Sunday, January 10, 2010

Soulblessing: Analysis of Psalm 104, part 1

ברכי נפשי את ה
My soul shall bless God...

This title to psalm 104 is familiar to us all as the psalm our rabbis designated to be recited on Rosh Chodesh, the festival of the new moon. What does it mean that my soul should bless? What does this psalm have to do with the new moon?

The thirty five verses of the psalm depict the creation story anew. It is a song to God acknowledging the grandeur, the splendour of God's work, culminating with the famous verse, "מה רבו מעשיך ה" How wondrous are your works O God!

I distinctly recall the epiphany I underwent when in Yeshiva Univeristy I learned this psalm under Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Cohen, the man who opened my soul to the majesty of Psalms. He asked us to scan the text and find the parallels to the creation story. It was all new for me and lit a spark which has continued to luminate until this very day as I pass the spark on to my students.
From the initial creation story we sense a glimpse of the Divine planning, the orderliness and the process. We note the distinction in usage of words to create, fashion, cause to evolve, and a plethora of nuances which comprise the brief glimpse into the metaphiysical beginning.

Psalm 104 is perhaps the very nascent steps of man to acknowledge, express gratitude, praise, and even bless God for what we take for granted every day.
Already in the first verse the tone changes from a statement about the experience of praising God to a call to God Himself--ה אלהי גדלת מאד הוד והדר לבשת, O Lord, my God You have consistently, totally, unequivocally shown us the true nature of 'good', splendour and beauty are Your garments.

Then, verse two begins the praising of creation: light, heavens, waters, atmosphere, celestial spheres, elements, land--all of which is in totality, consistency, permanence.
Verse 6 describes the miraculous nature of the world (which we take for granted) such as the mountains standing on the water, the movement of water, the crumbling of mountains, and the development of new ones. the process of nature as the streams usher down into the valleys, dancing in-between the hills.

What is Rosh Chodesh, the 'festival of the new moon'? It is a day built in to nature to serve as a reminder that the world is remarkable, that we should never settle, resign, or feel content. We can't take it all with us, but in appreciating its source we must not simply sing out and rejoice, praise but must also bless and convince our souls, our Godliness built in to our humanness, to bless the Almighty, engage in His good works and internalize His amazing system.

Once a month the moon shrinks, the light diminishes, and we wonder frighteningly about our mortality and insignificance. But then, just as hope is lost, a sliver reappears, and the light begins to shine once again.