, reading Psalm 95, reading a summary judgement of what emerges, what the end of that generation ends up being, and it ain't good. Right? Psalm 95, Verse 10, Verse 11, these sonorous words of the chazan. "Arba'im shanah akut b'dor," for 40 years I was provoked, God says, by that generation. That good for nothing generation.
"Va'omar am to'ei levav hem v'hem," they are a senseless people. People of wandering hearts. "Im lo yadu derachai," they have no idea what I'm talking about. They have no idea what My true path is. As if, here's God leading them through the desert, trying to find a path for them, with that pillar of cloud, and the people are just lost. They don't see it. "Asher nishba'ati b'api," to the point where God swears in His anger. "Im yevo'un el menuchati," that that generation will never come to His resting place. His resting place, of course, is the Land of Israel.
What a downer way to start Kabbalat Shabbat. It's almost like if you could imagine any Psalm in the entire book of Psalms not to start Kabbalat Shabbat with, it would be this one. Especially because, what of course would you say is the condition with which we associate Shabbat? What do we do on Shabbat? What we do on Shabbat is that we rest from melachah. The word for rest, of course, is menuchah. We experience rest. Here that's the last word of this Psalm. Almost as if we have a wink and a nod to the idea of Shabbat itself, the day of menuchah. What do we say? Here is this generation, "Asher nishba'ati b'api," about which God swore in His anger, "Im yevo'un el menuchati," that they shall not come to My menuchah. To My place of rest. There's that little illusion to Shabbat.
What Israel is in space, at some level, Shabbat is in time. What is Israel in space? It's God's special place. A resting place where people can commune with God. Where you can go all the way through the desert and finally, you're at rest. As the Torah says, "Ki lo ba'atem ad atah el hamenucah v'el hanachlah." You have not yet come to your resting place your place of inheritance; we say in the Book of Numbers.
One kind or resting place we have in space, and that's the resting place of the land. Another kind of resting place we all have in time. Hence, here's Psalm 95, you can see why the Middle Age architect of Kabbalat Shabbat might have seen some illusions in Lechu Neranenah to Shabbat, from both the beginning and the end of it.
The beginning, "Lechu Neranenah laHshem," come let us sing to God. The theme of the Kabbalat Shabbat song. You can see at the end of Psalm 95 another illusion, the very last words, "Im yev'un el menuchati," if you're coming to My resting place. Everything else in the middle is as anti-climactic as you possibly can imagine. Hence the question, why in the world would we begin Kabbalat Shabbat with this?
That's a really good question. What I'd like to do, to try to answer it, or try to have some understanding of it, is to engage with you, to jump in with you, into an in-depth exploration of all the Psalms of Kabbalat Shabbat, really, but primarily this first Psalm, Psalm 95. We'll be looking at all of them, Psalms 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, then "Hashem lamabul yashav." "Havu laHashem b'nei eilim." We're primarily going to be looking at this Psalm.
Just a final note, by way of introduction, I've previewed some of this material as I was beginning to come up with it, with some of the folks in the Sephard minyan, in the Young Israel. My thoughts have kind of evolved since then, so for those of you who were there you've got a head start. This has gone other places since then and I hope to take you there on this journey, so stick with me if you can.
Let's jump into this Psalm and let me take you into the actual words of Lechu Neranenah for the balance of the time we have left and to that effect I'm going to see if I can share my screen with you.
You should be able to see now, Psalm 95, it's pretty short, only 10 verses long. Let's read it through, I have English on the right and Hebrew on the left. Let's see what we make of it as we go through some of this.
So here we are, let's begin with this question. Let's say, here you are, you're looking at Psalm 95, I'd like to give you a chance to look this over. If you have a Tanach, you can open up your Tanach. You can read it through on your own. One of the techniques which I use a lot in studying Tanach, is a very simple technique which I learned that goes all the way back to Sesame Street. I learned it from my rabbi, in Berkley California, Yosef Leibowitz. I call it, take it apart and put it back together again.
Basically, that technique works, especially in Psalms it's a great technique to use. Where you have a Psalm that you're trying to figure out and the first thing you want to do is to divide it into parts. Then to figure out what the connection between the parts is. Let's do this to Psalm 95. Take a minute just to read these words through by yourself. I'm actually going to give you 20 seconds to do that. I'm going to step out and we can play the Jeopardy music for you. Here you are, you're looking at the Psalm, let's see if I can make this smaller for you.
