Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
February 16, 2004 – Number 5764-18
Prayer VI: Pesuke D’Zimra – Verses of Praise
If the Birchot HaShachar are the basic prayers that help us start our day, the Pesuke D’zimra, the “Verses of Song” guide us to be able to begin our prayers.
Pesuke D’zimra begins with a blessing, “Baruch SheAmar”. This opening blessing begins with one of the most important statements about prayer. It begins “Blessed is the One who spoke and created the world. This first verse sets the stage for all of the liturgy that will follow. It teaches us that words have power, creative power. In ancient days (and to some extent in our day as well) speaking prayers was never enough. Prayer had to be accompanied by some action, usually a sacrifice, in order to be an effective prayer. Words were cheap, one had to be prepared to give up something of value before G-d would pay attention to the desires of the worshiper. This opening verse in Baruch SheAmar teaches us that words do indeed have a power of their own, and the universe can change with just the utterance of prayer. What prayer do we pray? The rest of this blessing is an extended praise of G-d and of G-d’s creation.
What follows is a collection of biblical passages from Chronicles, Psalms, Nehemiah and Exodus. They speak of G-d’s mercy, of how G-d protects Israel from all harm and the kingship of G-d. The Psalms include Psalm 100, the Psalm of Thanksgiving; Ashrei, The ultimate Psalm of praise, and the final four Psalms in the Book of Psalms that focus on praising G-d. We are not sure when people first started reciting biblical passages before the core of the service (The Shema and the Amida) but it apparently was common to recite Psalms before the service and the Psalms recited eventually became part of the service. The Talmud records that Rabbi Jose aspired to recite “Hallel” every day. Since what we call “Hallel” today (Psalms 113-118) is forbidden to be recited except on holy days, the “Hallel” Rabbi Jose is referring to must be Psalms 145-150 which all begin and end with “Hallelujah”. Perhaps, at one time the Sages recited all 150 Psalms before they prayed, and eventually it was scaled down to just the last six. Ashrei, (Psalm 145) is sometimes considered an abridgement of the entire book of Psalms.
One of my teachers, Rabbi R. Kimmelman, has noted that the end of the book of Psalms has, as its focus, the praise of G-d in nature. This should not be a surprise since it is often easiest to find G-d in the wonders of the world that surround us. If we are looking for a reason to praise G-d, we need look no further than the sunrise, the beautiful trees and flowers around us, the expanse of the sky and the wonders of the earth all call to us to acclaim the Creator of the Universe.
But G-d in nature is not enough for us to be ready for prayer. Following Psalm 150 a shift begins that takes us out of the realm of “G-d in nature” and into the realm of “G-d in History”. Beginning with Abraham the final passages lead us to the ultimate moment of G-d’s interaction with humanity, the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. This was a moment of not just triumph over the army of Pharaoh, but a triumph of G-d in History and it is represented by the “Song of the Sea” from Exodus 15. When we recognize the Awesomeness of G-d in nature and the Awe of G-d acting in History, we have readied ourselves for formal prayer, we are not ready to enter to very core of the service.
Pesuke D’zimra closes with a final blessing. Yishtabach (the sister blessing of the prayer that follows regular Hallel on holidays) listing the many ways we have to praise G-d as our sovereign, because of G-d’s actions in nature and in history, we affirm our allegiance to G-d and with a Hatzi Kaddish, we are now ready to begin our formal prayers beginning with the Borchu.
Next week: Prayer VII: Musaf – The Additional Service.