The Old Hundredth: The Masoretic Text and the Intricate Puzzle of Psalm 100

Dear Friends,

This is the text of a talk I’m to give tonight, God willing, for the Tiqqun Leil Shavu‘ot at Chabad of the Central Valley. I hope readers of the Times of Israel will find it of interest:

This talk deals with a short Psalm of thanksgiving, the hundredth: it is thus two-thirds to the end of the canonical Psalter, with its 150 chapters. The Psalm is much loved by Christians as well as Jews and a poetic paraphrase of it called the Old Hundredth is a favorite hymn of the Anglican communion. The British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams authored a setting of it for the coronation of HM Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey in 1953, the year of my birth. The Queen’s passing last year marked the end of the longest reign of a monarch in the history of England. Here is the text of the Old Hundredth, with its appended Trinitarian coda:

All people that on earth do dwell
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;
Him serve with fear His praise forth tell.
Come ye before Him and rejoice!

The Lord ye know is God indeed.
Without our aid He did us make;
We are His flock, He doth us feed—
And for His sheep He doth us take.

O enter then His gates with praise,
Approach with joy His courts unto,
Praise, laud, and bless His name always;
For it is seemly so to do.

For why the Lord our God is good!
His mercy is forever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.

To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
The God whom heaven and earth adore,
From earth and from the angel host,
Be praise and glory evermore.

The content of the second stanza is the focus of the present discussion. Here is the Hebrew text and a standard Jewish translation, which, as you will see, differs from the meaning of the hymn above.

מִזְמ֥וֹר לְתוֹדָ֑ה הָרִ֥יעוּ לַ֝יהֹוָ֗ה כׇּל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃
עִבְד֣וּ אֶת־יְהֹוָ֣ה בְּשִׂמְחָ֑ה בֹּ֥אוּ לְ֝פָנָ֗יו בִּרְנָנָֽה׃
דְּע֗וּ כִּֽי־יְהֹוָה֮ ה֤וּא אֱלֹ֫הִ֥ים הֽוּא־עָ֭שָׂנוּ (ולא) [וְל֣וֹ] אֲנַ֑חְנוּ עַ֝מּ֗וֹ וְצֹ֣אן מַרְעִיתֽוֹ׃
בֹּ֤אוּ שְׁעָרָ֨יו ׀ בְּתוֹדָ֗ה חֲצֵרֹתָ֥יו בִּתְהִלָּ֑ה הוֹדוּ־ל֝֗וֹ בָּרְכ֥וּ שְׁמֽוֹ׃
כִּי־ט֣וֹב יְ֭הֹוָה לְעוֹלָ֣ם חַסְדּ֑וֹ וְעַד־דֹּ֥ר וָ֝דֹ֗ר אֱמוּנָתֽוֹ׃ {פ}

(1) A psalm for thanksgiving. Raise a shout for the LORD, all the earth;
(2) worship the Lord in gladness; come into His presence with shouts of joy.
(3) Acknowledge that the Lord is God; He made us and we are His, His people, the flock He tends.
(4) Enter His gates with praise, His courts with acclamation. Praise Him! Bless His name!
(5) For the Lord is good; His steadfast love is eternal; His faithfulness is for all generations.

As you see, the whole meaning of the third verse changes depending on the spelling of a single short word: Hebrew ולא, ve-lo’, spelled vav-lamed-alef, means “and not”; ולו, ve-lo, pronounced the same way but spelled vav-lamed-vav, means “to Him”. In the Hebrew text the first spelling, “and not”, is unvocalized and in parentheses; the second, “to Him”, which is accepted for purposes of the translation, is vocalized and in brackets.

