Hodu – Our Daily Thanks

In commemoration of the thanks recited by Eliezer, we will study:

The Daily Hodu Prayer

Question #1: “Why does Nusach Ashkenaz recite Baruch She’amar before Hodu, whereas Nusach Sfard recites Hodu first?”

Question #2: “I noticed that there are sections of Tehillim that are very similar to Hodu. Why are there noticeable differences between these parts of Tehillim and Hodu?”

Question #3: “The Hodu that is in the book of Tehillim is divided between two chapters, Chapters 105 and 96. Why do we combine them when we daven?”

The beautiful praise to Hashem that begins with the words Hodu lashem ki tov, which we recite as part of the daily morning prayers, is a quote from the Divrei Hayamim book of Tanach, with a concluding selection of other verses. Nusach Ashkenaz recites Hodu immediately after Baruch She’amar, as the first part of Pesukei Dezimra, the Biblical praises of Hashem that we recite every morning, whereas Nusach Sfard recites it prior to Baruch She’amar. I will explain, shortly, the basis for these differing customs, why we recite Hodu daily and the historical context within which it was originally written. This will provide both an education and inspiration about our history, our prayers and our customs, in addition to answering all the above questions.

Historical Background

Allow me to first trace the background of the events that led to the writing of Hodu. Let us return, in history, to the first prophecy of the prophet Shmuel, who is still a child, and is being raised and educated by Eili Hakohen. Eili was already quite advanced in years, and he had handed over the running of the Mishkan, then in Shiloh, to his two sons, who had, unfortunately, abused the authority granted them. Eili admonished them for their wrongdoing, but they ignored his rebuke (Shmuel I 2:22-25).

One fateful night, while the lad Shmuel was asleep, Hashem appeared to him, telling him that a major catastrophe would befall the Jewish People, one that would include the destruction of Eili’s sons. The following morning, Eili, who knew that Shmuel had received Divine communication during the night, insisted that Shmuel tell him all the gruesome details of the prophecy. When Eili heard the prediction, he responded, He is Hashem. He will do what is good in His Eyes (Shmuel I 3:18), thereby accepting Hashem’s judgment.

A short time later, the Jews went to war against the Pelishtim (the Philistines). The first day’s battle went very badly for the Jews, and included the loss of about four thousand slain on the battlefield.

The elders of the Jews then decided to get the aron from Shiloh and bring it into battle with them, to save them from their enemies (Shmuel I 4:3-4). When the aron arrived in the Jewish camp, they sounded a great shofar blast. The Pelishtim discovered that the aron was now in the Jews’ camp, and they were petrified, knowing what Hashem had done to the Egyptians many years before (Shmuel I 4:5-9).

The Aron is captured!

However, the next day’s battle was catastrophic for the Jews. Over thirty thousand fell, including Eili’s sons, and the aron was captured by the Pelishtim (Shmuel I 4:11-12).

The Pelishtim took the captured aron to Ashdod, then a Pelishti city, to the temple that housed their main deity, Dagon, and placed the aron alongside their idol. The first morning, they discovered the statue of Dagon fallen over, which they proceeded to upright. The second morning, Dagon’s statue had fallen again, but this time it was badly damaged. In addition, the residents of Ashdod and its suburbs had become plagued with a serious and extremely painful medical condition. The Ashdodians refused to continue harboring the aron, requesting direction from the leaders of the Pelishtim as to what to do with it. The Pelishti leaders decided to move the aron to their main city of Gath.

However, upon the arrival of the aron in Gath, the people there were struck with the same health problem that had previously plagued Ashdod. Subsequently, the Pelishtim decided to move the aron to a third Pelishti city, Ekron, but the Ekronites refused to allow it to enter their town. The Pelishtim then decided that the aron was too dangerous to hold onto, and that they would therefore return it to the Jews. In the interim, while the Pelishtim prepared an appropriate gift to Hashem to accompany the return of the aron, they kept it in a field that was outside any city, so that its presence would not harm anyone. The Pelishtim then prepared a gold offering to placate Hashem for having taking His aron and for having treated it disrespectfully. They then loaded the aron onto a wagon pulled by two cows and sent it on its way, apparently unaccompanied by any individual. The cows proceeded with their precious cargo towards the city of Beit Shemesh, a Jewish town (Shmuel I 5:1-6:12).