The question I have for you is if you could take Psalm 95 and break it two, where would you break it? Read this through if you can. Where would you say the division between the beginning of the Psalm and the end of the Psalm is? So what do you guys say? Anyone want to unmute and give me your thoughts on that?
Esther: Yeah. I would say after Verse 5.
Rabbi Fohrman: After Verse 5, Esther says. Okay. Okay, Esther, what title would you give to Verses 1 - 5? What's 1 - 5 about?
Rabbi Fohrman: You're breaking up a little bit. Description of what?
Esther: Yeah. Description of God and singing.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Singing, description of God's greatness. Right?
Rabbi Fohrman: So then if can go to Verse 6, what would you say Verse 6 is about?
Esther: It's telling people what to do.
Rabbi Fohrman: What to do, okay. So a description of God's greatness but in a certain way the first part is also telling people what to do. Look how the --
Esther: That's true.
Rabbi Fohrman: "Lechu Neranenah laHashem." Come let us -- that's telling you what to do. Then, "Bo'u nishtachaveh v'nichra'ah," come let us bow before Him, is also telling people what to do. So maybe we can take Verses 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. All the way through seven, as God is really wonderful, here's what we should do. We should bow before Him. Which means that the first section would end after Verse 7. Then we get Verse 8 - 11. If Verse1 - 7 is what people should do, what would you say Verses 8 - 11 are?
Esther: But Verse 8 is also saying what you should do. Do not be stubborn.
Rabbi Fohrman: It's not quite saying what you should do. It's saying what you shouldn't do. You could argue that that's really the beginning and end of the Psalm. What you should do and what you shouldn't do.
So here's what you shouldn't do. "Al takshu l'vavchem kim'rivah." Don't harden your hearts like Merivah. Like "Yom masah bamidbar." Like what happened at the place called Merivah. Like the day of strife in the desert. The question is, what are we referring to here? "Asher nisuni avoteichem," when your forefathers tested me, "B'chanuni gam ra'u pa'ali," even though they had seen My actions. For 40 years I dealt with that generation and I say that they were a generation of wandering hearts and I swear that they'll never come to My resting place. So this is what you shouldn't do.
Okay. Now given that we have a what you should do, and what you shouldn't do. I wanted to get the point out, sort of begin our deep dive into the Psalm, with an element that actually connects the first half of the song to the second half. What you should do to what you shouldn't do. Okay? That is the following.
Let me ask you this, just looking at the very first verse, this is a hard question, so a free Coke for a correct answer. "Lechu neranenah laHashem nari'ah l'tzur yisheinu." Come let us sing to God. Let us shout joyously to our, it translates here as l'tzur yisheinu, to our Rock and Deliverer. L'tzur yisheinu probably better means to our Delivering Rock. As if God is a rock.
Let me ask you, is there anything about that first verse that reminds you of the second half of the Psalm, what we shouldn't do? "Lechu neranenah laHashem nari'ah l'tzur yisheinu." Come let us sing to God, let us shout out to the Rock of our Salvation. Does it remind you of anything in Verses 8, 9 and 10, which is what you shouldn't do?
Anything about that first verse, "Lechu neranenah laHashem nari'ah l'tzur yisheinu," come let us sing to God, "Nari'ah l'tzur yisheinu," let us shout to the Rock of our Salvation, that reminds you of an element in the second half of the Psalm? Verses 8, 9. 10 or 11.
We'll start the Jeopardy music. We'll give you guys 10 seconds. Let's see what you can find. Anything anybody? Nope. No responses yet. All right I'll tell you what I think. I think, what I'm looking for is this funny word over here. Let me highlight it for you. "Lechu neranenah laHashem nari'ah l'tzur yisheinu." What a strange way to talk about God. God is our rock. God is a rock.
Now let me ask you this, where did the Psalmist even get this idea from? That God is our rock? How do we know that God is our rock? Going back to the Torah itself, going back from Psalms, in the Torah itself do we have anytime where in the Torah God is referred to as our Rock? As the tzur? The answer is, yes, we do. When do we have God referred to as tzur? So Toby (ph) says, Ha'azinu.