The reason for this is that some of the spelling in the Masoretic text of the 24 canonical books of the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh, differs from what is obviously meant to be read. Masoret means “tradition”; when Islam arose in the seventh century, the criterion for toleration of non-Muslims was whether they were “People of the Book”. This factor, among others, served as a social impetus to codify the Tanakh. Over roughly the next three centuries Jewish scholars accordingly worked to establish an authoritative text of the Book of books. (Ironically, there has never been a similar scholarly edition of the Muslim holy scripture, the Qur’an.) The Masoretic Bible bristles with notes on textual variants: a good edition of the Chumash (Pentateuch) that one uses in synagogue to follow the reading of the Torah scroll is full of these notes, usually in the margins or below the text in tiny, unvocalized print. Sometimes the difference between how the received text is written, called by the Masoretes by two Aramaic participles: ketiv, “written”, i.e., “write it this way”, and how it is meant to be read, qere, “read”, i.e., “but read it this way”, is obviously a result of ambiguity in handwriting and the clear understanding of the divergence does not materially affect the meaning. For instance, it is evident from the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were written from before the Hasmonean era down to the late Herodian period (the third century BC to the first century AD), that the letter yod (י) was often written with such a long vertical downstroke as to resemble— and be confused with— the letter vav (ו), so that a word in the text that looks like hu’ (הוא) “he” is to be read hi’ (היא), meaning “she”. Usually the grammatical context makes the correct meaning clear.

But this is not the case with the third verse of Psalm 100: there are two meanings, each important and valid in its own way but quite distinct from the other, depending on which reading one follows, the ketiv or the qere. Both meanings are profound. If you opt for the ketiv reading “and not”, line three can be rendered into English as, “Know, all of you, that the Lord, He is God: He made us, His nation and the flock of which He is shepherd, and we did not make ourselves.” This reading would accord with the Christian hymn cited earlier, the Old Hundredth, and with the Christian Psalter. Why have Christians chosen the reading “and not”, rather than the qere “to him” that the Masoretes indicate? It is not because they were consulting the Masoretic text and choosing between two alternatives. Rather, it is because the Christian translations of the Psalter are generally based on the Septuagint (LXX), the translation of the “Seventy”. This is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that was made a millennium before the codification of the Masoretic text: the LXX dates back the early Hellenistic period, not long after the death of Alexander the Great. It was made in a place that bears his name: Alexandria, the main Mediterranean port city and cosmopolitan capital of Ptolemaic Egypt. The Alexandrian translators were working with a Hebrew text (or texts) of the Holy Scripture that was, or were, different from the Masoretic version we have now.

How else do we know that the text of the Bible then was different from the Masoretic Bible we have now? The Dead Sea Scrolls attest to that. This is a treasure trove of Biblical and other texts, mostly in Hebrew but also in Aramaic and Greek, that were discovered in 1947 in a cave above the ruins of Qumran, on the Dead Sea just south of Jericho. Qumran was probably the site of a sectarian community called the Essenes in Greek— the word may be a rendering of the Hebrew word Ḥasidim, “the Pious ones”. Qumran was destroyed and abandoned around the year 70 AD, the time of the destruction by the Romans of the Second Temple at Jerusalem. That event provides a terminus, a date before which the scrolls were written or deposited in the ceramic jars used to preserve them. Palaeography— the analysis of their handwriting— enables us to date them with greater precision, as far back as the third century BC in some cases. Like the text(s) now lost that were the basis of the LXX, the Biblical scrolls of the library from Qumran, which include a partial text of the Psalms, differ from the Masoretic canon. A scroll contains part of Psalm 100, but unfortunately only the first two verses. Because of damage over two millennia to the parchment roll, the crucial third verse of interest to us was obliterated.

The LXX enjoyed great esteem in antiquity and a legend, preserved in the fictional Letter of Aristeas, confers upon it an aura of the supernatural. The pious epistle relates that the Seventy learnèd translators were separated from each other throughout their labors but arrived at Greek versions of the Hebrew that proved on subsequent examination to be identical in all respects. Greek was the first and often only language of many Jews at that and later times, and was used, not only in everyday life, but also in Torah study and commentary, and in prayer. This was the case, not only in Diaspora communities, but in the Land of Israel itself: a majority of the epitaph inscriptions, for instance, in the Bet She‘arim complex of funereal catacombs, are in Greek. The Biblical treatises of the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, many of which survived only in Armenian translations of the Greek original, provide a crucial insight into how many Jews at the time of Jesus— of whom Philo was a contemporary— understood the Bible. In sum, Greek is important. Psalm 100 in the LXX is numbered as 99, and the third verse reads in Greek, γνῶτε ὅτι Κύριος, αὐτός ἐστιν ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν, αὐτὸς ἐποίησεν ἡμᾶς καὶ οὐχ ἡμεῖς· ἡμεῖς δὲ λαὸς αὐτοῦ καὶ πρόβατα τῆς νομῆς αὐτοῦ. Sure enough, the text has, autos epoiēsen hēmas kai oukh hēmeis, “He himself made us and not we.” Various translations of the Bible into languages spoken by Christians, from Armenian in the east to English in the west, follow this reading in the LXX. It stands as historical corroboration of the “and not” ketiv in the Hebrew text as indeed the earlier and probably original form.

