Pesukei Dezimra: Fulfilling Hashem’s Only Desire

Ron Goldstein, who is seeking to find his way into observant Judaism, is having a casual conversation with Yosel Schwartz, an Orthodox accountant who invites him over often for Shabbos. As usual, Ron is peppering Yosel with questions:

“Recently, I began praying daily, and I have even begun to attend synagogue occasionally. I have many questions regarding both the prayers and the practices I see there.”

Of course, Yosel is more than happy to answer Ron’s questions.

“I would really appreciate it if you could provide me with background to some of the prayers. I see that there is a lot of structure and that various sections of the prayer are very dissimilar from one another. Some parts are consecutive blessings, others include extensive Biblical passages; some are praises, others are straightforward supplications. I have been told that the two most important parts of the morning and evening prayers are the Shma and the Shemoneh Esrei, and I have been reciting these parts for a few months now. But at this point I would like to understand some more about some of the other parts of our prayer. Could you help me?”

“Certainly; where would you like to start?”

“I am really curious to know more about the Psalms we read towards the beginning of the prayers. Psalms are really inspiring. But I also know that the Book of Psalms is fairly large. Why do we always recite the same ones every day; why not just read consecutive passages each day, as an introduction to the prayer? This would familiarize people with the whole, beautiful book.”

It is interesting that Ron noticed the beauty of the Psalms David Hamelech bequeathed to the Jewish people. Indeed, it seems that David Hamelech was aware of the tremendous responsibility Hashem placed upon him to provide a link between Man and Hashem. This is evidenced in the following verse: “For an eternal covenant He placed in me” (Shmuel II 23:5). Although most commentaries explain that this verse refers to the eternity of his royal dynasty, which will soon return with Moshiach, it certainly also alludes to David’s unique role as the Psalmist of mankind.

Tehillim Each and Every Day, makes Certain we do not Stray

Yosel points out to Ron that the Psalms have, indeed, been organized into daily readings that enable one to complete them every week or month. Ron sounds interested in making this a regular practice; certainly, a laudatory observance. Yosel points out that the purpose in reciting parts of Tehillim during davening is not to create familiarity with the entire book, but something else altogether. In Yosel’s own words:

“To answer your question, I need to provide you with some background to this part of the prayer, which is called Pesukei Dezimra, Verses of Song. Two Talmudic references provide the earliest basis for this part of our daily prayer.  One source teaches that reciting Psalm 145 every day guarantees one a share in olam haba, the World to Come (Berachos 4b).” (Yosel is aware that an alternate reading [girsa]of this Gemara attributes the reward to someone who recites this psalm three times every day. This is why we recite Ashrei, which includes this Chapter of Tehillim, three times a day, twice in Shacharis and once during Mincha.Yosel did not want to sidetrack the conversation with this information.)

Hashem Provides for All, even those without Wherewithal.

“What is unique about this Psalm that its recital merits such a special reward?” Ron inquired.

“The Gemara explains that this Psalm includes the verse beginning with the words Posayach es yodecha, which praises G-d Who opens His hands to provide for all creatures. One must make sure to recite this verse with much focus (Tur, Orach Chayim 51), as we thereby internalize the fact that Hashem supervises all his creatures and provides all their needs.

“In addition, the alphabetical acrostic of this Psalm demonstrates that King David intended that it be easily memorized and utilized by all of mankind (Rav Hirsch, Tehillim 25:1).

“The verses of this chapter that follow Posayach es yodecha, also include many basic tenets of Judaism. They note that Hashem’s deeds are justified; and that He is close to all who seek him truthfully, fulfills their desires, and protects them. It is critical to recite these passages with full focus on their significance. One who recites the verse Posayach es yodecha without thinking about its meaning is required to read it again, since he has missed the message of the passage. Some authorities conclude that if he completed the Psalm, he should repeat from the words Posayach es yodecha to the end of the Psalm (Mishnah Berurah 51:16).”

Begin the Day with G-d’s Praise, so that we Merit the Sun’s Rays

Ron replied: “This is really a nice, meaningful passage, and it certainly sets the tone for devotion and interacting with G-d, which is one of the beauties of Judaism. However, according to my references, this is only one Psalm among several others that we read.”

Yosel continues his explanation: “True. In another Talmudic passage, the great scholar, Rabbi Yosi, mentions his yearning to receive the special reward granted to those who recite the Pesukei Dezimra daily (Shabbos 118b). Also, reciting these praises with the proper awareness guarantees that our subsequent prayer will be accepted (Abudraham).

