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In Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers, it is written: “With ten utterances the world was created” (Avot 5:1). Pirkei Avot, far from being considered a mystical treatise, is a collection of ethical and moral teachings from the Sages. The normative tradition as brought in Pirkei Avot is that the instrument through which God created the world was Divine speech.
When one reads the Torah account of creation, it is clear where this tradition comes from. On the first day of creation it is written, “And God said, ‘Let there be light’ - and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). The pattern of a Divine utterance, followed immediately by the creation of the very thing spoken about in the utterance, is repeated throughout creation. The oral Torah, handed down along with the written Torah, takes the idea of Divine speech as the instrument of creation quite literally.
Further, we are taught that creation is actually constructed from the Hebrew letters, considered the building blocks of creation. Similar to a scientist who would describe the building blocks of creation as atoms, molecules, and elements, our tradition views the Hebrew letters as the very foundation of the universe. The letters that form the word for any particular entity or action in the Torah are more than linguistic symbols - they are the animating Divine force forming its actual essence and basic reality. Therefore, the letters that make up the word for “light,” for example, are what light actually is. Not only are the letters the building blocks of creation, but the Torah is considered the actual blueprint of creation, as is taught in the Zohar (2:161b): “God looked into the Torah and created the world.”
Just as today we know of the incredible energy packed into an infinitesimally small atom, the Hebrew letters are intensely contracted conduits of Divine light and energy, serving as the channels of Divine speech. In the Divine creative process speech is action - there is no separation between the two.
In human terms we can understand this to a certain degree when considering the various results of our own speech. We know how words spoken in anger or on impulse can instantaneously pierce through the heart, destroy a life-long relationship in a minute, ruin a reputation, cause murder, or lead nations to war. In the more positive sense, compassionate and loving speech can heal wounds, give strength to the weary, resurrect hope, and inspire masses of people.
The ten utterances of creation are essentially connected to the ten archetypal songs sung throughout history. They are the more human face of the same basic cosmological energy. Each of these structures of ten encompasses the full array of its respective realms of creation and human history. In turn, both sets of ten are clearly interconnected with the ten sefirot, the basic model of all existence, from the physical to the spiritual.
One other model of ten that needs mentioning is the Ten Commandments, the quintessential “kernel” of all the commandments in the Torah. The idea of the Ten Commandments representing all the commandments can be seen in a beautiful mathematical gem. There are 613 commandments in the Torah, as well as seven universal commandments known as the seven commandments of the children of Noah. Together they equal 620, the exact number of letters in the Ten Commandments!
The word keter, crown, also equals 620. In many synagogues around the world the curtain hanging before the ark where the Torah is kept is decorated with a crown, as are many mantels adorning the Torah scroll itself. Additionally, many congregations put a silver crown on the Torah when it is taken out of the ark. Keter in Kabbalah represents the subconscious and superconscious source of intellect. This is considered the source of music and song in the soul, as discussed above.
Significantly, the Torah itself is called song. After God revealed through Moses the blessing and the curse and the prophecies concerning the future of the Jewish people, God taught him the song HaAzinu, whose teachings were to be impressed upon all the people: “And now write this song for yourselves and teach it to the children of Israel…” (Deuteronomy 31:19). The oral Torah explains that this verse refers not only to the song of HaAzinu, but also to the obligation of each individual to write the entire Torah. From this we learn that all the Torah is considered song!
In the context of a discussion in the Talmud concerning the importance of learning Torah and reviewing it, Rabbi Akiva is quoted as saying, “Sing every day, sing every day” (Sanhedrin 99a–b). Rashi explains that even if one has reviewed his learning he should sing it in order that it accompany him to the next world in joy and song.
Singing the Torah means to fully integrate its teachings and wisdom into our hearts and our minds. We must connect the Torah we learn to our most essential being and not treat it as an intellectual pastime or pursuit. Singing our Torah connects its teachings to our deepest selves.