A number of months ago, a friend of mine asked me why some people (such as ‘yours truly’) clap from time to time during davening, even during Shemoneh Esreh itself. At the time, I didn’t give him much of an answer as I was caught off guard and didn’t have sufficient knowledge at my fingertips. Nevertheless, since we just highlighted the need for dance in last week’s essay, it seems that now is an appropriate time to rectify my shortcoming and to introduce all of us to the subject of hand-clapping.
We learned from last week’s essay that dancing and hand-clapping mitigate judgments (Likutei Moharan 10:1): כְּשֶׁיֵּשׁ חַס וְשָׁלוֹם דִּינִים עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל עַל־יְדֵי רִקּוּדִים וְהַמְחָאַת כַּף אֶל כַּף נַעֲשֶׂה הַמְתָּקַת הַדִּינִין (When there are, G d forbid, judgments [dinim] upon Yisrael, dancing and clapping hands sweetens the dinim). But hand-clapping in what context? Hand-clapping during tefillah, as taught explicitly by R’ Nachman. To illustrate, read these opening statements in three sequential teachings in Likutei Moharan: L.M. 44, מַה שֶּׁמַּכִּין כַּף אֶל כַּף בִּשְׁעַת הַתְּפִלָּה (Regarding hand-clapping during tefillah), L.M. 45, מֶחָאַת כַּפַּיִם בַּתְּפִלָּה (Clapping during tefillah), and L.M. 46, מֶחָאַת כַּף בִּשְׁעַת הַתְּפִלָּה (Clapping during tefillah). Although there are many other sources that explain the lofty avodah of clapping during tefillah, these should suffice for our purposes. Therefore, at face value, hand-clapping seems like a very good thing (provided we don’t unnecessarily disturb others by clapping loudly). Therefore, if we believe that alleviating the burden of judgments against us (and by extension, our families, our communities and our nation) would be a good thing, then we should, at the very least, learn about this subject with an open mind. Let’s begin.
For the most part, what primary emotion leads a person to want to clap his hands? Joy. R’ Nachman expressed it this way (L.M. 10:6): כִּי רִקּוּדִין וְהַמְחָאַת כַּף נִמְשָׁכִין מִבְּחִינַת הָרוּחַ שֶׁבַּלֵּב כַּנִּרְאֶה בְּחוּשׁ כִּי עַל־יְדֵי שִׂמְחַת הַלֵּב הוּא מְרַקֵּד וּמַכֶּה כַּף אֶל כַּף (For dancing and hand-clapping are drawn down from the spirit [ruach] that is in the heart; as is readily apparent, for through simchah of the heart, a person dances and claps his hands). That being said, how can we make ourselves suitable vessels to receive this ruach? There are two necessities. First, we must eliminate (as much as possible) any trace of arrogance, and second, we need to connect to the ruach of Mashiach, i.e. the Tzaddik, who is in the aspect of Yoshiyahu, the last righteous king of Yisrael who was killed in battle by soldiers of Pharaoh’s army. Of him, Yirmeyahu wrote (Eichah 4:20): רוּחַ אַפֵּינוּ מְשִׁיחַ יְיָ (The ruach of our nostrils, the Mashiach of Hashem). These two points are summarized in L.M. 10:6: הַיְנוּ עַל־יְדֵי הַצַּדִּיק שֶׁהוּא בְּחִינַת רוּחַ כַּנַּ”ל נִתְבַּטֵּל הַגַּאֲוָה (Thus, through the Tzaddik, who is the aspect of ruach, arrogance is nullified).
But what if we haven’t yet come to the level where we’re feeling simchah with every breath we take? Assuming that we want to mitigate the harsh judgments hanging over our lives, what should we do? We should clap our hands anyway. But wouldn’t that be an act of hypocrisy? No, on the contrary, it would be an act of emunah. In the Kabbalistic literature, a process known as ‘female waters’ [מיין נוקבין, mayin nukvin] describes actions initiated ‘below’ by us which trigger actions from ‘above’ in the higher worlds. In our case, the very act of clapping one’s hands is in the aspect of mayin nukvin which has the power to draw down simchah from the upper worlds into one’s heart.
Now let’s get into some of the details of what’s going on ‘behind the scenes’ as a result of clapping one’s hands. What is actually happening when we clap our hands during tefillah?
We read in Tehillim 111:6: כֹּחַ מַעֲשָׂיו הִגִּיד לְעַמּוֹ לָתֵת לָהֶם נַחֲלַת גּוֹיִם (He declared the power of His works [koach ma’asav] to His people, to give to them the inheritance of the goyim). This verse explains why Hashem began the Torah with the account of creation rather than with the giving of the Torah. Rashi spells it out by quoting the Midrash Tanchuma: כתב לישראל מעשה בראשית להודיעם שהארץ שלו ובידו להושיב בה כל מי שירצה ולעקור אלו ולהושיב אחרים שלא יוכלו האומות לומר לישראל גזלנים אתם שכבשתם ארץ שבעה גוים: (He wrote to Yisrael the account of creation to inform them that the world is His, and it is in His power to settle in it anyone He wants, and to uproot these and to cause others to settle, so that the nations won’t be able to say to Yisrael, ‘You are thieves for you conquered the land of the seven nations’). Therefore, everything in creation is considered an aspect of ‘the power of His works’ [כֹּחַ מַעֲשָׂיו, koach ma’asav]. And what are those works? How did creation begin? It began with the 28 letters of the first verse of the Torah (Bereshit 1:1): בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹקִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ (In the beginning, G d created the heavens and the earth). Now, since the word כֹּחַ [koach] has the gematria of 28, the phrase koach ma’asav can be understood as, ‘His works are 28’, i.e. the 28 letters of Bereshit 1:1. In other words, everything in creation can be traced back to these 28 letters. They are that fundamental. What is the practical ramification of this fact? The 28 letters of Bereshit 1:1 parallel the 28 segments of the fingers in the two hands (3 for each finger and 2 for each thumb), 14 for each hand, the word יָד [yad, hand] having the gematria of 14.
That’s quite a bit, so feel free to read that last paragraph at least one more time. The main point is that, in some highly mystical sense, which is not at all intuitive, G d created everything through the power of His two hands. But it’s more than just that (L.M. 44:1): וּכְשֶׁאָנוּ מָחְאָן כַּף אֶל כַּף בָּזֶה נִתְעוֹרֵר כ”ח אַתְוָן דִּבְרֵאשִׁית כֹּחַ מַעֲשָׂיו (And when we clap hands, we awaken the 28 letters of Bereshit, the power of His works, i.e. koach  ma’asav). This is remarkable! What this means is that we can tap into and activate the power of creation merely by clapping hands during davening. It is as if we are not only re-creating the world around us anew, but we are also involved in the active re-creation of ourselves, for we are an aspect of creation! Therefore, by clapping hands during tefillah one can release himself from his burdens and the dinim against him because a re-created self doesn’t have to be saddled with the burdens and the judgments of his previous self. Think about that. That is the power of creation that one can unleash by clapping during his prayers.
To recapitulate what we have learned (L.M. 46): גַּם עַל־יְדֵי מֶחָאַת כַּף נִמְתָּקִים הַדִּינִים (By clapping hands, dinim are sweetened). But how? Based on the Tikkunei Zohar and the writings of the Arizal, R’ Nachman reveals (L.M. 46): כִּי יֵשׁ שָׁלֹשׁ הֲוָיוֹת שֶׁהֵם בְּחִינַת שָׁלֹשׁ יָדַיִם: יָד הַגְּדוֹלָה יָד הַחֲזָקָה יָד הָרָמָה וְיַד יָמִין זֶה יָד הַגְּדוֹלָה וְיַד שְׂמֹאל זֶה יָד הַחֲזָקָה וּבִשְׁעַת הַכָּאָה שֶׁנִּתְחַבְּרִים יַחַד זֶה בְּחִינַת יָד רָמָה (For there are three ‘Havayahs‘ [3 times the name of Hashem, י ק ו ק], that are the aspect of three hands, the ‘great hand’ [yad gedolah], the ‘strong hand’ [yad chazakah], and the ‘exalted hand’ [yad ramah]. The right hand is the yad gedolah, the left hand is the yad chazakah, and at the time of striking, they connect to each other, which is the aspect of yad ramah).
Keep in mind that these ‘hands’ of Hashem are not hands in the normal sense of the word with a recognizable shape and form such as the human hand. What are they then? They are the spiritual lights of the sefirot in the world of Atzilut. The ‘right hand’ called yad gedolah corresponds to chesed on the ‘right’ column, the ‘left hand’ called yad chazakah corresponds to gevurah on the ‘left’ column, and the third hand called yad ramah corresponds to tiferet in the ‘middle’ column. Therefore, we see that Hashem doesn’t just have two ‘hands’ as we said earlier; rather, he has three ‘hands’, with His third hand being the sefirah of tiferet, the merging of the ‘right hand’ of chesed with the ‘left hand’ of gevurah into the ‘middle of the body’. And do we remember what is the essence of the light of tiferet? Truth, beauty, mercy, etc. Therefore, without that third hand, the combining of the right and left hands at the moment of clapping, our prayers are devoid of truth and beauty, and do not invoke the mercy of Hashem.
