Preliminary Blessings and Psalms

With introductory blessings and psalms, the creators of the Jewish prayer service created a model that allowed for spiritual preparation prior to the main section of the morning service.

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After these collections of verses come the two sets of readings that form the core of Pesukei D'Zimra. The first is Psalm 145, called Ashrei, meaning, "Happy are they (who dwell in your house, Lord)." It is interesting to note that the title and opening lines of this prayer are actually not a part of Psalm 145, but instead, are from Psalms 84:5 and 144:15. These two additional verses and Psalm 145 were probably already understood as a discrete prayer by the time of the Talmud, for the Rabbis taught, "One who recites Ashrei three times daily is assured a share in the World to Come" (Berachot 4b). Ashrei is an alphabetical acrostic; every line begins with the succeeding letter of the Hebrew aleph-bet, thus symbolizing every possible praise to God, from "A to Z." (The only letter that is missing is nun, perhaps because it alluded to the word, nofel, or fall or disaster.) The highlight of this psalm is the line that states, "You [God] open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing," which refers to God's power to sustain all life in the world.

The second core of the Pesukei D'Zimra section consists of the concluding five psalms of the book of Psalms from the Hebrew Bible. Following Ashrei, Psalms 146 to 150 are recited. Because each of these psalms begins with the word halleluyah, or "praise God," it is referred to as Hallel in the Talmud. (This is not to be confused with another liturgical section of the siddur also called Hallel, which is only recited on festivals.) Rabbi Yosi, from the time of the Talmud, stated, "May my share be among those who complete Hallel every day," which the Sages explain refers explicitly to these five psalms (Shabbat 118b). The final psalm of the 150 in the book of Psalms reaches the book's climax in the verse, "Let every living thing that has breath praise God, Halleluyah!"

Both before and after these two core sections, there are other various psalms and selections from the Hebrew Bible. For example, following the five psalms of Hallel, the biblical Song of the Sea is chanted. This poem was recited by Moses and the Israelites upon the destruction of Pharaoh and his army as the divided Sea of Reeds crashed down upon them, drowning them. It begins with the line, "I will sing to the Lord, majestic in triumph! Horse and rider He has hurled into the sea!" (Exodus 15:1). It includes the triumphant exaltation, "Who is like You, Lord, among all that is worshipped? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, working wonders?!" which is repeated later in the service preceding the Amidah.

The concluding blessing of this section, also called after its first word, Yishtabakh, or "You shall be praised," sums up the lengthy praises of God. The final blessing states, "Praised are you, Adonai our God, Lord, King, exalted through praises, God of thanksgiving, Master of wonders, who chooses musical songs of praise--King, God, life-giver of the world." This is then followed by the Hatzi, or half, Kaddish which serves as a liturgical punctuation point signifying the end of Pesukei D'Zimra and the beginning of the Shaharit, or morning service, which includes the Shema and its blessings and the Amidah.

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Rabbi Daniel Kohn

Rabbi Daniel Kohn, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, was ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1991. He is the author of several books on Jewish education and spirituality who currently writes and teaches throughout the San Francisco Bay area.