On Shabbos and the Festivals, we sing special songs of praise and thanksgiving to Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One. For example, on Shabbos and Festival mornings, we chant an ancient song known as Nishmas Kol Chai – “The Soul of Every Living Being,” and this song opens with the following words:
“The soul of every living being shall bless Your Name, Hashem, our God, and the spirit of all flesh shall always glorify and exalt Your remembrance, Our Sovereign.”
According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, these opening words declare that every soul joins with the universal chorus of all other creatures in one hymn of praise to Hashem (The Hirsch Siddur).
Through the words of Nishmas Kol Chai, we, the People of Israel, join this chorus with acknowledgement and appreciation of the Divine guidance and care for the world, in general, and for our people, in particular. Nishmas Kol Chai is also sung during the second half of the Passover Seder, when we express our yearning for the future redemption of Israel and the world. The following is an excerpt from this ancient song:
“God of the first and of the last, God of all creatures, Master of all generations, Who is extolled through a multitude of praises, Who guides His world with lovingkindness and His creatures with compassion. Hashem neither slumbers nor sleeps; Who awakens the sleepers and Who rouses those that are stunned, Who gives speech to the mute and releases the bound, Who supports the fallen and Who straightens the bent. To You alone we give thanks. Were our mouths as full of song as the sea, and our tongues as full of joyous song as its multitude of waves, and our lips as full of praise as the breadth of the heavens, and our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, and our hands as outspread as eagles of the sky, and our feet as light as the deer – we still could not thank You sufficiently, Hashem, our God and God of our ancestors, and to bless Your Name for even one thousandth of the countless millions of favors which You have bestowed upon our ancestors and us. You redeemed us from Egypt, Hashem, our God, and liberated us from the house of bondage.”
In the next excerpt, we find the following holistic prayer:
“Therefore, the organs that You set within us, and the spirit and soul that You breathed into our nostrils, and the tongue that You placed in our mouth – all of them shall thank and bless, praise and glorify, exalt and revere, sanctify and declare the sovereignty of Your Name, our Sovereign. For every mouth will offer thanks to You; every tongue shall vow allegiance to You; every knee shall bend to You; every erect spine shall bow before You; all hearts shall be in awe of you, and all innermost feelings and thoughts shall sing praises to Your Name, as it is written: All my limbs shall say,’Who is like You, Hashem, Who saves the poor person from one stronger than he, the poor and the defenseless from one who would rob him' (Psalm 35:10). Who is equal to You? And who can be compared to You, O great, mighty, and awesome God, the Supreme God, the Owner of heaven and earth? We shall laud, praise, and glorify You and bless Your Holy Name, as it said (Psalm 103:1), By David: Bless Hashem, O my soul and all that is within me, bless His Holy Name!”
As the commentators explain, the above prayer concludes with a call for the soul and the inner organs of the body to bless Hashem. In what way, however, can the human soul and body “bless” the Compassionate and Life-Giving One? Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his classical work on the mitzvos, explains that we can “bless” Hashem by furthering the Divine purpose through our deeds. Rabbi Hirsch adds:
“Accordingly, whenever you say to God, ‘Blessed are You Hashem, etc,’ you subject all the powers of your being to the fulfillment of the Divine will, to the service of the deed.” (Horeb, chapter 98, page 475)
The following is a Chassidic tale concerning the song Nishmas Kol Chai:
It was Shabbos morning, and the congregation was singing the songs of praise in the morning prayers. Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov stepped over to the broad-framed window of the shul (synagogue), and gazed out over the beautiful valley below. And when his heart was filled with love and praise for the Creator, he sang the opening words of the Nishmas prayer, “The soul of every living being shall bless Your Name, Hashem, our God.”
Every week he sang these words, while the congregation sang quietly along in rapture. So beautiful was the melody that the Gentile shepherds would gather their flocks in the valley beneath the shul to hear his song of praise.
The years went by. The Dinover Rebbe became old. He fell into ill health, and at last, left this world for higher realms. The week of his passing was hard for his congregation. On the first Shabbos morning after his passing, the congregation sang the morning psalms, and as they were about to intone the words of Nishmas, the familiar melody rose up from outside the shul and floated in through the window.
The congregation ran to the window in disbelief. There, below, the Gentile shepherds were singing the Rebbe’s melody with great devotion. They had gathered together as usual, and spontaneously, the Dinover Rebbe’s wonderful melody had broken forth from their lips.
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen
1.The above Chassidic story appears in an abridged form in the Art Scroll Haggadah of the Chassidic Masters, in the commentary on Nishmas Kol Chai. An expanded form of this story appeared in Bas Ayin, a journal of Jewish spirituality. The Editor of Bas Ayin is Rabbi Eliezer Shore. I adapted the version that appears in Bas Ayin.
2. Various parts of Nishmas Kol Chai are quoted in the Talmud, and it has been suggested that the author of this song is Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach, a leading sage who lived in the Land of Israel during the Second Temple period. For further information, see the Art Scroll Haggadah by Rabbi Joseph Elias.
For further information on the ArtScroll Haggados mentioned above, visit: