What is wrong with King David calling the Torah a song (tehillim 119:54, Sotah 35a) when the Torah calls itself such (Devarim 31:19, Nedarim 38a)

  • 3
    Can you provide more specifics? It is completely unclear as to how we know that David made a mistake. Perhaps, include a citing of the verse as well as an excerpt from Talmud Sotah to clarify this point. Have any of the commentaries explained this? IIRC, the Torah verse you cited refers only to Ha'azinu which is a specific song, It does not refer to the entire Torah being a song.
    – DanF
    Nov 4, 2016 at 13:33
  • @DanF the talmud in Nedarim that I cite seems to understand it refers to the whole thing
    – eman
    Nov 4, 2016 at 15:11
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    Fine, I trust that. But, I still think that a citing, or better an English synopsis will improve this question. Many M.Y. readers prob. don't understand the Talmudic language by viewing the page.
    – DanF
    Nov 4, 2016 at 15:17
  • I read both Talmudic pages. I'm not sure where you have the idea that the Torah calls itself Shira. I read Rash"i's comment, but, it's unclear to me that he's proving that point. Regardless, it seems that your assumption is flawed. Talmud Sotah mentions the word zemirot, not shira. I think that there is a significant difference in meaning as it applies here, even though both words are translated as "song". But, I have learned that they are different types of song, so I don't think that you can make a fair comparison, here. Again, please assist us in putting some translation. It helps.
    – DanF
    Nov 4, 2016 at 19:15
  • See המשך וככה Hemsech Vakacha by the Rebbe Maharash (chapter 68), which deals in great detail on this topic.
    – Shmuel
    Dec 4, 2022 at 18:40

3 Answers 3


Great question! The answer lies in the difference of the words themselves used in the verses (both Hebrew and English provided by mechon-mamre):

1) Tehillim (119:54)- "זְמִרוֹת, הָיוּ-לִי חֻקֶּיךָ--בְּבֵית מְגוּרָי...Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage."

2) Devarim (31:19) "וְעַתָּה, כִּתְבוּ לָכֶם אֶת-הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת, וְלַמְּדָהּ אֶת-בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, שִׂימָהּ בְּפִיהֶם: לְמַעַן תִּהְיֶה-לִּי הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת, לְעֵד--בִּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. "

This difference of terminology is explained beautifully by Rabbi Frand:

The Gaon answers that there exists a tremendous difference between "Zemirah" and "Shirah". Zemirah, like the Zemiros of Shabbos, are finite. They have a beginning and end. [Kah Ribbon (a Sabbath song) starts with a Yud, it ends with a Lamed -- and it's over. All Zemiros are similar.] Shirah represents the infinite. Shirah represents the articulation and expression of feelings, which have no end and no beginning. When a person breaks out in Shirah, it is a manifestation of what his essence is all about. There is no end to that. It is not finite. Torah can be called Shirah, but Torah can not be called Zimra. To refer to Torah as Zimra has the connotation that there can be a beginning to Torah and an end to Torah and then I would be finished with Torah. That is untrue. Torah can't be finished. Torah is Shirah -- the infinite expression of what a Jew is all about, his innermost essence. That was King Dovid's sin.


The simple answer is that the torah is much more than a song and Dovid is getting criticised because on his level he should not of called it a song. There is a deeper answer that the שיר song, also is connected to שיר which means circle, a circle being seeing the whole picture, whereas dovid he shouldn't of called it a song as he could not see the whole picture. And with regards to Hashem calling it a song since Hashem can see the whole picture he has the ability to call it a song.


R. Samson of Sens explains in his commentary to Ahilot (16:4) that in context of this Midrash, "song" refers to a mere metaphor:

ואף על גב דאיענש דוד על שקרא לדברי תורה זמירות ר"ע משל בעלמא

Note that the pashtanim do not interpret the verse in a negative light, (cf. Radak, Alshikh, and Malbim to Psalms 119:54).

Note also that on a peshat level, Deuteronomy (31:19) likely doesn't refer to the entire Torah, (cf. Rashi, Rashbam, and Ramban there).

In summary, there is no contradiction since on peshat level, the Torah as a whole is not referred to as a song, and furthermore, according to peshat, the verse in Psalms indicates no wrongdoing on the part of Moses. Even according to the Midrash in Sotah, David's intent is interpreted as dismissing the Torah's laws as mere parables; something which Deuteronomy (31:19) does not imply.

  • @SAH I think you must be missing something. The question was based on that source...It is what we are discussing. The first source I cite is an explanation of it! It's not a matter of it being right out wrong...
    – mevaqesh
    Mar 5, 2017 at 6:51
  • @SAH Considering that as I clarified, I DO discuss the passage, and that the wording itself contains no information that helps answer the question regardless, of whether one accepts it or not, consider deleting you comments as the seem obsolete. If you think that you are noticing something in the passage that would somehow necessitate a direct citation, consider clarifying that.
    – mevaqesh
    Mar 5, 2017 at 19:05

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