Before we proceed further to explain why the three names of Hashem [Havayah] were mentioned above, let’s apply this knowledge to what we learned already about the koach ma’asav and the act of creation. Hashem didn’t create everything just through the power of His two hands, but rather through the power of His three hands! He took his ‘right’ hand (chesed) and his ‘left’ hand (gevurah) and struck them together in a mystical, spiritual process known as ‘clapping of the hands’, and this is how the worlds were created. In other words, Hashem created the worlds with chesed, gevurah and tiferet, His three ‘hands’. And that is why when we clap our hands in the spiritual work known as tefillah, we are re-activating the very power of creation itself.
So why mention the three Havayahs, all three being activated only when we clap our hands. What do they have to do with anything? Let’s continue in L.M. 46: וְהַדִּבּוּרִים הַיּוֹצְאִים הֵם יוֹצְאִים מֵהַגָּרוֹן גִּימַטְרִיָּא שָׁלֹשׁ פְּעָמִים אֱלֹקִים וְהֵם נִמְתָּקִים עַל־יְדֵי שָׁלֹשׁ הֲוָיוֹת (And the speech that emerges, emerges from the throat [garon], with a gematria that equals the gematria of 3 x Elokim, and they are sweetened, i.e. mitigated, by the three Havayahs). As is known, the name Elokim, with its gematria of 86, is the name of G d associated with din. From the moment we open up our mouths to speak in prayer, we find ourselves facing our sins, hence the dinim against us, i.e. the legal presumption of guilt as exemplified by the gematria of 3 x Elokim [258 + 1] = gematria of garon . However, all is not lost. As is also known, the name Havayah is the name of G d associated with chesed. So the three Havayahs sweeten the 3 Elokims. But how does the name Havayah correspond to ‘hand’ in order to mitigate the din in Elokim? To spell it out: כִּי יָד הוּא בְּחִינַת הֲוָיָה יוּד אוֹתִיּוֹת וְד’ אוֹתִיּוֹת וְעַל־יְדֵי ג’ הַיָּדַיִם שֶׁהוּא ג’ הֲוָיוֹת נִמְתָּקִין הַג’ אֱלֹקִים, שֶׁהֵם הַדִּינִין הַיּוֹצְאִין מֵהַגָּרוֹן שֶׁהוּא בְּגִימַטְרִיָּא ג’ אֱלֹקִים (For yad [gematria of 14] is the aspect of Havayah, i.e. 10 letters and 4 letters, and through the three yads which are the three Havayahs, the three Elokims are sweetened, which are the dinim that come out of the throat [garon], which has the gematria of three Elokims). The 10 corresponds to the number of letters in Havayah when each letter is spelled out, i.e. יו”ד ה”י וא”ו ה”י, and the 4 corresponds to the number of letters in the name Havayah itself, i.e. י ק ו ק.
The miracle is that when we clap our hands together during tefillah, hands which correspond to the three Havayahs, i.e. the three hands of Hashem, we sweeten the judgments against us because we activate and draw down to us the attribute of tiferet, the ‘third’ hand, which is synonymous with mercy, i.e. rachamim. Without the third hand, we only have chesed and gevurah, and without the mercy, as we have already seen, the side of gevurah wins out. But with the third hand, we activate Hashem’s attribute of rachamim which sweetens everything.
Next time you pray, if you are feeling too self-conscious or spiritually ‘disconnected’ from what you’re doing, at least consider these three beautiful verses. It is written in Tehillim 47:2: כׇּל־הָעַמִּים תִּקְעוּ־כָף הָרִיעוּ לֵאלֹקִים בְּקוֹל רִנָּה (All the peoples, join together hands, shout out to G d with a voice of joyful song). Not only people, but even trees will be clapping their hands (Yeshayah 55:12): כִּי־בְשִׂמְחָה תֵצֵאוּ וּבְשָׁלוֹם תּוּבָלוּן הֶהָרִים וְהַגְּבָעוֹת יִפְצְחוּ לִפְנֵיכֶם רִנָּה וְכׇל־עֲצֵי הַשָּׂדֶה יִמְחֲאוּ־כָף (For in simchah you will go out and in peace you will be brought in, the mountains and the hills will shout aloud before you in joyful song, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands). And if that’s not enough, even the inanimate structures such as rivers will be clapping their hands (Tehillim 98:8): נְהָרוֹת יִמְחֲאוּ־כָף יַחַד הָרִים יְרַנֵּנוּ (Rivers will clap hands, the mountains will sing joyously together).
Do we really want to be left out?