Unfortunately, the people of Beit Shemesh, also, did not treat the aron with adequate respect and, as a result, many of them died. The Jews then moved the aron to Kiryas Ye’arim, to the house of a man named Avinadav, where it was treated with proper respect. The aron remained in Avinadav’s house for twenty years (Shmuel I 6:19-7:2).

The aron is moved

Twenty years later, and much has transpired. Shmuel has gone to his eternal reward. Shaul has become king, lost his right to the monarchy, and fallen in battle. David is now king of Israel. He plans a gala celebration to move the aron from its current location in Avinadav’s house to Yerushalayim. David consults with all the leaders of the Jewish people and gathers 30,000 select men from the length and breadth of the country to participate in the festivities.

However, the event is marred. At one point during the transportation of the aron, it appeared to be slipping from its place, and Uzza, the son of Avinadav, grabbed the aron to prevent it from falling (Shmuel II 6:1-7; Divrei Hayamim I 13). However, this was halachically and philosophically a gross error, since the aron does not require being carried – on the contrary, the aron carries those who carry it (Rashi, Shmuel II 6:7). Uzza died as a result.

David cancelled his plans to move the aron to Yerushalayim that day, and instead, he diverted it, temporarily, to the house of a Levi named Oveid Edom. During the three months that the aron remained in Oveid Edom’s house, his household received much blessing, thus demonstrating that Hashem was not angry at David or the Jewish people. Thus, David decided that the time was now right to move the aron to Yerushalayim, as he had originally planned. Amidst much dancing and jubilation, the aron was transported to Yerushalayim (Shmuel II 6:12-19).

As part of this celebration, David arranged for Asaf, the Levi, and his brothers to sing a unique, ecstatic song of thanks to Hashem, specially written by David in honor of the joyous occasion (Divrei Hayamim I 16:7). (This same Asaf is the author of numerous psalms of praise to Hashem, see Tehillim 50 and 74-83.) The song that David wrote for this special occasion (Divrei Hayamim I 16:8-36) begins with the words Hodu lashem ki tov, and it forms the foundation of the prayer that we recite every morning. We will shortly analyze the thrust of this beautiful prayer.

Why Daily?

Why do we recite this song every day?

Among the beautiful and ancient Midrashic literature that Klal Yisroel possesses is the early, revered work Seder Olam, which the Gemara (Yevamos 82b) attributes to none other than the esteemed Tanna Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta, one of the greatest disciples of Rabbi Akiva. In an era that included outstanding Tannaim – Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, the author of the Zohar, Rabbi Meir baal ha’nes, the prolific Rabbi Yehudah (ben Illa’ei), who was honored to always speak first ahead of the other great scholars of his generation (Shabbos 33b et al.), and Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, the head of the Sanhedrin – Rabbi Yosi’s halachic opinion is preeminent, even at times when he is in the minority (Eruvin 46b). As the Gemara states, Halacha kerabbi Akiva meichaveiro, ukerabbi Yosi meichaveirav, the halacha is according to Rabbi Akiva when he disagrees with any other individual scholar, and according to Rabbi Yosi even when he disagrees with more than one scholar (Eruvin 46b).

The Seder Olam (Chapter 14) records that, for 43 years, from the time that the aron was moved to Yerushalayim until the Beis Hamikdash was built by Shlomoh Hamelech, the first fifteen verses of the song Hodu were performed to accompany the offering of the daily Tamid every morning, and the next fourteen verses accompanied the afternoon Tamid. Based on this Seder Olam, it became common practice to recite this song of praise, Hodu, every morning to commemorate this ancient practice (Orchos Chayim, quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim, Chapter 50; Tur, Orach Chayim Chapter 51).