We have compelling, if indirect, evidence that the accepted reading of Psalm 100:3 in antiquity was the ketiv, not the qere. But what of the rest of the manuscript tradition? The oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh, is an 11th-century manuscript copied in Cairo and kept in the Russian Public Library in St. Petersburg: it is called the Leningrad Codex. It was written as a study Bible, and is fully vocalized. It has a sister manuscript, slightly older and also from Egypt, the famous Aleppo Codex, but this is no longer complete: part of it was lost during or after an anti-Semitic pogrom in the northwestern Syrian city in 1947 in which the mob ransacked the main synagogue and destroyed many sacred books. Moses Maimonides, who fled Almohad Spain and settled in Egypt, where he served as physician to Saladin’s vizier, employed the Aleppo Codex in his studies. We have the full text of Psalm 100 in the Leningrad Codex: the vocalized ketiv reading ve-lo’ “and not” is in the body of the text and the unvocalized qere notation of the Masoretes, ve-lo, is in the margin to the right.

The meticulous mention of both readings is standard in the Masoretic tradition. One reason that the qere was favored— the reading “we belong to Him” rather than “we did not make ourselves”— may have to do with the fact that Psalm 95, the hymn that opens the Friday evening service of welcoming Shabbat, accords with it so closely in both meaning and wording:

לְ֭כוּ נְרַנְּנָ֣ה לַיהֹוָ֑ה נָ֝רִ֗יעָה לְצ֣וּר יִשְׁעֵֽנוּ׃
נְקַדְּמָ֣ה פָנָ֣יו בְּתוֹדָ֑ה בִּ֝זְמִר֗וֹת נָרִ֥יעַֽ לֽוֹ׃
כִּ֤י אֵ֣ל גָּד֣וֹל יְהֹוָ֑ה וּמֶ֥לֶךְ גָּ֝ד֗וֹל עַל־כׇּל־אֱלֹהִֽים׃
אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּ֭יָדוֹ מֶחְקְרֵי־אָ֑רֶץ וְתוֹעֲפֹ֖ת הָרִ֣ים לֽוֹ׃
אֲשֶׁר־ל֣וֹ הַ֭יָּם וְה֣וּא עָשָׂ֑הוּ וְ֝יַבֶּ֗שֶׁת יָדָ֥יו יָצָֽרוּ׃
בֹּ֭אוּ נִשְׁתַּחֲוֶ֣ה וְנִכְרָ֑עָה נִ֝בְרְכָ֗ה לִֽפְנֵי־יְהֹוָ֥ה עֹשֵֽׂנוּ׃
כִּ֘י ה֤וּא אֱלֹהֵ֗ינוּ וַאֲנַ֤חְנוּ עַ֣ם מַ֭רְעִיתוֹ וְצֹ֣אן יָד֑וֹ הַ֝יּ֗וֹם אִֽם־בְּקֹל֥וֹ תִשְׁמָֽעוּ׃
אַל־תַּקְשׁ֣וּ לְ֭בַבְכֶם כִּמְרִיבָ֑ה כְּי֥וֹם מַ֝סָּ֗ה בַּמִּדְבָּֽר׃
אֲשֶׁ֣ר נִ֭סּוּנִי אֲבֽוֹתֵיכֶ֑ם בְּ֝חָנ֗וּנִי גַּם־רָא֥וּ פׇעֳלִֽי׃
אַרְבָּ֘עִ֤ים שָׁנָ֨ה ׀ אָ֘ק֤וּט בְּד֗וֹר וָאֹמַ֗ר עַ֤ם תֹּעֵ֣י לֵבָ֣ב הֵ֑ם וְ֝הֵ֗ם לֹא־יָדְע֥וּ דְרָכָֽי׃
אֲשֶׁר־נִשְׁבַּ֥עְתִּי בְאַפִּ֑י אִם־יְ֝בֹא֗וּן אֶל־מְנוּחָתִֽי׃ {פ}

