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Verses of Song and Praise: Pesukei DeZimrah
Preparation for Prayer
Rav Simlai taught that prior to
beseeching Hashem to allow him to enter Eretz Yisrael, Moses first praised Hashem:
"You have begun to show your servant your greatness and your strong hand"
(Deuteronomy 3:24). According to Rashi, Moses referred to God's boundless mercy and
willingness to forgive sinners. So too prior to our petition of prayer, our Shemoneh
Esrei, we are to praise Hashem (Berachos 32a).
Pesukei Dezimrah helps to prepare us
for the Shemoneh Esrei by reminding us before Whom we are about to have a personal
audience. In addition, the psalms that constitute Pesukei Dezimrah communicate that no one
other than Hashem can grant our requests and desires.
Elaborating on this concept, Menoras
Hamaor suggests that the term Pesukei DeZimrah might have an additional meaning stemming
from the Hebrew verb, "zemer," to prune. Thus the introduction to the Shacharis
prayer is designated as "Verses of Pruning." Just as a gardener prunes his
vines, removing the unhealthy branches in order to improve the fruit-bearing ability of
the superior ones, so too, our recitation of Pesukei DeZimrah removes all spiritual and
metaphysical obstructions and hindrances from our prayers, enabling our tefillos to enter
before the Divine Throne. Pesukei DeZimrah may thus be seen as man's struggle to break
through the many layers of impurity in his environment and enable him to connect with the
Holy. Our recitation of these verses is our way of sending praises to God and of asking
him to decipher our prayers, to cut and paste our yearnings into something worthwhile, as
it were. Perhaps this notion is included in the words of the Yishtabach, the blessing that
concludes Pesukei DeZimrah. There we extol God as HaBocher BeShirai Zimrah, the One Who
chooses musical songs of praise.
Moreover, the Talmud (ibid)
continues, one is not to pray out of sadness but rather with the happiness that comes from
the performance of a mitzvah. For this reason, one should recite these verses slowly and
with a great deal of feeling and emotion. In fact, the Shulchan Aruch writes, one should
recite these psalms just as one would count his money; carefully, deliberately, happily.
Quality of prayer, as opposed to quantity, is the ideal.
Since Pesukei DeZimrah is not a
requirement in and of itself, but is a preparation for the Shema and Shemoneh Esrei - the
more essential parts of the service -it is understandable that one who comes to the
synagogue late and finds the congregation about to begin the section ofShema with its
blessings should skip Pesukei DeZimrah, and join the minyan for the Shema and Shemoneh
Esrei. As important as Pesukei DeZimrah is in preparing the individual for prayer, not
every page of the Siddur has equal significance. Recitation of the Amidah together with
the congregation is the primary purpose and fulfillment of congregational prayer.
[In the event there is time to
recite only part of Pesukei DeZimrah, see pp.?????? for which paragraphs have priority.]
The second Talmudic source for
Pesukei DeZimrah is found in Talmud Shabbos 118b). Rav Yosei taught, "Let my portion
be with those who complete the Hallel every day." (The Talmud explains that the term
Hallel, as it is used here, means Pesukei Dezimrah, and not what is commonly referred to
as Hallel, the special collection of psalms recited on festivals and Rosh Chodesh.) The
final six chapters of the Book of Psalms comprise the essence of Pesukei Dezimrah. They do
not contain petitions to God, but uniquely and exclusively praise Him. It follows,
therefore, that if one had to skip this section in order to join the minyan, one should
not forget to say these psalms afterward.
Pesukei DeZimrah is preceded and concluded by blessings. The introductory blessing is Baruch Sheamar and the concluding blessing is Yishtabach. According to tradition,the Men of the Great Assembly received the text of Baruch Sheamar" on a note that fell from heaven. Its eighty-seven words corresponds to the Hebrew word for refined gold, M, which has the numerical value of eighty-seven. This alludes to the verse in Song of Songs (5:11), His opening words-- i.e. the introductory words of Pesukei Dezimrah - are ofPaz, the finest gold.
The concluding blessing, Yishtabach, does not include the wordsElokeinu Melech HaOlam, our God, King of the universe, as do most blessings, for Yishtabach is a continuation of Baruch She'amar. This shows that all of Pesukei DeZimrah is one unit, and therefore one is not permitted to engage in unnecessary conversation during its entirety. Certain very important prayer responses, however, are permitted. (In final version which will appear in the Seif Edition Siddur - a reference to the proper page will appear here.)
