Parashat Naso

The Service Of Song

The duty of the Levites to accompany the Tabernacle service with music and song reminds us to serve God with joy.

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For example,

"And he [King Chizkiyahu] set up the Levites in the House of Hashem with cymbals, with harps and with lyres by the command of David and Gad, the king’s seer, and Natan the prophet, for in the Hand of Hashem is the command by the hand of His prophets" (Divrei HaYamim II 29:25).

In the Rashi commentary on that verse, it says that the service of music is not explicitly stated in the Torah, but is communicated via the prophets. At best, it is hinted at in the Torah.

In the passages cited in Arachin and Bamidbar Rabbah the Sages search for a Torah hint for the institution of music during the sacrifices. The verse, “all those who come to perform service to a service” is one of many suggested, but it seems to be the most persuasive source, according to Rashi.

Rabbeinu Bachya (ben Asher ben Hlava, 13th Century) further defends identifying the Levites’ music as a service from the following verse:
"And the musicians the children of Asaf upon their positions...they must not depart from upon their service (Avodatam)" (Divrei HaYamim II 35:15).

In contrast, Rambam (Laws of the Sanctuary Utensils 3:2) quotes a different verse suggested by the Sages:
"And he will serve with the Name of Hashem his G-d as all his brethren, the Levites" (Deuteronomy 18:7), for which Rambam quotes the reasoning of the Sages: 'What type of service is “with the Name of Hashem?' We must say it is song."

All these commentaries agree that the Levites’ music is a service. But, while Rambam focuses on the fact that it is a service performed with the voice, uttering the Name of Hashem, Rashi defines it as the only service that is not performed alone, but as an adjunct to another service.

Haketav V’hakabbalah (R. Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg, 1785-1865) has a different approach to the essence of the Levites’ music as service. He quotes the same verse as Rabbeinu Bachya, and he accepts Rashi’s use of “service to a service (avodat avodah),” but says that music is so called because it expresses joy:

"In the same way as a commandment is service to Hashem, may He be blessed, so is the joy of the commandment called service, as it is written, 'because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with joy' (Devarim 28:47)."

Behold, joy is the completion of the service. Therefore, the music that the Levites would produce to arouse joy for the commandment of offering sacrifices, so that the performance of the commandment will be with joy, is called service to a service.


Music expresses wholeness (an idea that is found in the writings of the Maharal, R. Yehudah Loew ben Betzalel, c. 1525-1609). Haketav V’hakabbalah argues that music is service to a service because it makes the service of sacrifices into a total service to Hashem by completing it through joy.

Perhaps, more than other commandments, sacrifice requires joy because it has the greatest potential for confusing the means with the ends: We may mistakenly think that Hashem is “appeased” through our sacrifice, regardless of our emotional state. The Levites’ song teaches that Hashem wants not only obedience, but devotion as well.

The Zohar (III:223b) says that music has the same spiritual source as prophecy. Prophecy is the joyful fulfillment of the human personality.

When we serve Hashem in joy, we complete ourselves. Then, Hashem’s camp is truly whole.

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Rabbi Avraham Fischer

Avraham Fischer is a rabbi at Darche Noam Institutions.