Interestingly, Ha'azinu is a song. Speaking of singing, "Lechu neranenah laHashem nari'ah l'tzur yisheinu," shouting in joy and singing. Turns out that there's a song in the Torah, not the song of the Sea, but a song at the very end of the Book of Numbers, a sad song as it were, that begins by referring to God as a Rock. In the very prologue to Ha'azinu we say, "Hatzur tamim pa'alo ki kol derachiv mishpat." "Hatzur tamim pa'alo," the rock, "Tamim pa'alo," all of His ways are good, all of His ways are pure, all of His ways are tamim. That's the place in the Torah where we refer to God as tzur. When we think of God as tzur, as the rock. Now let's play this game a little bit longer, let me ask you this question. It's still a strange thing to say, that God is a rock. Why in the world would you think of God as a rock?
For those of you who have seen commercials, it kind of reminds you of that old Prudential commercial. Get a piece of the rock. A rock conjures up in your mind this image of ultimate stability. Someone might think about God. When we think about God as the rock, where did Ha'azinu get this idea from, that God is a rock? Did Ha'azinu make this up in the Book of Numbers? Or was there some sort of antecedent for this notion that God is a rock earlier in the Torah? What do you say?
Anytime, so we have the notion of tzur, do we have God as rock earlier? So Steve says, "Nikra'at hatzur," which is interesting. There actually is a rock, it's a Sinai. There was a split rock, seemingly, there was a rock with a cleft in it a Sinai, that's one case of where we have a tzur.
Turns out we actually have two actual tzur's in the Torah. Ha'azinu is a metaphorical tzur, a metaphorical rock. When we talk about God as a Rock of our Salvation. But there's actually two physical rocks that we have. The second -- What?
Menachem Ahron: In Az Yashir?
Rabbi Fohrman: In Az Yashir, where do you have rock there?
Menachem Ahron: All right, not. I was thinking of (unclear speech).
Rabbi Fohrman: You're thinking about even, I'm thinking about tzur. The only time, to my knowledge, in the Torah we have two actual tzurs. So the second of the two is in the Revelation, the mysterious epiphany at Choreiv, which takes place in Parshat Ki Tisa. Where's the first? The very first time we ever have a tzur?
Rabbi Fohrman: That's right, in Beshalach. Now what tzur was that, David?
David: "Vehikit batzur v'yatzu mimenu mayim." Water came out of the --
Rabbi Fohrman: It was the story of how we got water. In Parshat Beshalach. How we got water. Now let's talk about how we got that water. Moses was commanded to actually strike a rock to get that water, right? That's what happened.
Now let me take you into that. Do you happen to know where that is? What chapter that is in Parashat Beshalach?
David: It's the very end. It's the last 10 verses of the parshah. I don't know chapters, I know aliyot. It's the last aliyah.
Rabbi Fohrman: Let's take a look here. You guys hopefully can see this. This is Exodus 17 on the screen. Let's go to the rock, the tzur. Verse 3, "Vayitzma sham ha'am," the people thirsted for water, "Vayalen ha'am al Moshe," the people complained to Moses, "Vayomer," and they said, "Lamah zeh he'elitanu miMitzrayim," why did you take us out of Egypt? "L'hamit oti v'et banai v'et miknai batzama," why did you take us out of Egypt to kill me? To kill my children. To kill my cattle with thirst.
Why did we have to leave Egypt? So we could die here in the desert? This is the complaint. "Va'yitzak Moshe el Hashem," now remember by the way, when you think about this moment in the desert, Parshat Beshalach, the moments after the Exodus from Egypt, this actually isn't the first water the crisis the people have experienced, right? They have actually experienced other water crises. They've actually come through the water, they've come through the Split Sea, and immediately they're faced with a water crisis. They go three days, they can't find water, they get to this oasis, the waters are bitter.
The people complain, they say, what are we going to do? There's bitter water. Moses is shown a tree by God that he throws in the water that sweetens the water. So that's the first time they have water. Then later on, just a little bit after that, they have water from a different source. They go to Eilim, a place where there are wells. "Sham shtem esreh einot mayim," there's 12 wells of water that they find in Eilim. So that's where they get water, in Eilim.
