Sunday, September 6, 2009

What I do...

One reader commented that she wonders how I approach a psalm. How does one analyze it? What are the initial steps taken in order to develop an approach to the Mizmor? Good question. I provide the answers of my methodology in my book (which is soon to be out, Gefen Publishing, the end of this month). Here, though, are some points to consider:

There are at least five ways to approach the mizmor:

How to learn Tehillim?
A. Like Chumash with Mefarshim pasuk by pasuk
B. Read it nonstop.
C. Seeing the poetry involved and using methods gleaned from literary analysis in poetry in general and wisdom literature of Tanach in particular
D. Two dimensions: understanding the mizmor in its time, understanding the mizmor as it speaks to each individual in any time period in history.
E. Learning it as a separate part of Tanach vs. learning it as part of Siddur (the liturgy).

How to analyze a Psalm?

Start at the beginning-- Psalm 1
A. Read the entire psalm
B. Translate to the best of your ability based on your understanding of the words in Tanach. Do NOT accept one translation alone.
C. Note the title of the Mizmor, who is the author, what are the initial remarks and whether that should affect the analysis
D. Divide the mizmor into sections. Try it on your own, if not Amos Chacham always divides the sections, but you don’t have to agree with him!)write for yourself, verses_ to _ convey theme x, or can be described as___
E. Look for mini-themes in each section
F. Look at the different themes and attempt to bind them together with one general motif.
G. Determine what type of literary tools are being used by the psalmist: metaphor, repetition, parallelism, contrast, wordplay, inclusio, chiasmus, emotional vs. intellectual, chorus, use of language, tone of speech, etc.
H. Tackle hard words and phrases and understand why they are being used.
I. Search for a theme an stick with it, do not switch you will never stop…
J. Attempt to get into the mind of the author as to the reason behind the words written.
K. Attempt to glean a message for your own life.
L. [Attempt to understand why Chazal (if they did) chose this psalm to be recited by all Israel at a certain stage…]

These are some skills I have used over the years; there are of course many more which you should develop on your own. The beauty of the Psalter lies in its accessability and multi-tiered interpretive experience.