Vayishlach: Sweet Harmony ~ Tzvi Abrahams
For the illui neshamah of my father, Dovid Yitzchak ben Tzvi Moshe, on his yahrtzeit, the thirteenth of Kislev.
נֶבֶל: nevel — a musical instrument
נְבֵלָה: carcass of a dead animal, disgrace
נוֹבְלוֹת: unripe figs
נָבָל: a name in Tanach
וַתֵּצֵא דִינָה בַּת לֵאָה אֲשֶׁר… וַיַּרְא אֹתָהּ שְׁכֶם בֶּן חֲמוֹר… וַיִּשְׁכַּב אֹתָהּוַיְעַנֶּהָ… וּבְנֵי יַעֲקֹב בָּאוּ מִן הַשָּׂדֶה כְּשָׁמְעָם וַיִּתְעַצְּבוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים וַיִּחַר לָהֶם מְאֹד כִּינְבָלָה עָשָׂה בְיִשְׂרָאֵל
And Dinah, the daughter of Leah, went out…and Shechem the son of Chamor saw her…and he forcibly laid with her…and the sons of Yaakov came in from the field and when they heard what happened they became deeply distraught and angry because a disgusting act (נְבָלָה/nevalah) had been committed to a Jewish girl.
כִּי שְׁכֶם הֵבִיא בְּנוֹת הָאָרֶץ סָבִיב לְאֹהֶל יַעַקֹב וְהָיוּ מְשַׂחַקִים בְּכְּלֵי נֶבֶל
Shechem brought the daughters of the land to surround the tent of Yaakov and they were playing music with the nevel (alluring Dinah to come out).
What’s the connection between נֶבֶל/nevel, a musical instrument, and נְבֵלָה/neveilah, a carcass of a dead animal?
נֶבֶל: Nevel — A Musical Instrument
Generally, instruments are hollow. A sound fills the hollow through a movement of air or through a vibration from a string. We are all walking instruments in that we are hollow, and when we pass wind through our voice box, we generate sound. The myriad of passages in our lungs are called symphonies. Each individual tube has the capacity to blow air from our lungs through our voicebox and create music, and thus we are not just a living instrument, but a whole symphonic orchestra!
Are the sounds we play tuneful? Is our orchestra in sweet harmony? The answer very much depends on if we are being attentive to the Conductor. With every breath we take, we have the ability to praise Hashem — כֹּל הַנְּשָׁמָהתְּהַלֵּל יָ-הּ הַלְלוּיָ–הּ. Only when we allow our whole being to be directed by Hashem does He become our conductor, and then what comes out is a sweet harmony. However, if we rely on ourselves to do the conducting, then our orchestra is liable to be in a state of discord.
The ayil/ram of Yitzchak that was offered up on the Akeidah was created bein hashemashos/ during the twilight hours on the sixth day of creation. In PirkeiD’Rebbe Eliezer, it says that none of the ayil was left over or discarded; the ashes were used for the foundation of the inner mizbei’ach; the skin was used to gird EliyahuHanavi; one shofar was blown at Har Sinai, and the other will be blown to herald the Mashiach. Its gidim(ligaments) were used as strings in the ten-string nevelthat King David used to play his beautiful psalms to Hashem.
These ten strings were no ordinary strings; since they were offered up to Hashem as a korban, they had reached an elevated state and were now fitting to be used by King David as an instrument for kedushah. This instrument was called the Nevel.
נְבֵלָה: Carcass of a Dead Animal, Disgrace
Neveilah, on the opposite extreme, is a carcass of a dead animal that is full of tumah and cannot be drawn close to Hashem.
The Torah calls the disgusting act done by Shechem ben Chamor in defiling Dinah an act of neveilah. No coincidence that he was a son of an animal (his father’s name, Chamor, is also the Hebrew word for a donkey). An animal act is a hollow action — an act of taking that leaves the chalal/empty space remaining hollow and dead inside — it leaves one feeling empty and wanting — like a dead carcass, which emanates tumah. This is what the Torah calls neveilah.
We see that the same root (נֶבֶל\נְבֵלָה) has the power to uplift and become part of Hashem’s orchestra or to become tamei/impure and be rejected as something dead and disgusting. Only something that has life can play music and be in Hashem’s orchestra. Even though the ayil/ram was no longer alive, since it was offered up to Hashem, its very essence continues to live, as we see nothing went to waste. When we are connected to Hashem, and all that we do is for Hashem, then we are living, breathing, and playing in the big orchestra of life as part of the grand symphony.
But when we are not close to Hashem, it is like we are dead, full of tumah, like a neveilah, a dead carcass, a hollow chalal/space without a player. What comes out of our mouths is not music but discord and disharmony. There needs to be a living force, a ruach/moving spirit in order to give the hollow life, to give the instrument life. Only when we are connected to life, to Hashem, is there a living force.
In the pasukעַם נָבָל וְלֹא חָכָם in Parshas Ha’azinu, TargumOnkelos understands נָבָל to be referring to the receiving of the Torah. The Likkutei Moharan explains עַם נָבָל וְלֹאחָכָם to mean that in order to receive the Torah, we needed to discard the chochmas hagoyim/wisdom of the goyim.We were no different from the Egyptians; they served avodah zarah and so did we, so why did we get the Torah? The answer is that during our forty-nine-day sojourn to Har Sinai, we were able to discard their chochmah and their culture.