Then finally, presumably when their canteens from Eilim are all used up, you have this water crisis in Exodus 17, just a few days later. When the people are thirsting and they start complaining to Moses, why did you take us out of Egypt to kill me, and my people, and my cattle with water?
Let's stop right there. What's incongruence about this? There's something strange about Exodus 17, Verse 3. Which is, that if you think about it, what the people are saying, is not a very nice thing to say, what the people are saying, because they've had the experience of God caring for them. In other words, God took them out of Egypt, through the 10 plagues; and if that wasn't enough God split the sea for them; if that wasn't enough, if you still want to say, well I still don't know if God cares about me being thirsty. I only know that God cares about these grand acts of salvation. How do I know that God cares about the water works? It's one thing to take a people through Egypt with the headlines and all that, it's another thing to actually govern and provide the people with water. Who knows if God cares about me personally?
Then God did. God sweetened the waters, so you know God cares. You know that God wants to give water to you. Then the cloud led you straight to Eilim where, "Sham shtem esreh einot mayim," to these underground cisterns of water. So you know that God's in it for water. Then finally, you get thirsty again and you complain, why did you take me out of Egypt? To kill me?
By the way, the part of this which is so cruel is because, what sort of tone do you get in Verse 3? What sort of tone are the people adopting? "Vayitzma sham ha'am lamayim Vayalen ha'am al Moshe Vayomer lamah zeh he'elitanu miMitzrayim l'hamit oti v'et banai v'et miknai batzama." Why is He taking me out of Egypt to kill me and my children with thirst? What tone is that? Besides complaining? Anybody?
It's sarcasm. The people are actually being sarcastic. They're using wry humor. What? You took me out of Egypt to kill me? Why did you take me out of Egypt just to kill me? I could have died there. It's like you could imagine Mel Brooks saying this. It's like a Jackie Mason line. Jackie Mason got his humor from somewhere, he got it from the Bible. This is what the people were saying. What? You had to kill me? You had to take me out so I could die of thirst? I could have died of thirst in Egypt.
So the people are being sarcastic. They're being scornful. Being Scornful is particularly problematic. John Gottman, the marriage guy, the psychotherapist who says that he can tell within 15 minutes whether a couple is likely to divorce in the next five years. He can tell with 95 percent accuracy by watching a couple. He says he looks for one thing, what he looks for is scorn. He looks for an eyeroll. Even some sort of body language the indicates scorn because scorn tears people apart. This is scorn. Look at Moses' response in Verse 4. "V'Yitzak Moshe el Hashem," Moshe cried out to Hashem and said, "Mah e'eseh la'am hazeh," what will I do with this people? "Od me'at u'skaluni," they're going to actually kill me, stone me to death. The people are so upset that they're actually going to die.
So the sense of crisis has heightened from water crisis number one to water crisis number two. There's really been three water crises in a way. Water crisis number one is really the Splitting of the Sea. Water crisis number two is the thirsting right after the sea, then they get the bitter water turned into the sweet water. Water crisis number three is here. There's been a slow escalation and tension in those water crises until finally water crisis number three, the people have kind of had it. They're really willing to stone Moses right now.
So there's an emergency going on here. In that emergency God says, "Avor lifnei ha'am," pass before the people, "V'kach itcha miziknei Yisrael u'matcha asher hikita bo et haye'or kach b'yadcha v'halachta." Go, pass before the people, and the staff with which you struck the ye'or, the Sea, take it with you as you walk. "Hineini omed l'fanecha sham al hatzur," I will stand before you, over that rock over there, "B'Choreiv," in Choreiv. "V'hikit batzur," and I want you to strike that rock, presumably with the staff. "V'Yatzu mimenu mayim," and water will come out, "V'shatah ha'am," and the people will drink, "Vaya'as kein Moshe l'eini zikei Yisrael." This is the tzur. This is the first tzur that we have. The rock that Moses struck.