“The early authorites dispute how many Psalms Rabbi Yosi included in his Pesukei Dezimra. While Rashi mentions only Psalm 148 and Psalm 150 (presumably in addition to 145), the Rambam includes all of the last six Psalms of Tehillim as the kernel of Pesukei Dezimra. Accepted halachah follows the Rambam (Tur, Orach Chayim 51), and therefore we recite all six Psalms, but in extenuating circumstances we follow Rashi’s opinion. For example, someone with insufficient time to recite the entire Pesukei Dezimra with the tremendous focus it deserves and still be ready to begin the Shemoneh Esrei together with the congregation may omit the three extra Psalms that the Rambam includes and rely on Rashi’s opinion. We actually rule that one may delete even more sections of Pesukei Dezimra to enable one to begin the Shemoneh Esrei together with the congregation.”

Together we shall Pray, and then look Forward to a Wonderful Day!

“Why is it so important to begin the prayer together with everyone else?”

“Unfortunately, but realistically, we sometimes do not focus when we recite our prayers. In reality, prayers recited without proper thought should accomplish nothing and may even be harmful. Imagine someone who has the opportunity for an audience with a human king and arrives late, out of breath, and distracted. If his conversation is unfocused, he will probably be thrown into a dungeon for his disrespect! How much more so when talking to the King of kings!

“When our prayers fall short of what they should be, we deserve to have them rejected. There is one consolation, however. When a community prays together, G-d always accepts their prayers (Berachos 8a).”

Concentrate on Ashrei, and we will Focus while we Pray

“I now understand why Ashrei is an important prayer,” said Ron, “But I see in my Siddur that besides Psalm 145, that the Ashrei prayer also includes three other verses from Psalms, two before Psalm 145and one after.”

“I see you’ve been paying a lot of attention to the prayers.”

“The Siddur I use notes the Biblical source of every prayer, so it does not really involve a lot of paying attention. Praying the way you are describing does require a lot of concentration. But I am eager to try. After all, for many years G-d meant little in my life – now that I understand how important He is to me, I am trying to pray daily, with meaning. I truly enjoy these six Psalms, because each one emphasizes a different aspect of G-d’s magnanimity. But, could you explain why we begin with the verse Ashrei, which is ‘borrowed’ from elsewhere in the book?”

“The Halachah recommends spending some time in quiet meditation, prior to praying (Berachos 30b). This makes it easier to focus on the essence of prayer and what we are trying to accomplish.The source cited for this law is the verse Ashrei, usually translated as ‘Happy is he who dwells in Your house; he will continually be able to praise You.’ I would note that Rabbi Hirsch, a great nineteenth century scholar, explains the word Ashrei a bit differently. According to his explanation, the verse means: ‘He who dwells in Your house is constantly striving forward in his life; providing his life with more meaning.’ Either interpretation emphasizes the importance of not racing into our prayer, but spending time meditating over the smallness of man and the greatness of G-d, before we approach Him with our daily requests.

Pesukei Dezimra Every Day and one’s Concerns will go away.

“My own experience is that involving oneself in Pesukei Dezimra not only helps one daven the entire tefilah on a completely different level, but also rouses one’s sense of bitachon. In David Hamelech’s own words “The G-d of Yisroel told me… the righteous will rule over man; he will prevail through his fear of Hashem” (Shmuel II 23:3).

“In modern Hebrew, bitachon means security or defense; and bituach means insurance. Both of these uses cloud the issue:

Yisrael Betach BaHashem, the Jewish people can trust only in Hashem. Only through arousing our sense of Hashem’s power and providence can we possibly find any comfort. In the words of the Chovos HaLevavos, ‘He who does not trust in Hashem, places his trust in something else.’”

“I certainly identify with this, perhaps more so, since I am so familiar with the way people live ‘out there.’ I find these Psalms extremely powerful.”

Baruch She’amar – A Song of Desire

Ron is ready with his next question: “I notice that while the Pesukei Dezimra contains only Biblical quotes, my Siddur notes no Biblical quotes in the introductory passage.”

“Because these passages are so important and comprise their own special mitzvah of praising G-d, we introduce and conclude with special blessings, just as we recite blessings before and after eating, and before performing mitzvos. The introductory prayer, which begins with the words Baruch She’amar, begins by blessing G-d ‘who said and made,’ a quality unique to Hashem. He both says and performs, whereas all else in the world either orders or acts (Avudraham). Baruch She’amar includes hints to all of Creation, by alluding to the Ten Statements with which Hashem made the world. To quote the Tur (Orach Chayim 51): ‘One must recite Baruch She’amar with song and sweetness, because it is a beautiful and desirous song.

The concluding blessing of Pesukei Dezimra begins with the word Yishtabach. In order to avoid any interruption between these berachos, one may not interrupt from the time one recites Baruch She’amar until the end of davening (Shulchan Aruch 51:4). The Medrash reports that when the verse speaks of someone ‘who is afraid because he has sinned’, it refers to a person who spoke during Pesukei Dezimra.”

