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There is a custom of the Gra to replace the regular shir shel yom on holidays and various other special days with a psalm specific to that day. (This custom is followed by many Nusach Ashkenaz synagogues in Israel, particularly in Jerusalem.)

Here is a list of the relevant days and the psalms recited.

What was the Gra's source for this list?

Some can be found in the gemara (e.g. the various psalms for Chol HaMoed Sukkot are listed in a beraita quoted in Sukkah 55a, and Rosh Hashanah's Psalm 81 is discussed in Rosh Hashanah 30b). Some are found in Masechet Sofrim chapter 18 (e.g. Psalm 30 for Chanukah).

But some are not found in Masechet Sofrim (e.g. Psalm 32 for Yom Kippur), and some are contradicted by Masechet Sofrim (e.g. Shavuot - Gra says Psalm 19 and Masechet Sofrim says Psalm 29).

So what is the Gra's source for these choices, especially where they contradict Masechet Sofrim?

  • 2
    Great question! – Oliver Oct 10 '17 at 16:56
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/86156/psalms-for-festivals (Inspired by comments there? The link is the same one brought down in @Oliver's answer there.) – DonielF Oct 10 '17 at 22:24
  • The Gra's practice is apparently not universally agreed on. Look at Tosefet Ma'ase Rav here 54 and 56. Maybe it was just his personal custom and not based on the song of the Levites. – b a Dec 25 '17 at 13:11
  • @JoelK This question has really intrigued me. The possible answers seem to be that either he just made them up, or based them off some Kabbalah, or based them off some Sefer that we don't have, or, each individual one has its own source. Would you be able to list exactly which ones are different? Because as an example, for Purim Maseches Sofrim lists Shigayon Ledavid, whereas the Gra says Lamenatzeiach Al Ayeles Hashachar, which is also brought down by Avudraham (and possibly Tosfos Megillah 4a). Perhaps then we can try to find sources for each one. – רבות מחשבות Dec 26 '17 at 4:36
  • @רבותמחשבות Good suggestion. I'll see if I can find the time to put a comparison together. Otherwise, you're more than welcome to do so yourself! – Joel K Dec 27 '17 at 11:23
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+50

(Note that even with the list in Maseches Sofrim, there are a few days with arguments or multiple psalms which indicate that these choices were not absolute.)

Not perfect, but the best I could do...

In Chashukei Chemed to Sukkah 55a, it says the following:

ז. השיר זכר למעשה בראשית - כתב בשו"ת בנין שלמה (ח"ב או"ח סימן א' הערות על 'מעשה רב - סימן קנח', עמוד י בנדמ"ח) 'ותדע דהא הלוים אמרו שני פעמים את השיר של יום, דהיינו בתמיד של שחר ובתמיד של בין הערבים, וא"כ למה אין אנו אומרים השיר של יום גבי מנחה, אבל הוא הדבר אשר דברתי דמה שאנו אומרים שיר של יום אינו משום זכר למקדש כלל, רק להזכיר מעין יצירת היום, ולכן די בפעם אחד. ובזה ביאר את הנהגת הגר"א שמובא במעשה רב (סימן קנח), שאין אומרים שני מזמורים ביום אחד, דמה שנאמר לומר פרשיות הקרבנות וסדר המעמדות משום ונשלמה פרים שפתינו, אינו אלא בעיקר פרשיות הקרבנות שהם באים לכפר ולהרצות לפני ה', אבל השיר של קרבן, עיקר מצוותו אינו אלא כדי לתת שבח והודיה פני ה' שהשרה שכינתו בבית הגדול והקדוש, וזה היה נחת רוח לפניו רק בהיות הבית על מכונו, אבל עכשיו שחרב המקדש, ואין לנו לא מזבח ולא קרבן ולא מנחה, א"כ אפשר דאין מגיע נחת רוח לפניו ית' באמירת השיר, ורק שיר של שחר תיקנו משום שהוזכר בכל אחד מעין היצירה שבכל יום, על דרך שאמרו חז"ל (סנהדרין דף קא) כל הקורא פסוק בזמנו מביא טובה לעולם, עיי"ש.

Chashukei Chemed is discussing saying Shir Shel Yom at Mincha. He brings down the Shu"t Binyan Shlomo who says that we say Shir Shel Yom as a praise to the day (basing it off of Sanhedrin 101 - "reading a verse at its correct time brings good to the world"), but the Leviyim singing Shir Shel Yom was meant to be a "Nachas Ruach" along with the Korbanos of the day. Since we are not doing it for that reason, once a day is enough. He also uses this to explain why the Gra says that we should not say multiple Shirim on one day.

(Perhaps another proof to this is that the Gra has no Shir Shel Yom for Tisha Beav, whereas in Maseches Sofrim there are multiple ones listed. Perhaps another one is that the Shir in the Beis Hamikdash was only for Leviyim, and if so, why should we say it. Perhaps another one is where we say it during Davening, separate from Korban Hatamid.)

In a nutshell, we don't say the Shir Shel Yom nowadays to remember the old Shir Shel Yom that they used to sing with the Korban Hatamid, but rather as reciting verses appropriate to the day itself.

This would explain why in some cases the Shir Shel Yom that the Leviyim used to sing with the Korbanos does not correspond to those which the Gra chose, as we can suggest that he felt that some of these selections were meant to go together with Korbanos of the day, but when we have no Korbanos, the focus should be changed to those that go together with our Davening, and would be more appropriate.

As an example, we relate to Shavuos as the day of the giving of the Torah, and the Gra presumably felt that Psalm 19 fits that mindset better for us than Psalm 29, which was meant as a praise to accompany Korbanos on that day. Also, any days which had no Shir Shel Yom in the Beis Hamikdash (or simply weren't listed anywhere) should not stop us from saying Shir Shel Yom of our own, which would explain Yom Kippur.

All in all, essentially my answer is that the Gra needed no source, as Shir Shel Yom is just about bringing out something that is meaningful for that day. He also does not contradict Maseches Sofrim, because Maseches Sofrim is talking about what WAS in the Beis Hamikdash, whereas we do not say Shir Shel Yom as related to that.

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    Nice suggestion. Thanks. But are you sure that Masechet Sofrim is talking about what was done in the Beit Hamikdash. After all it starts off by saying לפיכך נהגו העם לומר מזמורים בעונתן. Also, I’m fairly sure there were no mizmorim for 9 Av in the Mikdash... – Joel K Dec 25 '17 at 17:29
  • @JoelK I was wondering the same. (There may have been a special Shir in the second Beis Hamikdash on Tisha Beav.) There does seem to have been some connection to the Beis Hamikdash, although the singing may have originally been a Zecher to what the Leviyim did and later lost even that. Certainly the daily ones are referring to the Beis Hamikdash, and I assumed the other ones as well... But overall, I agree that it's a somewhat weak answer, but the best I could find, and an answer nevertheless. – רבות מחשבות Dec 25 '17 at 17:42
  • This would explain why the Yekkes have a different set as per the Avodath Yisroel Siddur, and how come there's one for Chanuka and Purim – Danny Schoemann Dec 26 '17 at 12:30
  • @DannySchoemann yup! Also why there are many versions within the Gra's minhag (see comments by b a above), as well as all of the issues noted in the answer. – רבות מחשבות Dec 26 '17 at 23:37

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