Now I asked you before, where did we get this idea in Psalm 95 to begin with "Lechu neranenah laHashem." Come let us sing to God, "Nari'ah l'tzur yisheinu," that we should call out in joy, l'tzur yisheinu, to the tzur that saved us. Where do we get this notion that God can be a rock? So you answer Ha'azinu. The Book of Numbers. That in the song of Ha'azinu, that's where we call God a rock. "Hatzur tamim po'alo." The rock whose work is tamim.
Okay, then I asked you, where did Ha'azinu get the notion that God is a rock? What I’m suggesting to you is that maybe Ha'azinu got that notion from here. From the very first time the word tzur was ever used, with this rock.
If you're listening carefully you might say, Fohrman, you're crazy. I get it that this is the first tzur in the Torah, but you can't tell me that this is the story in which God is called a rock. That this is where Ha'azinu gets the notion that God is a rock. The rock wasn't God. The rock gave water, it wasn't God. So where does Ha'azinu get this notion, I get it that you want to connect this tzur to that tzur. I get it that there aren't many tzurs in the Torah. But you can't tell me that Ha'azinu has some sort of predicate for this notion that God is actually a rock in this story of Moses striking the rock.
If you look carefully at the story, you can kind of see where Ha'azinu gets it from. If you read the story, why might you think that God is kind of the rock? There's something about this story that makes you think of God that way. Listen to what God said right before Moses hits the rock. Let's read it one more time, Verse 6. "Hineini omed l'fanecha sham al hatzur," God says, I am going to stand in front of you, on the rock. Where is God in this story? He's standing on the rock.
Now you might say, Fohrman, I don't get that. How can God stand on a rock? God is in His own world, beyond space and time. "Kadosh kadosh kadosh Hashem tz'va'ot," He's very holy. We don't believe in a corporal God that goes standing on a rock. He's not a man with a long white beard that goes standing on a rock. I get it, but sue me, that's what the verse says. The verse says, "Hineini omed l'fanecha sham al hatzur," I'm standing in front of you on a rock.
Now we can talk about it when we come back next time, and the time after. We'll explore this in greater depth. Why there is this notion? Why God would have to be standing on a rock, of all places? What a strange thing. God doesn't have to be standing on the rock to give the rock water. It wasn't like God was standing on the Nile when the Nile turned into water. It wasn't like God was standing on the sea when the sea split. It wasn't like God was standing on the beds where the frogs came, in the plague of frogs. God doesn't have to stand somewhere when a miracle happens. But for some reason for this miracle, it's not true. God has to stand on the rock.
Okay. So we don’t know why. We'll come back and try to figure out why. In the meantime, the notion of associating God with the rock, you see where Ha'azinu gets that from because that's what's happening here. "Hineini omed l'fanecha sham al hatzur." God is saying, I'm going to play peek-a-boo with the rock. I'm going to be right there, in the back of the rock. Right on top of the rock. I'm going to be invisible but that's where I’m going to be. Almost as if the rock is an extension of God. As if you can confuse God and the rock because they're right there together.
Hence, Ha'azinu, "hatzur tamim po'alo." Hence Psalm 95, "Nari'ah l'tzur yisheinu," let's sing to the Rock of our Salvation. What was the original Rock of our Salvation? You might argue, it's this story. When God says, I'm going to give you water for salvation, I'm going to save you from death at the hands of thirst. It was this rock. Could well be this is where we get the notion that God's the one who saved us. God saves us from thirst.
What's interesting is that notion of saving is also an interesting notion. "Nari'ah l'tzur yisheinu," that's the way Psalm 95 begins. We've been focusing on the word tzur, let's focus on the word, yisheinu. Where do we have that verb associated with these early stories of the Exodus of Egypt? Yisheinu. L'hoshiah. Where is God known as a savior in these stories?
Before the story of the rock there was a story that God was specifically called by the Bible itself, as the savior. Where? It was in the story of the Splitting of the Sea. The story of the Splitting of the Sea, the way the narrator of the Torah describes that story, "V'yosha Hashem bayom ha'hu," God saved Israel on that day. We were talking about the different water crises. So water crisis number one that we talked about was the Splitting of the Sea. That's where God saves us, "V'yosha Hashem bayom ha'hu."
