Mizmor Lesodah and Pesach

Question #1: Mizmor Lesodah and Pesach

“I recently assumed a position teaching in a small town day school. Before Pesach, I mentioned that we do not recite Mizmor Lesodah on Erev and Chol Hamoed Pesach. One of the students afterwards told me that this is not his family minhag, but only Ashkenazi practice. Is he correct?”

Question #2: Why at the Very Beginning?

“I am curious why Mizmor Lesodah is located at the beginning of pesukei dezimra. Isn’t Ashrei and the five chapters of Tehillim that follow it the essence of pesukei dezimra?”

Question #3: Standing Room Only

“My father always told me that one should stand when saying Mizmor Lesodah, but I cannot find this halachah in the Mishnah Berurah. Where is it located?”

Answer

There are two different chapters of Tehillim, #100 and #107, that devote themselves to the thanksgiving acknowledgement of someone who has survived a major physical challenge. In Psalm 107, Dovid Hamelech describes four different types of treacherous predicaments — traveling through the desert, traveling overseas, illness, and imprisonment — in which a person would pray to Hashem for salvation. When the person survives the travails and thanks Hashem, the passage reflects this thanks: Yodu lashem chasdo venifle’osav livnei adam, “they acknowledge thanks to Hashem for His kindness and His wondrous deeds for mankind.”

The Gemara cites this Psalm as the source for many of the laws of birchas hagomeil, the brocha we recite when surviving these calamities. To quote the Gemara: Four people need to acknowledge thanks to Hashem.

Mizmor Lesodah

Whereas Chapter 107 of Tehillim describes the background behind korban todah and birchas hagomeil, the 100th chapter of Tehillim, Mizmor Lesodah, represents the actual praise that the saved person recites. Although only five verses long, this psalm, one of the eleven written by Moshe Rabbeinu (see Rashi ad locum), captivates the emotion of a person who has just survived a major ordeal. The first verse expresses the need for everyone on Earth to recognize Hashem, certainly conveying the emotions of someone very recently saved from a major tribulation. The second verse shares the same passion, since it calls upon everyone to serve Hashem in gladness and to appear before Him in jubilation. The third sentence continues this idea. In it, the thankful person who has been saved calls on everyone to recognize that Hashem is the personal G-d of every individual, and that we are His people and the sheep of his pasture. He then calls on all to enter into Hashem’s gates and His courts, so that we can thank and bless Him. We should note that the Gates of the Beis Hamikdash were meant for all of mankind, not only the Jewish People, as specifically included in Shlomoh Hamelech’s prayer while inaugurating it (Melachim I 8:41-43).

The closing sentence is also very significant: “For Hashem is good, His kindness is forever, and our trust should be placed in Him in every future generation.” (We should note that the word olam in Tanach means “forever” and never means “world,” which is a meaning given to this word by Chazal. The most common Tanach word for “world” is teiveil; see, for example, Tehillim 19:5; 33:8; and 90:2, all of which are recited during the pesukei dezimra of Shabbos, and 96:10, 13; 97:4; 98:7, which are part of kabbalas Shabbos.) The celebrant calls upon those he has assembled to spread the message that Hashem is the only Source of all good, and that we should recognize this at all times, not only in the extraordinary situations where we see the manifestation of His presence!

We can now understand better why the Mizmor Lesodah chapter of Tehillim is structured as it is. It provides the beneficiary of Hashem’s miracle with a drosha to present at the seudas hodaah that he makes with all the bread and meat of the korban todah — complete with encouragement to others to internalize our thanks to Hashem.

Clearly, then, this psalm was meant to be recited by the thankful person prior to offering his korban, and this is his invitation to others to join him as he thanks Hashem. The Avudraham notes that Hashem’s name appears four times in the psalm, corresponding to the four people who need to thank Him for their salvation.