Before Baruch She’amar or after?

At this point, we can address the first question that was asked above:

“Why does Nusach Ashkenaz recite Baruch She’amar before Hodu, whereas Nusach Sfard recites Hodu first?”

The Orchos Chayim already notes that in his day, there were two customs, one of reciting Hodu before Baruch She’amar and the other approach of reciting it after. Even a terse reading of Hodu certainly explains why one would include it in the Pesukei Dezimra, since it is a beautiful praise of Hashem. But why recite it before Baruch She’amar?

Korbanos

To explain this practice, I need to present a small introduction. The part of davening immediately before Baruch She’amar is called korbanos. It includes recital of the Torah verses that illustrate some of the daily procedures in the Mishkan\Beis Hamikdash, the chapter of Mishnayos beginning with the words Eizehu Mekomam, which categorize and explain the different types of korbanos offered, and then concludes with the teaching beginning with the words Rabbi Yishmael omer. One of the reasons why we recite these Torah verses and Mishnah towards the beginning of our daily davening is so that we can fulfill the verse Uneshalmah parim sefaseinu, our lips should replace the bulls (Hoshea 14:3), which, in this context means that our prayers should be adequate substitutes for the offerings. (Bulls are mentioned specifically, since they are the most expensive offerings [Ibn Ezra ad loc.].) This is true even more so today, when we cannot offer korbanos as long as the Beis Hamikdash remains in ruin, and therefore the closest we can come to offering korbanos is to recite the passages about them.

We can now explain why Nusach Sfard recites the Hodu prayer before Baruch She’amar. Its position there acts as a climax to the recital of the korbanos. Although we are unable to sing shirah to accompany the korban Tamid, we can nevertheless praise Hashem with the same words that were recited then. Thus, this prayer is a sequel to korbanos and should be recited prior to Baruch She’amar.

Korbanos or Pesukei Dezimra?

On the other hand, Nusach Ashkenaz recites the Hodu as part of our Pesukei Dezimra, the part of our daily prayer, whose title literally translates as Verses of Song. The same great scholar mentioned above, Rabbi Yosi, declared his yearning to receive the extraordinary reward granted to those who recite the Pesukei Dezimra daily (Shabbos 118b).

Similarity to Tehillim

At this point, we can explain the second question that I raised above:

“I noticed that there are sections of Tehillim that are very similar to Hodu. Why are there noticeable differences between these parts of Tehillim and Hodu?”

The passages of Hodu are from Divrei Hayamim — and they are very similar to passages in Tehillim. The first part of Hodu, that which was sung to accompany the morning Tamid, is almost identical to the first fifteen verses of Tehillim Chapter 105. The second part of Hodu, which was sung to accompany the afternoon Tamid, bears much similarity to the 96th Chapter of Tehillim. Why would David have written two versions of these passages that are so similar, yet with some minor changes between them?

How are these verses different?

Let us begin by noting the differences that exist between the otherwise identical first fifteen verses of Hodu and the first fifteen verses of Tehillim Chapter 105.

There are several very minor changes between the two passages that do not affect the translation in any significant way. Therefore, whichever David wrote first (we have no way of knowing whether he wrote these parts of Divrei Hayamim first or these chapters of Tehillim), when he wrote the second passage, he decided to modify it slightly, and there could be any number of reasons why he chose to do so. For example, he uses a different form for the Hebrew equivalent of the word his mouth. Whereas Divrei Hayamim uses the poetic and less common pihu, Tehillim uses the more common piv. Another seemingly insignificant change is whether Yitzchak’s name is spelled with the letter tzadi, as it usually is (as it is in Tehillim 105), or in the irregular way with the letter sin (Yischak), as Divrei Hayamim spells it.

Avraham or Yisrael?

