Thursday, November 1, 2012

A New Look at the Shabbat Morning Psalms

Shabbat Morning Psalms

The selection of psalms which are recited during the weekday morning prayer is expanded on Shabbat. An additional 9 psalms were chosen which add a new dimension to the Shabbat morning service. Why were psalms added on Shabbat? Why were these specific psalms (19, 34, 90, 91, 135, 136, 33, 92, 93) added by our Sages to the collection of 'pesukei dezimra'? In the next posts I plan on analyzing all these psalms and tying them together, hoping to understand why Chazal chose these to adorn the Shabbat service.

We begin with an analysis of Psalm 19.

There are several ways to divide the psalm: Amos Chacham in 'Daat Mikra' splits the psalm in two:

1-7--Nature's praise of God.
8-15--Praise of Torah and the desire to fulfill it.

I would argue that there are in fact three components to this psalm which represents three foci one should consider on Shabbat: Nature, Torah, Man!


"The heavens tell the tale of God's glory and the firmament tells the work of His hands". " Day to day . Each verse describes how nature, by its very essence, sings a song to God. Even without words, we still appreciate the awesome powers of nature--the day, night, firmament, sun. All of these primordial creations encompass the world and stand as a testament to their creator, an eternal praise.


"The Torah of God is all-encompassing, restores the soul". The psalmist depicts Torah in six different ways each one offering not only a unique description but also a functionality of that specific angle: All-encompassing--restoring the soul; truthful--wisening the fool; straightforward--gladdening the heart... The timelessness and timeliness of Torah affords one not only the enlightenment but also a roadmap for how to navigate the winds of modernity.

Two fundamental components in God's creation, indeed two pieces of the cosmic puzzle, are presented in the first part of the psalm--nature and Torah. But there is, in theory, a third component of creation: "And God placed Man in the Garden to work it and guard it"... Man was meant to guard and protect nature and through guidance of Torah to ultimately use the world to create a sublime civilization. What happened instead?

"Even Your servant was warned in them in guarding them there is great reward". Yet the next two verses include three synonymous words for man's sins: 'shegiot', 'nistarot', 'pesha', and 'man' recognizes his fallibility, his incapacity to defeat urges, sons, negative influence. It is as if the first section of the psalm describes the grandeur and majesty of Bereishit while the latter half depicts the pathetic sins of man to the point of utter self-destruction!

'Man' destroyed the beauty and perfection of the world, yet it was intended for man to 'work it and protect it'. This contradiction is the existential plight of the human condition. We are mandated to take this beautiful world and create a wonderful society in it; we are beset by obstacles internal and external and fail all too often. Yet we keep trying.

The 'man' who is fraught with sin and fallibility, nevertheless offers a prayer at the end of this psalm:

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer