Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I do not think it means what you think it means

Warning: The following post exceeds the recommended daily allowance for pedantic nitpickiness (even by the notoriously lax standards of this blog). Proceed at your own risk.

If you’re like the denizens of TRLEOOB (=the real life equivalent of our blog), you probably spent a significant portion of last week – i.e. the week of Parshat Vayishlach – listening to Yonatan Razel’s hauntingly beautiful “Katonti”:

And who could blame you (or the aforementioned denizens)?

After all, not only is it a gorgeous song, but most of the words come straight from last week’s parsha. (The rest of the lyrics come from Sefer Tehillim.)

But – and here’s where the threatened nitpickiness comes in – a closer look at the words reveals that there’s something very funny about this song.

I mean, at first glance, the song seems to be about Yaakov thanking Hashem for His benevolence:

”קָטֹנְתִי מִכֹּל הַחֲסָדִים וּמִכָּל הָאֱמֶת אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ אֶת עַבְדֶךָ כִּי בְמַקְלִי עָבַרְתִי אֶת הַיַרְדֵן הַזֶה וְעַתָה הָיִיתִי לִשְׁנֵי מַחֲנוֹת. הַצִילֵנִי נָא…
”כִּי חַסְדְךָ גָדוֹל עָלָי וְהִצַלְתָ נַפְשִׁי מִשְׁאוֹל תַחְתִיָה.

“I have been diminished by all the kindnesses and by all the truth which You have rendered Your servant; for with my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Deliver me, please…” (Breishit 32:11-12)
“For Your kindness is great toward me; and You saved my soul from the lowermost depths of the grave.”
(Tehilim 86:13)

But as Rashi - citing Chazal – explains, Yaakov is actually concerned that he has “used up” all his zechuyot (protective merits) and that he is no longer worthy of being saved:

”נתמעטו זכיותי על ידי החסדים והאמת שעשית עמי. לכך אני ירא, שמא משהבטחתני, נתלכלכתי בחטא, ויגרום לי להמסר ביד עשו.“

“My merits have been diminished by the kindnesses and the truth that You have done for me. Therefore, I fear that since the time You promised me, I may have became sullied with sin, and it will cause me to be delivered into Esav’s hand.”

In other words, as lovely as it is, “Katonti” is a so-called “Lo Ra’av” song.

A Lo Ra’av song has nice-sounding lyrics that turn out to mean something else entirely, when one checks the words’ original source and context.

The name comes from a pasuk (verse) in Amos:

הִנֵה יָמִים בָּאִים… וְהִשְׁלַחְתִי רָעָב בָּאָרֶץ לֹא רָעָב לַלֶחֶם וְלֹא צָמָא לַמַיִם כִּי אִם לִשְׁמֹעַ אֵת דִבְרֵי ה’.“

“Behold, days are coming… and I will send a famine into the land; not a famine for bread nor a thirst for water, but to hear the words of Hashem.” (Amos 8:11)

Over the years, this pasuk has been set to music several times, and there are now many different versions of this song, including:

The Dveykus version

The R’ Shlomo Carlebach version

Apparently, those behind these songs felt that a situation that involves thirsting for Hashem’s words is a wonderful, praiseworthy, and song-worthy thing.

But in actuality, the pasuk means that there will be hastarat Panim (literally, that Hashem will “hide His face”) – i.e. a terrible punishment, and thus not exactly something that most people would choose to sing about!

Which is why “Hinei Yamim” always makes me laugh…


Please share your own amusing examples of “Lo Ra’av” songs in the comment section below.


  1. Well, no examples spring to mind, but I do love the title of this post! #inigoforever

    1. Gila - One of the Shiputzim sons said, "Imma, you only wrote this post so you could use the title, right?"
      It's truly a beautiful day in a mother's life when her kids start developing Princess Bride bekiut... ;-)

  2. Avraham Fried's song איש את רעהו יעזרו ולאחיו יאמר חזק, which comes from the haftarah of Lech lecha. The context is referring to idol worshipers coming together to fight a war against HaShem.

    1. YW - That is an excellent example! As Rashi there (Yeshaya 41) explains, the idol worshippers will strengthen each other to build a better idol! Certainly not something that we should be singing about... ;-)


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