Then there was another water crisis having to do with thirst. Then there was a second and a third [gap in audio 00:41:37] story having to do with the thirst, where the rock got hit and God saved us again. So "Nari'ah l'tzur yisheinu," it's almost as if the Psalmist, in coining that phrase, let us sing to the tzur yisheinu, is collapsing the water crises together. It's sort of saying, the one who saved us, "V'yosha Hashem bayom ha'hu," in water crisis number one, when he took us through the sea, is also the one who'd saving us in water crises number two and three. Right? In the story of the rock, He's standing there right in front of the rock. As a matter of fact, He's tzur yisheinu. He's the rock that saves us. That's who He is. God is the rock who saves us. It's not that there's different Gods. There's one God. The God who saves us through the Split Sea, and who saves us through the story of the rock.
By the way, speaking of the rock and of the sea, there's another fascinating way those stories interact. The story of the rock is that they're in this parching desert, they could never see water anywhere. There's not a drop to drink in the whole desert. Here, at the top of this mountain, there's this craggy cliff and there's this big rock and God says, go strike that rock. When he strikes that rock what's going to happen? Water is going to come out. It's going to be the rock erupts, the rock splits and water comes out. What does that remind you of in the first water crisis? The Story of the Splitting of the Sea? What's the commonality in both of those crises? It's almost like, if you think about it in some crazy psychedelic way, they're inverses of each other.
Think of the first story, the Story of the Sea, there's water, water everywhere and there's no land. So the people despaired, we're going to die in the water. There's too much water. So what does God do? He splits the water and makes dry land in between, we come to our salvation. "V'yosha Hashem bayom ha'hu." God saved us, split the water and put dry land in the middle.
Then there were two water crises having to do with thirst. Then in the last one, God said, here's a tzur, strike it. Split it. Then erupting in the middle there's water so on the sides what is there? Just dry rock. But in the middle what is there now? Water. Do you see how they're inverses of each other? God first splits the water and creates dry land, then God splits the dry rock and has water coming. Together God is tzur yisheinu. He's not just the one who saved us at the sea by splitting the water. He's the one who saved us by splitting the rock and getting the water. He's tzur yisheinu.
That phrase, tzur yisheinu, in simple two words, encapsulates the two sides of this inverse. The sea and it's inverse with the rock. That’s God. God is tzur yisheinu. The same God. The one who does both. What should we do for that God? Look at Psalm 95, "Lechu neranenah laHashem," Come let's sing to God, "Nari'ah l'tzur yisheinu," let's sing to the Rock that saves us.
While before God was just tzur yisheinu, when He was just the one who save us, "V'yosha Hashem bayom ha'hu." Isn't it interesting that, of course, we did sing. That of course is the song at the sea. We sang at the Song of the Sea. At the sea. When we were saved, we sang. It's almost as if what the Psalmist is saying is, yes, we sang at the Song of the Sea. You know what mistake we made? "Nari'ah l'tzur yisheinu," we should have sung another song, a song to the Rock of our Salvation. We should have been able to connect the dots that the One who split the sea for us, the One who gave us water, would continue to give us water. Instead of just being so angry and scornful, and "Od me'at u'skaluni," they're going to kill me, and you brought us here to die, and then you get the water, and you don't even say thank you. No. That should have been a moment for song two. You should've sung that song. There should've been a second song. Not just a song at the sea, but a song at the water, a song at the rock.
Interestingly to note, by the way, in the Book of Numbers, the next time there's a story of rocks and water, the story of Miriam, it's immediately by a song for water. Almost as if, then in the Book of Numbers we got it right, there was a song for water. But this first time around we missed it. There should have been a water song here. There was never any water song. Psalm 95 comes to correct that. "Nari'ah l'tzur yisheinu."
Here's where we get to what you should do and what you shouldn't do. What shouldn't you do? The second part of the Psalm, "Al takshu l'vavchem kim'rivah." Don't harden your hearts like at Merivah. Like in the day of masah in the desert. What are we talking about Merivah and masah in the midbar? Here's where I come back to what I asked you. I said, break apart the Psalm into two sections. You said, what we should do and what we shouldn't to.
What's the element that brings the two sections together? I said the element is tzur. You want to know why? Where were the people when Moses was instructed to strike that rock? Here's Exodus 17, the story of Moses striking the rock. Let's look at where they were.
