Monday, March 9, 2009

The Ashrei Code

There’s Davinci, the Matrix, and the Genome, all codes which (fact or fiction) reveal a fundamental and powerful idea about life and history. None of them, however, compare to the underlying message of the Ashrei code! Hidden between the lines of the famous psalm (145) David sought to reveal the ultimate secret—the purpose of life.

It was not for naught that our sages considered Psalm 145 as the choicest of all, there is a qualitative dimension which sets it apart from all the rest. For this reason Chazal set out to accomplish two things in order to embed in this psalm the mystique, the sanctity, and the attraction to become one of the most recited psalms in Jewish history.

First, they declared it as such. They chose one psalm from all of David’s songs, one prayer from all of Tanach and they praised it, raised it, setting it above the rest. First the Talmud (Berachot 4b) entertains the notion that the acrostic is key to its importance. The message is that the psalm is special not only for what it says, but for how it says it! (Method over message).
But when challenged by psalm 119 which has the acrostic eightfold, it offers a second approach—the content, namely the powerful dimension of God's infinite lovingkindness--verse פ. This verse and what it represents teaches us that substance plays the crucial role in determining its status. (Message over method).

This answer, too, is rejected by means of a similar verse in psalm 136 (noten lechem lechol basar), Chazal conclude—it must be a unique combination of the two (Message And Method).

Poetry often focuses on one aspect or the other. One might lean to the form of the poetic manner--its rhyme, its word play, alliteration, etc. Alternatively, the complex message embedded in the poem might be the key factor disregarding many strictly method oriented motifs. Perhaps an ideal poem can accurately synthesize the two schools of poetry and balance the intellectual and the aesthetic together. This is the intention of king David in psalm 145!

Secondly, within the psalm itself, or better, in transmitting the pure psalm to liturgy they added on a prefix and a suffix, two verses before, and one to conclude. What should be noted is not only the content of the additional verses but the simple first and last letter of the prayer—אשרי...הללויה. This one psalm, hint Chazal, is a microcosm for all of Tehillim which begins psalm 1 with the word Ashrei, and ends psalm 150 with the word Halleluya. One step beyond is to theorize that Tehillim itself is a microcosm of all of Tanach and ultimately the mission of man in this world.

The explanation of this idea is the subject of part 2...