Three of the differences between Divrei Hayamim and Tehillim are relatively significant: The Divrei Hayamim version calls upon zera Yisrael, avdo bnei Yaakov bechirav — the offspring of Yisrael, his servant, the children of Yaakov his chosen ones — to sing the joyous hymn, whereas Tehillim says, zera Avraham, avdo, bnei Yaakov bechirav, the offspring of Avraham, his servant, the children of Yaakov his chosen ones, mentioning the children of Avraham in the first part of the verse rather than those of Yisrael.

A second, even more significant dissimilarity occurs two verses later, where Divrei Hayamim commands the Jews: zichru le’olam beriso, remember His covenant forever, whereas Tehillim says zachar le’olam beriso, He [that is, Hashem] remembered His covenant forever. Thus, in Tehillim both the subject and tense of the verb are shifted, which now transforms this pasuk from being a commandment to the Jewish people to observe their covenant with Hashem, as it is in Divrei Hayamim, into a praise of Hashem for keeping His end of the bargain.

A third, less significant, change occurs four verses later when Divrei Hayamim states that Hashem promised the Land of Canaan to the Jewish people, biheyosechem mesei mispar, when you were but few in number, which in Tehillim appears as biheyosam mesei mispar, when they were but few in number, speaking not to the Jews, but about them.

The explanation for these variations appears to lie in the differences in the roles that David Hamelech intended these fifteen pesukim to play in the two, respective places. Tehillim Chapter 105 consists of 45 verses, and therefore, the first 15, which are so similar to the Hodu of Divrei Hayamim, are really an introduction or first section of a longer whole. The entirety of that Chapter of Tehillim is to articulate the praises to Hashem for fulfilling all that He promised to Avraham Avinu. The main thought of this praise is that we are to recognize what Hashem has done for us. All of world history was planned and arranged by Him for the purpose of creating the Jewish nation. Its emphasis is thanks to Hashem for what He has already done. We therefore praise Hashem that He remembered His covenant forever. It is also appropriate to refer to the Jews in third person, when they were but few in number. And, since the entire Psalm praises Hashem for fulfilling all that He promised to Avraham Avinu, it is appropriate to describe the Jewish people as zera Avraham, avdo, the offspring of Avraham.

However, when we use these same fifteen verses as an introduction to the rest of Hodu, they function as an exhortation to praise Hashem for making the Jews unique among all the nations of the world. Once we understand this point, then the changes made by David, himself, in the two passages become self-explanatory. Divrei Hayamim commands the Jews: zichru le’olam beriso, remember His covenant forever. (See the essay by Rav Moshe Eisemann, included on page 431 of the Artscroll Divrei Hayamim.) Similarly, Divrei Hayamim is talking to the Jews, and it is therefore appropriate to say biheyosechem mesei mispar, when you were but few in number. And, certainly, we understand why, when Jews are praising Hashem for making us unique among the nations, we emphasize zera Yisrael, the offspring of Yisrael, his servant – since we are not the exclusive offspring of Avraham.

Conclusion

At this point, we can address the third question that I raised above: “When Hodu is quoted in Tehillim, it is divided between two different chapters, Chapters 105 and 96. Why do we combine them when we daven?”

Although the content of Hodu strongly overlaps with the content of those two chapters of Tehillim, there is a difference in emphasis between the role of the chapters of Tehillim and the praise of Divrei Hayamim. Here, in our prayer we use the version of the Hodu as it was used when transporting the aron, and when the shira was sung to accompany the daily korban tamid prior to the building of the Beis Hamikdash.

Rav Hirsch, in his Commentary on the Siddur notes that Hodu was the shira sung when the aron was in “galus” – when it was located in a temporary place. Thus, Hodu was added to our prayers as praise to Hashem when we are in galus. This is so that we remember that we are required to prove our legitimate right as bearers of Hashem’s Name, and that we continue to declare His works and sovereignty – specifically, when it is not popular for us to do so in our current environment.