Verse 6 is where he strikes the rock. "Hineni omed l'faneicha sham al hatzur," here I am standing in front of you at the rock. "B'choreiv," in Choreiv. Choreiv can also mean in a dry place. It was all dry. There was no water to be seen anywhere. "V'hikita b'tzur," let's strike that rock, "V'yatzu mimenu mayim," and water will erupt from in between it. "V'shatah ha'am," and the people will drink, "Vaya'as kein Moshe," and Moses did it in front of everyone, "L'einei ziknei Yisrael," in the eyes of all the people Moses did it.
That us the moment they should have sang but instead there was no song but look at the next verse. "Vayikra shem hamakom Masah u'Merivah," they called that place Masah and Merivah. "Al riv b'nei Yisrael," because of the fight that Israel had with God, "V'al nas'otam et Hashem," and because they tried God there. They tested Him. Saying, "Hayeish Hashem b'kirbeinu im a'yin," is God really with us, or not.
That is what Psalm 95 is talking about. This is the element that unifies the beginning of Psalm 95 with the end. When we say, "Nari'ah l'tzur yisheinu," let's shout out in joy. Let's sing to the tzur. Let's not do what we did at the original tzur. At the original tzur where God hid when Moses was to hit the rock. Where was that? That was in Masah u'Merivah. "Al takshu l'vavchem kim'rivah." Don't harden your hearts like you did at Merivah, like the day of Masah in the desert. "Asher nisuni avoteichem," when the people tested Me. Remember how God complains that the people tested Me there. That's what He says of Masah u'Merivah. "B'chanuni," they tested Me, "Gam ra'u pa'ali," they had seen what I did. They should have trusted Me.
Think about where trust comes from. Trust isn't just like blind faith. It's not just because they don't have blind faith in God. We learn to trust people. When your father says, you go fall backwards on the couch and I'll catch you, the reason why you do that is because you've learned to trust dad. Dad was with you, he caught you when you fell when you learned how to walk. So there's reason to trust dad. There's reason to trust God. "B'chanuni," they trusted Me, "Gam ra'u pa'ali," even though they had seen what I did. They saw that I took you out of Egypt; they saw that I split the sea; they saw that I gave you water at Marah; and finally, if there's no faith there's nothing. There's just scorn. They should have sung but they didn't. "Asher nisuni avoteichem," they tried Me instead of singing.
This is the tragedy of the story, of what could have been, and what was, and what should have been. What should have been is there should have been another song. A second song. Isn't It fascinating, and I'll leave you with this thought, as you continue Kabbalat Shabbat, what's the very next Psalm? Look at Psalm 96. Look at how Psalm 96 begins.
Psalm 95 ends with, "Asher nishba'ti b'api im yev'un el menuchati," that we will never come to the land. Look at how Psalm 96 begins, "Shiru l'Hashem shir chadash shiru l'Hashem kol ha'aretz." Sing to God a new song. The whole world should sing the song to God.
What Kabbalat Shabbat begins with is the idea was there was a missing song. There was a second song that should have been sung. After the Deliverance at the Sea there was another event that fit with that like a jigsaw. Like a perfect inverse of it. Instead of splitting the sea and having dry land in between, split the dry rock and have the water in between. Just as you sang in the first event, you should have sung with the second event to see God as the God of both because God isn't just "V'yosha Hashem bayom hazeh," He's not just our savior, He's tzur yisheinu.
He's both. The savior at the sea and the savior at the rock. He's both together. He's both interested in the headlines of the Charlton Heston moment. I took you through and there's great international event and drowned the forces of evil; took care of you; saved you from your external enemies who were coming after you with an army. But that's not the only kind of God that God is. He's not just a great warrior who's interested in headlines when He completely destroys the enemy. He's interested in you personally. He's interested in water works. He's interested when you can't drink, and He'll split the rock and then put water in between. He's got both sides to Him. He's not just yisheinu, He's tzur yisheinu. Sing to Him and understand that and we missed the second side of that.
"Shiru l'Hashem shir chadash," and that's the song we need to make up for. The second song. It's a song we get inkling of in The Book of Numbers, when they sing for water, but there was no song here. Here commitment of the Psalmist is, let us sing for that song.