(1) Come, let us sing joyously to the Lord, raise a shout for our rock and deliverer;
(2) let us come into His presence with praise; let us raise a shout for Him in song!
(3) For the Lord is a great God, the great king of all divine beings.
(4) In His hand are the depths of the earth; the peaks of the mountains are His.
(5) His is the sea, He made it; and the dry land, which His hands fashioned.
(6) Come, let us bow down and kneel, bend the knee before the Lord our maker,
(7) for He is our God, and we are the people He tends, the flock in His care. O, if you would but heed His voice this day:
(8) Do not be stubborn as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah, in the wilderness,
(9) when your fathers put Me to the test, tried Me, though they had seen My deeds.
(10) Forty years I was provoked by that generation; I thought, “They are a senseless people; they would not know My ways.”
(11) Concerning them I swore in anger, “They shall never come to My resting-place!”

“Sing joyously” (neranena), “raise a shout” (nari‘a): Psalm 95 those verbs with Psalm 100, but then the Psalms are often celebratory as well as plaintive, so that by itself is no proof of intertextual similarity. Verses 6 and 7, though, share too much, too precisely, with Psalm 100 for the correspondence to be fortuitous: in verse 6 we read li-fnei Adonai ‘ośenu “before the Lord our Maker” and immediately thereafter, in verse 7, Ki hu’ Eloheinu va-anaḥnu ‘am mar‘ito ve-ṣo’n yado. Compare Psalm 100:3, … ki Adonai hu’ Elohim hu’ ‘aśanu ve-(lo’) [lo] anaḥnu ‘amo ve-ṣo’n mar‘ito. The wording is nearly identical thought the word order is different— and this comparison with Psalm 95 surely supports the qere reading over the ketiv.

Medieval Jewish commentators on the Bible, the meforshim, while perhaps favoring one reading of Psalm 100:3 over the other, often treat both. Thus Rashi (Rabbi Solomon Yiṣḥaqi, 11th century) says of the ve-lo’ “and not”, that the Lord was God ke-she-lo’ hayyinu ba-‘olam “(even) when we were not in the world”. Ibn Ezra, 12th century, writes of the “and not” reading, hēfekh va-ani ‘aśitini, “it’s the opposite of ‘I made it for myself’”, and follows Sa‘adia (ben Yosef) Ga’on, 10th century. What they are saying is that the assertion that the Lord God made us and we did not make ourselves is the opposite of the solipsistic boast of Pharaoh that God and His prophet Ezekiel ridicule. The prophet says (Ezekiel 29:3):

דַּבֵּ֨ר וְאָמַרְתָּ֜ כֹּה־אָמַ֣ר
׀ אֲדֹנָ֣י יֱהֹוִ֗ה הִנְנִ֤י עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ פַּרְעֹ֣ה מֶלֶךְ־מִצְרַ֔יִם
הַתַּנִּים֙ הַגָּד֔וֹל הָרֹבֵ֖ץ בְּת֣וֹךְ יְאֹרָ֑יו אֲשֶׁ֥ר אָמַ֛ר לִ֥י יְאֹרִ֖י וַאֲנִ֥י עֲשִׂיתִֽנִי׃

Speak and say: Thus spoke the Lord God: “Here am I upon you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the big sea monster who sprawls in the middle of his Nile rivers, who said, ‘It’s my Nile and I made it for myself.’” Anybody who thinks he is autogenes, self-created, is to be compared to the stupid, vainglorious tyrant, the fat, smug crocodile lolling in his muddy brook. In the next verse, God says He’s going to hook him.

The idea of autogenesis seems to have existed and developed in ancient Egyptian thought: the god Atum, who is the only member of the populous pantheon without parents, is called in Egyptian texts kheper-djesef, “the self-generated one”. This concept of an autogenes influenced later cosmological speculation. In recent times it has been a defining feature of atheist cosmogonical theories, in which the “Big Bang” takes place by itself, without the agency of the Creator. Our Psalm, and the prophet Ezekiel, dismiss such claims as mere hubris, as solipsism.

Back to the commentators. (Obadiah ben Jacob) Sforno, 15th-16th century, comments on Psalm 100:3, ve-ha-katuv hu’ ve-lo’ be-alef, u-ferusho she-lo’ nukhal lomar koḥenu ve-‘oṣem yadeinu ‘aśa lanu et ha-ḥayil ha-zeh “and the written form ‘and not’ is with an aleph, and its explanation is that we will be unable to say that it was our strength and the power of our hands that did this deed of valor for us.” That is, God’s miracles are His doing, not ours. The Maharal (Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague, 16th century)— the legendary maker of the Golem— considers both readings, “and not” and “to Him”, in his commentary on the verse.

There are said to be forty-nine gates of interpretation of the Torah accessible to us in this world. A fiftieth, that associated with silence, will be unveiled in the Messianic age. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the case discussed here, Jewish exegesis thus considers both readings, both meanings, as simultaneously present and of equal validity, and finds Scriptural support for both— in Psalm 95, for the reading “to Him”, and in Ezekiel 29, for the reading “and not”.

There is a strange text called the “Odes of Solomon”, and almost the only thing we know for certain about it is that Solomon did not compose it. The most complete text is in Syriac, the Aramaic dialect of the region around the ancient city of Edessa, modern Urfa. Urfa, which has a site sacred to Muslims called birket Ibrahim, the pool of Abraham— it is considered meritorious to feed the pudgy carp that lazily swim in it— is just north of Harran, where Abraham dwelled for a time. Edessa and nearby Nisibis were centers of early Christianity, but Gnostic and other philosophical and religious schools also flourished there. The Odes are not quite Gnostic, yet not quite Christian either. My friend, the scholar Samuel Zinner, reminded me of the reliance of Ode 7:12 upon Psalm 100:3. James Charlesworth, a commentator and translator of the Syriac text, noted this half a century ago in his edition.

The Syriac of verse 12 reads:

יהב לה דנתחזא לאילין דדילה אנון, מטל דנשתודעון להו דעבד אנון, ודלא נסברון דמן נפשהון הוו:

“He gave him to appear in a vision to those that are his own, because they might know him, who made them, and that they not think that they were from themselves.”

The text suggests that God took on our human appearance in order to become known to us and to instruct us in His ways; and at the same time make it known to us (the Syriac uses the same verb for “know” in verse 12 as the Hebrew of Psalm 100:3, da‘) that we did not create ourselves. So far, that corresponds well to the “and not” reading of Psalm 100:3. But the phrase de-dileh enun, “that they belong to Him”, in the first part of verse 12, seems to echo also the “to him” reading of Psalm 100:3. That is, the seventh Ode of Solomon may be an exegetical comment on both possible readings of the Hebrew original, suggesting that the mysterious author, who probably lived several centuries before the beginnings of the labors of the Masoretes, might already have had access to manuscripts with both the “and not” and the “to Him” variants with spellings lamed-alef and lamed-vav. In his poem he blended the two, much as the later meforshim were to consider both in their commentaries.

In my own devotions I use an ArtScroll Tehillim (Psalter) that I purchased seven years ago at Holzer’s bookshop off Jaffa Road in downtown Jerusalem. It is a useful book and the ArtScroll series of seforim (holy books) and their translations revolutionized Torah study. But the editors changed the lamed-alef of the third verse of Psalm 100 in the volume to the qere, lamed-vav. Not only is this tampering with just one little word in the text a fundamental violation of both rule and principle, it also deprives the reader of a great deal of thought about Torah. In the foregoing discussion I hope to have succeeded in presenting some of that richness to you.

I am from Washington Heights in upper Manhattan. Many survivors of the Nazi Holocaust settled in my neighborhood, and in my youth they built many synagogues. One of them, on 179th Street and Pinehurst Avenue, just a few blocks south of my childhood home, has the first part of the fourth verse of the hundredth Psalm inscribed above its doors: “Come into His gates with thanks; into His courtyards, with prayer!” The white brick façade is designed to look like the walls of Jerusalem. When I was a boy, I used to make a detour on the way home from school, after getting off at the 181st Street station of the “A” train, to walk past this shul, which I loved. I never saw the inside, and years ago the building was torn down to make way for a faceless tower block of overpriced condos.

When the Romans burned Rabbi Hanina ben Teradion alive, they wrapped him in a Torah scroll. As he died, he said, The scroll is burning but look, the letters are flying up into the air. This is Shavuot, the zman matan Torah, the time of the giving of the Torah. See, the old shul near the George Washington Bridge is gone. The happy New York City kid is now an old, bereaved man thousands of miles from home. But that doesn’t matter in the end, because the letters are alive and unchanged and full of promise and joy: Bo’u she‘arav be-toda; ḥaṣrotav be-tehilla. Know that the Lord, He is God. He made us, we did not make ourselves, and we, His nation and the flock in His pastoral care, belong to Him.