Mizmor Lesodah and Our Daily Davening

In order to make sure that this thanks to Hashem takes place daily, the chapter of Mizmor Lesodah was introduced into our daily pesukei dezimra. We should remember that miracles happen to us daily, even when we do not realize it (quoted in name of Sefer Nehora; see also Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 281). Although Mizmor Lesodah was not part of the original structure of the daily prayers established by the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah, it apparently was already common practice in ancient times, long before the time of the Rishonim, to recite it at or near the beginning of pesukei dezimra. The importance of reciting this psalm should not be underestimated. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 51:9) states: One should recite Mizmor Lesodah with song, since eventually all songs will cease except for Mizmor Lesodah. This statement of Chazal is explained by Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Psalm 100) in the following manner: One day in the future, everything on Earth will be so ideal that there will be no reason to supplicate Hashem for changes. Even then, prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving will still be appropriate.

Why Start at the Very Beginning?

In nusach and minhag Sfard, Mizmor Lesodah is the first psalm recited in pesukei dezimra, and in all versions it is recited before the essential parts of pesukei dezimra, which are Ashrei and the five chapters of Tehillim that follow it. Why do we recite Mizmor Lesodah towards the beginning of pesukei dezimra?

The Avudraham explains that Mizmor Lesodah is in its place because it corresponds to the second statement of Creation – yehi or, “Let there be Light,” since all of mankind needs to thank Hashem for providing light and for our existence.

One could perhaps suggest another reason. Since Mizmor Lesodah was written by Moshe Rabbeinu, it predates the other parts of Tehillim we say in our daily pesukei dezimra, and therefore is recited first.

At this point, we can answer one of the questions raised above. “I am curious why Mizmor Lesodah is located at the beginning of pesukei dezimra. Isn’t Ashrei and the five chapters of Tehillim that follow it the essence of pesukei dezimra?”

Indeed, the questioner is correct that the original and most vital part of pesukei dezimra is Ashrei and the five psalms that follow it. Nevertheless, since Mizmor Lesodah serves such an important function, and it also corresponds to the second of the ten statements of Creation, it was placed earlier in our davening.

“No Thanks”

We find a dispute among early authorities whether one should recite Mizmor Lesodah on Shabbos (Shibbolei Haleket, quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 281). Why should this be?

Since the korban todah is a voluntary offering, it cannot be offered on Shabbos. The Tur mentions that established custom is to omit Mizmor Lesodah on Shabbos and Yom Tov, out of concern that when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, someone may mistakenly offer the korban todah on these days. On Shabbos, of course, it is prohibited to offer any korban other than the required daily tamid and the special Shabbos korbanos, whereas on Yom Tov one may offer only voluntary korbanos that are because of the Yom Tov (Beitzah 19b).

The Tur does not agree that this is a valid reason to omit reciting Mizmor Lesodah on these days, contending that we need not be concerned that people will mistakenly offer a korban todah on Shabbos or Yom Tov (Orach Chayim, Chapter 51 and Chapter 281). Others explain that we recite Mizmor Lesodah to remind us of the korban todah, and since it was not offered on these days, there is no point in reciting it (see Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 51:11). Perhaps this is done as an aspect of uneshalma parim sefaseinu (Hoshea 14:3), “may our lips replace the bulls (of offerings),” which is interpreted to mean that when we have no Beis Hamikdash, we recite passages that commemorate those offerings. For this reason, the custom developed among Ashkenazim to omit Mizmor Lesodah on days that the offering could not be brought in the Beis Hamikdash.

Mizmor Lesodah on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

There are places where the custom was to recite Mizmor Lesodah on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, because of the words hari’u lashem kol ha’aretz, which calls on the entire Earth to sing praise to Hashem (Magen Avraham 51:10, quoting Kenesses Hagadol). Kaf Hachayim (51:50) notes that the most common custom among Sefardim was to recite Mizmor Lesodah on Rosh Hashanah, but not on Yom Kippur, although some places omitted it on Rosh Hashanah, similar to the Ashkenazic practice. Pri Megadim, an Ashkenazi, mentions that he was unaware of any community that did recite Mizmor Lesodah on Rosh Hashanah.