The Central Core
In Baruch Sheamar, the worshiper says, through the psalms of David your servant. We shall laud You, Hashem our God, with praises and songs. Yehi Chevod then captures the major themes and motifs of David's psalms. It is a collection of verses taken primarily from Psalms but also from Chronicles and Proverbs. Incidentally, this helps us understand why this section of the Siddur is called Pesukei Dezintrah, or verses of praise and song. Whereas the Hallel recited on festivals consists of completepsalms, the daily Hallel is literally pesukei or verses of praise, culled from different sources. Yehi Chevod Yehi Chevod contains three separate units. The first discusses God's immanence in the world and how, in this way, man discovers Him as the Creator of the universe. The second section refers to Him as the Master of history, leading mankind towards the realization of His plan, with the chosenness of Israel. Finally, it closes with the assurance that God will forgive our sins when we call to Him, and that He will restore us to our glory when He returns to Zion. In a sense, Yehi Chevod encapsulates the entire Book of Psalms. The glory of God, His Kingdom, His relation to His people; petitions for forgiveness; and entreaties for salvation - fundamental ideas that permeate Psalms Tehillim - are encapsulated in the twenty-one verses of Yehi Chevod. Yehi Chevod is followed by Ashrei (Psalms 145) and the final five chapters of Psalms. One of the special features of Ashrei is that its verses form an alphabetical acrostic, praising God from aleph to tav. Ashrei and Its Companion Psalms The Talmud (Berachos 4b) states that Ashrei was chosen as the primary chapter of Pesukei DeZimrah, because the initials of its verses follow the order of the Hebrew alphabet, from aleph to tav.This symbolizes that our praise and service of God are complete. But, the Talmud asks, why was Ashrei chosen when two other psalms also contain complete alphabetic acrostics? The Talmud responds that Ashrei includes the verse', You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing, an inspiring and reassuring testimony to God's mercy. The Maharsha understands the significance of Ashrei to be that God nourishes us both physically and spiritually. After Ashrei, in Psalm 146, the Psalmist addresses the concept of Divine Providence directed to each and every Person. Each member of Klal Yisrael has a purpose, a mission for which God created him, and God cares about him as an individual. This psalm encourages the Jew in exile, promising that God will, reign forever, despite the current ascendancy of our enemies. Psalm 147 extends His divine providence to the community of Israel. It is no longer the voice of the individual praising God, but the communal voice recognizing our God. If their voice, if their emotion is lacking, then the national symphony of His praise is incomplete. As God heals all wounds so will He heal Israel's wounds. We are reminded that as we endure exile, the Heavenly Jerusalem is being developed by our good deeds and is waiting to descend. Throughout our exile, we must continue to develop the treasures of the Jewish people, our moral and spiritual values. The psalm makes a striking comparison between nature's obedience to God's command, and our own responsibility to obey His Torah just as unquestioningly, because the Torah way of life should be the natural way for the Jew. Psalm 148 brings our praises to the next level, rejoicing in the moment when even the non-Jewish nations of the world will recognize and praise the Creator. This will occur only after the Temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt, and the people of Israel will have risen to surpass their former glory. Psalm 149 reminds us that every generation is confronted with unique challenges and new problems. At the same time, God provides us with the opportunities and wherewithal to solve them. Thus our songs of praise are always infused with new meanings, they never grow stale. The greatest, newest song of all will emanate from Israel's lips when history reaches its climax with the coming of Mashiach. The last psalm contains thirteen variations of the word hallelu, praise, extolling God for his Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. It concludes with the admission that, while the entire Book of Psalms consists of beautifully articulated songs of praise, feelings that words cannot express may best be communicated by the sounds of music or without emitting any sound whatsoever. The human soul can often express God's praises more eloquently than anything else. Intercessors and Utterances Avudraham suggests that the above six psalms serve as "intercessors" for our prayers. They help man attain a purity of soul and an elevation of spirit, enabling him to properly recite the Shema and Shemoneh Esrei. He suggests further that Pesukei DeZimrah provides a daily reminder of the ten utterances with which Hashem created the world (Avos 5: 1). In his formulation, Vayevareich David, which comes after the above six psalms, corresponds to the final statement of Creation, God blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it (Bereishis 1:28). This final charge for man to conquer the world finds its parallel in Vayevareich David, where King David says, Wealth and honor come from You and You rule everything. This is man's response to the trust and faith that God has invested in him, by recognizing that whatever success he might achieve is due only to the fact that God rules everything and provides man with talent and resources. David was not allowed to build the first Temple, but nevertheless made the necessary preparations for that purpose. When he entrusted these ftinds to his son Solomon, he recited this praise, reminding us, writes Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, that it is not God Who needs a dwelling place, but we who need His sanctuary and His Presence in our midst. Moreover, David reminds the people that whatever they donated was given them by God. For this reason, many either give charity at this point of the prayer or set aside money to be given later in the service. The daily Pesukei DeZimrah closes with the song that Moses and Israel sang at the occasion of the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. Heretofore, all the praises have been within the context of the natural world, as controlled and supervised by God. This song extols Him for His miraculous involvement in the world. Indeed, suggests Rabbi Elie Munk, the most perfect praise of God is not found in the inspired songs of David, but grows out of the actual events that our ancestors beheld with their own eyes. Only since the day of the miracle at the Sea, when God revealed His mastery of nature and mankind before the eyes of an astonished world, has "His Throne been established for all times." In his commentary on the Torah, Ramban teaches that through God's miraculous control over nature, exhibited by the ten plagues in Egypt and culminating with the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, we come to appreciate and accept Him as the Creator. This song is thus a fitting finale to Pesukei Dezimrah. As noted above, Yishtabach is the closing blessing of Pesukei DeZimrah. It contains fifteen expressions of praise, which alludes to Psalms 120-134, the fifteen Songs of Ascent composed by David. We are now "ascend" to the next stage of our prayers.
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