Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
March 14, 2004 – Number 5764-21
Prayer IX: The concluding Psalms of P’suke D’zimra
The Ashrei that we discussed last week, is the beginning of a series of Psalms that represent the final 5 Psalms in the entire collection. Here in our siddur, they represent the final Psalms in our “Verses of Song, the P’suke D’zimra” Each one begins and ends with the exclamation “Hallelujah”. If the purpose of these verses is to get us in the mood to pray, than this collection is important in that it teaches us one of the reasons we thank G-d every morning. The theme of this collection is the glory of G-d in creation. We see the hand of G-d in nature, in the dawn, the rain and snow, and in the mountains and grasses that fill our world. Each Psalm extolls the wonders that make up the world in which we live until we get to the last Psalm, Psalm 150, the last Psalm in the collection and the last one in the entire book of Psalms.
Psalm 150 is not so much about nature, but about how we praise G-d through the use of musical instruments. Trumpets, harps, lyres, drums, flute, strings, two kinds of cymbals and with dance, we are told that each instrument and movement is a way to praise G-d. But there is something much bigger going on in this Psalm, and like in Ashrei, we need to look to modern music to fully understand what the Psalm is trying to teach.
If Ashrei is the title song of the book of Psalms, the “Tehilah” of “Tehillim”, Psalm 150 has a different meaning. When we go to a concert, we hear all the music that the musicians have made famous, the lyrics and the sound that we have come to hear. At a live concert, however, there is one final thing that must be done before the final curtain falls. The lead singer will, during one of the last musical numbers, turn and introduce the members of the band. “Come on give it up for Casey on the drums, for Ginger on bass, Eddie on keyboard and Cheryl, Cindi and Angel on vocals”. Finally, turning to the audience, as the music reaches its end, the singer finishes with “Thank you all, you have been a wonderful audience”.
If we look at Psalm 150 we find much the same speech. “Lets hear it for the Trumpets! Let’s hear it for the harps and lyres! How about a hallelujah for the drums and the dancers!” All the instruments are named until the final verse, “Let everyone who has breath be praised” where the audience is finally thanked for being so supportive. In short, Psalm 150 is where the leader is thanking the band. Why not? It is the end of the book and thus the end of the “concert”.
One final note about this final Psalm. Notice that all the lines are pretty equal in length (in the Hebrew) until we get to the next to last line. The “thank you” to the cymbal players is far and away the longest line in the entire Psalm. If you can read the Hebrew text of this line you will notice that it is not only a mouthful of words, it takes a whole breath to say it aloud. This long verse sets up an “audio” cue. Since the last line says, “let all who breath, praise the Lord”, the Psalm forces us to take a breath before we recite that line. Including us in the audience that is being thanked!
The book of Psalms is divided into five “books” just as the Torah is divided into five books. At the end of each “book” in Psalms, the final verse is doubled. Since this is the last Psalm in the entire collection, the last verse here is doubled as well.
Last week I noted that Eleazar Slomovic, a teacher at the University of Judaism, had shown that the titles to the Psalms were really a midrashic addition to the poetry. They were not part of the original poem, this prompted a reply from Hazzan Michael Krausman who writes:
Just as a point of information, ethnomusichologists have speculated that one purpose for the titles of the psalms is to suggest the melody to be employed when chanting the psalm. This usage is similar to song sheets, such as that we used for Purim, which list lyrics and instructions such as :”to be sung to the tune of Polywaly Doodle”. Since the destruction of the temple also brought abut the loss of its great musical tradition, a hint to the nature of ancient Temple music can be gleaned from the Psalms. Of course, the best example of this is the description of the Temple orchestra as depicted in psalm 150
Thank you for this additional insight.
Next week: Kashrut I: Introduction to the Dietary Laws