Mizmor Lesodah on Erev Yom Kippur

Ashkenazic custom is to omit Mizmor Lesodah on Erev Yom Kippur, and for a very interesting reason: One may not offer a korban in a way that curtails the amount of time that the Torah permitted one to consume the parts of the korban that are eaten (Zevachim 75b). Were a todah offered on Erev Yom Kippur, one would be permitted to eat it and its bread only until sunset, whereas the time limit for a todah is usually until midnight. Thus, one cannot offer the korban todah on Erev Yom Kippur, and the custom is to omit reciting Mizmor Lesodah.

Mizmor Lesodah on Chol Hamoed Pesach

For the same reason that Mizmor Lesodah is omitted on Shabbos, Ashkenazim omit reciting it on Chol Hamoed Pesach. Since the korban todah contained chometz, it could not be offered on Pesach.

Mizmor Lesodah on Erev Pesach

For the same reason that Ashkenazim omit recital of Mizmor Lesodah on Erev Yom Kippur, they omit it on Erev Pesach. The korban todah and its breads can usually be eaten until the midnight after the day it was offered. However, were one to offer a korban todah early on Erev Pesach, one would be restricted to eating its chometz for only a few hours. Since one may not offer a korban whose time limit is curtailed, one may not offer korban todah on Erev Pesach, and, following Ashkenazic practice, Mizmor Lesodah is omitted then, also. The common custom among Sefardim is to recite Mizmor Lesodah on Erev Yom Kippur, Erev Pesach and Chol Hamoed Pesach (Pri Chodosh 429:2; Kaf Hachayim 51:51-52).

With this background, I can now begin to answer the first question raised above.

“I recently assumed a position teaching in a small town day school. Before Pesach, I mentioned that we do not recite Mizmor Lesodah on Erev and Chol Hamoed Pesach. One of the students afterwards told me that this is not his family minhag, but only Ashkenazi practice. Is he correct?”

Indeed, in this instance, the student is correct. Hopefully, the rebbe was not that badly embarrassed.

Mizmor Lesodah on Tisha B’av

Apparently, there were places where the custom was to omit reciting Mizmor Lesodah on Tisha B’av and on Erev Tisha B’av (Magen Avraham 51:11, quoting Hagahos Maimoniyos). Shu”t Maharshal (#64) writes that this is a gross error, because when the Beis Hamikdash stood and when it will be rebuilt, Tisha B’av was and will not be a fast day, and there is no reason why one could not offer a korban todah then.

Standing Only

The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah, 10:8) requires that a person stand up when he recites birchas hagomeil. The Bach (Orach Chayim 219) feels that there is an allusion to this practice in Tehillim 107, whereas the Elyah Rabbah (219:3) presents a different reason why one should stand, explaining that birchas hagomeil is a form of Hallel, which must be recited standing. Others explain that since birchas hagomeil substitutes for the korban todah, it bears similarity to shmoneh esrei, which is similarly bimkom korban and is recited standing (Nahar Shalom 219:1). According to all of these opinions, we can understand why a custom developed to stand when reciting Mizmor Lesodah (see Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 14:4, and sources quoted by Kaf Hachayim 51:48). However, the Kaf Hachayim quotes the Arizal that one should deliberately sit while reciting Mizmor Lesodah, and he (the Kaf Hachayim) concludes that this is the preferred practice. The Mishnah Berurah does not mention anything about either practice.

We can now answer the last question raised above: “My father always told me that one should stand when saying Mizmor Lesodah, but I cannot find this halachah in the Mishnah Berurah. Where is it located?”

The answer is that although there are some halachic authorities who record this custom, it is not universally accepted. As a point in fact, the Mishnah Berurah does not discuss this particular question.

Conclusion

Why is korban todah the only private offering that includes chometz and the only offering that includes both chometz and matzoh? Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Vayikra 7:14) explains that the three types of matzoh represent different degrees of prosperity, but using matzoh conveys the idea that it is obvious that everything I have is dependent on Hashem. Chometz, however, implies that a person is living more independently – his need for Hashem’s regular involvement is not nearly as obvious.

The person who has survived one of the four ordeals requiring a korban todah now recognizes that only the outside world views him as independent. He himself understands that everything he has is dependent on Hashem. Similarly, on Pesach, we all need to acknowledge our salvation and creation as a Nation by Hashem.

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