Singing David’s Song will keep us from Steering Wrong

Ron notes that while Baruch She’amar states that we use the songs of David, Your servant, to praise Hashem, not all the verses in Pesukei Dezimra come from Psalms.

“Although a few passages in Pesukei Dezimra are from other authors, the vast majority were written by King David. Even the two sections taken from Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles) are quotes of King David that appear in those books.

“Among the notable exceptions is the very end of Pesukei Dezimra, where we recite Az Yashir, the Song that the Jewish people sang after miraculously crossing the Red Sea. This epic is considered the song of praise of the Jewish people and, therefore, merits its special place in the daily Pesukei Dezimra. It is singled out as such a special praise that halacha requires one to sing it daily, as if one had personally  experienced this miraculous manifestation of G-d’s presence.

“Notwithstanding all its wondrous virtues, there is still some halachic controversy whether it should be recited as part of Pesukei Dezimra or not.”

“How so?”

“The Rambam, perhaps the greatest scholar of the last thousand years, mentions the recital of Az Yashir after Yishtabach, not before. Apparently, since King David did not author Az Yashir, the Rambam feels that it should not be included between the two blessings; only passages that are authored by King David should be included. I am personally unaware of any community that currently follows this practice.”

Hodu – Before Baruch She’amar or After?

Ron is ready with his next question: “I have noticed that some congregations begin Pesukei Dezimra with Baruch She’amar, while others begin with a different passage. What is the rationale behind these two different approaches?”

“King David taught this song to be sung on the day that the Aron, which held the Ten Commandments, was brought to the City of David, in the city of Jerusalem (Divrei Hayamim I 16). Later it was sung to accompany the daily offerings in the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, until the Beis Hamikdash was built (Seder Olam, Chapter14). Thus, this praise is directly associated with the offerings of the Jewish people and, at the same time, it reflects the early history of the Jewish nation.

The question is whether we should recite it as part of the regular Pesukei Dezimra, albeit closer to the part of the prayer when we discuss the offerings, or whether it is a sequel to korbanos and prior to Pesukei Dezimra. Ashkenazic practice follows the first approach and Sefardic, the latter – two old customs, both cited by early authoritative sources (Tur).”

Pesukei Dezimra: Fulfilling Hashem’s Only Desire

“Could you sum up in a few words what we have learned today?”

“Rather than my words, I will cite a great early scholar, the Ramban: ‘All that Hashem desires from this world is that man should thank Him for creating him, focus on His praise when he prays, and that the community pray together with concentration: Mankind should gather together and thank the Lord who created them, broadcasting: We are your creations!’” (Ramban, Shemos 13:16).

To this, Ron replied: “You just mentioned that the community should recite the praises together. In my visits to different synagogues, I have noticed that in the Sefardic community the entire congregation recites these prayers in unison. In many other synagogues, someone begins and ends each passage aloud, so that everyone can read from the same place. It seems, from your description, that this is the proper way one should recite these prayers.

“However, in some shuls that I frequent, the prayers seem far more chaotic. Although these shuls are, thank G-d, very crowded and well attended, people arrive at different times, and each person starts praying by himself. No one leads the services until after Pesukei Dezimra is complete, and they are certainly not said in unison. I must admit that I do not find this part of the services very attractive. It certainly does not fit the beautiful description you just gave me.”

Yosel shifted uncomfortably, realizing that Ron is absolutely correct. “It is embarrassing to admit that we are not doing what we should,” he began. “Your criticism is extremely well founded. Would you be willing to come with me and speak to the Rabbi of our congregation about the problem? I admit that the problem has bothered me for a while, but I have not had the gumption to do anything about it. Perhaps you can help me?”

Ron realized that he had turned the tables. He had come as an outsider sharing something that bothered him. He did not expect to be the person Yosel would appeal to for help in what appeared to be some type of crusade. But Yosel’s face indicated that he was sincere in his request. Not knowing the rabbi, Ron was uncertain what to expect, but at the meeting, he found the rabbi more than accommodating.

“I have wanted to introduce this in the shul for a long time,” the rabbi said after listening to their complaint. “The old minhag, in all communities, always included someone leading the services from the very beginning of Berachos. Why and when this practice changed is not for our discussion now, but I would like your help in changing the practice in our shul.”

In Conclusion, the Congregation’s Resolution

Ron became a very active member of the shul, although his attire initially looked fairly dissimilar from to that of most other members. His input, as an “outsider”, was happily accepted.

And as Ron morphed into Reuvein and learned how to use the Hebrew Siddur fluently, his unflagging enthusiasm for Pesukei Dezimra spurred major change, not only in himself and in his good friend Yosel, but also in Congregation Bnei Torah. Ultimately, his enthusiasm and initiative spiritually permeated the entire world.

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.

 

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