A widespread contemporary custom in the Chareidi world is that when one of the gedolei Torah, גדולי ישראל, arrives at a special event or for a special visit, a verse from Tehillim, Yomim al yemei melech tosif…(ימים על ימי מלך תוסיף שנותיו כמו דר ודר – תהלים סא:ז)* is sung to a well known tune. For those who need an illustration of what I am talking about, here is one.
I was wondering about this a while back, as I recalled from years ago, that on similar occasions, אור זרע לצדיק ולישרי לב שמחה – תהלים צז:יא used to be the niggun of choice previously. A choral version of that tune can be heard here.
I asked רבש”ה about it back then and he related that he remembered that years ago, it was yet a different posuk, שאו שערים ראשיכם והנשאו פתחי עולם, וכו, that was popularly used (in ‘Yeshivish’ circles presumably) on such occasions. He thought that ימים was used for Rav Schach זצ”ל (when he was a מופלג בזקנה I assume) and that later its use had spread to other gedolim as well. Personally, I wonder if the singing of yomim did not originate in Chasidic and/or Sepharadic circles.
As an aside, I believe that none of these would be sung in strict מנהג אשכנז, due to an issue with singing pesukim outside tefilloh (as brought in the Luach Minhogim of Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz, in the Simchas Torah section). Update: I asked רבש”ה about this and he agreed.
Does anyone have any information about these customs that they could share, to shed some more light on them?
My guess is that the above practices are relatively recent. I also suspect that the singing of ימים on such occasions is spreading out from ארץ ישראל in the way that some other practices from there have spread to the diaspora, as we have discussed here in the past. While the idea of greeting and being mechabed gedolim with song is not new, the specific forms discussed above seem to be relatively recent. In general, a nice and catchy tune can definitely help a practice spread. If we would know when the current popular tune for Yomim came together, that might help a lot in tracking and dating the practice.
Note: This post is a bit different than our typical fare, but since this site functions as a minhogim discussion forum in general, in addition to its role with regard to minhag Ashkenaz in particular, such things have a place here as well.
* Re the singing of Yomim – if one looks at peirushim of the verse in Tehillim, one can well wonder if its use as a gedolim welcome song is not out of place, according to poshut pshat there – see Rashi on it for example. See here for more on that.