The connection between the נֶבֶל and נְבֵלָה is simply that aנֶבֶל is a hollow full of kedushah and נְבֵלָה is a hollow full of tumah. Only when we empty ourselves from all the tumah are we able to make room for the kedushah. This was the נֶבֶל of Kabalas HaTorah.
Torah is compared to מַיִם, and just like water flows from a high place and doesn’t stop until it reaches the lowest point, so too Torah can only be received by someone who is very humble. Someone who is full of himself, who is full of גַסֻת רוּחַ/arrogance, is not capable of receiving the Torah because he has made no room for it. Only someone who has deflated his ego, his sense of self, and who has made himself into an empty kli/vessel can be mekabel/receive the Torah.
King David, who was full of Torah, used the נֶבֶל to play music and sing Psalms. We know that King Shaul, when he wanted to connect to Hashem, would call for David to play music, and through the medium of music he would be able to connect and have ruach hakodesh. What is it about the nature of music that gives people the ability of reaching heights of kedushah? Music has the quality of helping us to relax our minds from all the stuff that is going on in our lives and helps us to meditate. By throwing out all the mundane stuff from our minds, we are then able to fill ourselves up with kedushah. This is the process of going from נְבֵלָה to נֶבֶל. Unfortunately, we live in a generation where music can take us to the opposite extreme that puts us in touch with our animal selves.
נוֹבְלוֹת: Unripe Figs
In Bereishis Rabbah it mentions three types of נוֹבְלוֹת: sleep, dreams, and Shabbos. All of them are one-sixtieth of the real thing, as Chazal say that sleep is one-sixtieth of death, dreams are one-sixtieth of prophecy, and Shabbos is just one-sixtieth a taste of Olam HaBa. The Gemara in Brachos defines נוֹבְלוֹת as unripe figs that were blown off the tree before ripening and are thus very bitter. So נוֹבְלוֹת is something that has fallen short of its potential, just a taste of what it could have been. Hence, sleep, dreams, and Shabbos are all just a taste of the real thing. The aforementioned Midrash adds the sun and Torah to the list of נוֹבְלוֹת. The sun is included because its light is miniscule compared to the true heavenly light that surrounds the glory of Hashem’s throne, and the Torah that we have in our world is just a fraction of its counterpart in Shamayim.
In essence, we are all נוֹבְלוֹת in that we have not yet come to fruition. We could be much greater. How do we get to the greater part of ourselves? Through the aspect of נֶבֶל.By deflating ourselves from all the waste and tumah that we are infected by in this world and instead inflating ourselves with קְדוּשָׁה through the נֶבֶל, which has the capacity to pluck the strings of our hearts and tune us into a much higher place. Just like a balloon, if we fill ourselves up with air, we are able to float our boat, however if we are connected to the aspect of נְבֵלָה, then we are full of decaying flesh and bones just wasting away; we have no chance of getting off the ground, our boat is anchored, and we’re going nowhere.
נָבָל: Name in Tanach
וְשֵׁם הָאִישׁ נָבָל… וְהָאִישׁ קָשֶׁה וְרַע מַעֲלָלִים The man’s name was Novol…the man was difficult and an evildoer.
אָמַר נָבָל בְּלִבּוֹ אֵין אֱ–לֹהִים
In Tehillim, Novol is referred to as Nevuchadnetzarbecause he filled up the world with corpses, or because in the future Hashem will cause him to fall like נוֹבְלוֹתfrom a tree.
Noam Elimelech to Parshas Vayishlach refers to Lavanas לָבָן לָשׁוֹן נָבָל, a synonym for the yetzer hara.
הַשַֹר הַמְנוּנִית עַל עַנִיוּת נָבָל שְׁמוֹ
In the Mishnah Berurah, with regards to passing water next to one’s bed, it is considered a disgusting act in the eyes of Hashem and causes one to be impoverished. It quotes the Gemara in Pesachim that says the name of the angel of poverty is called נָבָל.
נֶבֶל– וְהוּא כְּלֵי זֶמֶר עִם מֵיתָרִים כְּמוֹ נִקְרָא נֶבֶל מִי שֶׁהָיָה נִגוּנֵי מְתוּקָהבְּיוֹתֶר עַד שֶׁמְנַבֵל כָּל כְּלֵי שִׁיר שֶׁבְּעוֹלָם Nevel is a musical instrument and is called nevel because its music is so sweet that it menavel/puts to shame all other instruments in the world.
The power to consecrate or desecrate is in our hands.
זֶמֶר/zemer is to cut away, or to sing. By singing, we are able to cut through to our souls, to Hashem.
נֶצַח/forever, victory; לַמְנַצֵחַ/LaMenatzei’ach, conductor
When we are connected to Hashem, we are connected to the conductor, we are connected to forever, we are victorious over our נְבֵלָה/body, and instead we are strung up to a נֶבֶל and to Hashem. We are now an instrument of sweet harmony, worthy of being in the grand symphony orchestra.