Excursus on Psalm 95.

The fiftieth gate of understanding of the Torah will open when the Messiah comes. When will that be? Tractate Ta‘anit of the Jerusalem Talmud relates that Rabbi Aḥa said in the name of Rabbi Tanḥum the son of Rabbi Ḥiyya, if Israel would repent for just one day the son of David would come. What is the reason? It is Psalm 95:7, hayom im be-qolo tishma‘u, “Today, if you listen to His voice.” Tractate Sanhedrin of the Babylonian Talmud has another version of the story: Rabbi Joshua ben Levi went to see the Messiah and asked him when he was coming. The Messiah answered, Today. Rabbi Joshua later on complained to Elijah that the Messiah had lied to him. He said he was coming today, but he didn’t! Elijah explained that what the Messiah meant was Psalm 95:7, hayom im be-qolo tishma‘u, “Today, if you listen to His voice.”

And if that were all, the story would end there. But wait, there’s more! In the 18th century the founder of modern Hasidism, the Ba‘al Shem Tov, went to visit the Messiah and asked him again when he was coming. This time, the Messiah replied with a different text, Proverbs 5:16, and said he would come when Yafuṣu ma‘yenotekha ḥuṣa, “Your springs will gush forth”. We have an answer in the Talmud, though. Why did the Besht have temerity to ask the same question importunately, impatiently, again? A note to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s treatise, ‘Inyana shel torat ha-Ḥasidut (English title, “On the Essence of Chasidus”), explains that the Besht was the Moses of his day. There is an accepted Hasidic teaching that one reason Moses was not allowed to enter the Land of Israel was that there are certain Commandments that can only be fulfilled there, and a person’s soul must undergo successive reincarnations (gilgul) till he will have fulfilled all 613. God foresaw that we, the Children of Israel, would continue in future ages to need the pastoral care of our teacher Moses, and thus every righteous man is invested with a part of Moses’ reincarnated soul. Moses loves and cares for us so much that doesn’t mind the risk of pushing the envelope. Which God wants and expects him to do.

Excursus on Psalm 100.

When I was a kid taking detours to walk past the synagogue on 179th Street, one of my favorite books was André Schwarz-Bart’s novel The Last of the Just. There exists a belief that this wicked world endures only because at any time thirty-six just men are alive in it. They often live and die in obscurity, unaware of the cosmic role they are playing. The novel chronicles the tragic history of one European Jewish family of just men, from the Middle Ages to modern times. The last of the just is a Polish Jewish boy murdered by the Nazis in the gas chamber of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The numerical value of the Hebrew letter lamed is 30. Vav is 6. So one of the 36 just men is a lamedvavnik. Now look at the qere in Psalm 100:3, “to Him”, lo. It’s spelled lamed-vav, 36. But it’s written lamed-alef, “no”, lo’. Maybe the ketiv is HIDING the 36: No, you may not see them! And how is it concealing them? With the letter alef, which is numerically 1 and also the first letter of the Hebrew word for One, אחד, Eḥad. The end of the profession of faith, the Shema‘, ends with that word. In the book of Esther, when Haman complains to Ahasuerus that there is eḥad, “one” nation scattered through the Persian Empire, commentators have suggested that what is annoying the villain is that we are united despite our dispersion. In the Passover Haggadah, the story of the four sons— wise, wicked, simple, inarticulate— is phrased in such a way that each is called eḥad, “one”. One meaning to be derived from this is their underlying unity. Oneness is not just a cover for the Lamedvavniks, then. It’s also a description of their essential unity and our own, of the fifth and truest level of the soul, yeḥida, unity, and of the Oneness of God Himself, Who, as we know, made us (we did not make ourselves) and to Whom we belong.

About the Author
Born New York City to Sephardic Mom and Ashkenazic Dad, educated at Bronx Science HS, Columbia, Oxford, SOAS (Univ. of London), professor of ancient Iranian at Columbia, of Armenian at Harvard, lectured on Jewish studies where now live in retirement: Fresno, California. Published many books & scholarly articles. Belong to Chabad.