Ashrei: Pslam 145

The internal and external structure of this carefully-crafted Psalm serves to reinforce its theme of praising God as the caring, divine ruler of all creation.

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Professor Kimelman forcefully demonstrates how Psalm 145, known as Ashre for the first word of its first two verses, is a highly structured, carefully crafted composition. Paying close attention to the intersection of the use of language and the rhetorical structure, Kimelman shows how the psalmist proceeds from praise of God's greatness to an appreciation of God's goodness. God's greatness inevitably leads from an acclamation of God's sovereignty to an appreciation of God as caring ruler. God, as caring ruler, deserves the praise, not only of the psalmist, but of all humanity. This article is adapted from materials produced for the Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL) and is reprinted with permission of the author from the CLAL Rabbinic Community Online.

No Psalm is better known or recited more frequently than Psalm 145, known by its liturgical title Ashre. Since Gaonic times it has been recited thrice daily--twice in the morning service introducing sections of the service, and once as a prelude to the afternoon service. Despite its frequency, its meaning has eluded most readers, who fail to understand its rhetorical structure. By laying bare the relationship between form and content, theme and structure, we are able to see how its rhetorical structure advances its program for the extension of divine sovereignty.

jewish prayerThis liturgical piece is presented below in a manner that renders transparent its internal dynamic. The added Psalm verses, which are prefixed and suffixed to Psalm 145, are designated prologue and epilogue. Psalm 145 itself is designated the body.

Comprised of 21 verses, the Psalm consists of four stanzas, introduced by a prelude, intersected by an interlude, and concluded with a postlude, which may be diagrammed as follows:

Prelude: vv. 1-2
  I: vv. 3-6
 II: vv. 7-9
Interlude: v. 10
 III: vv. 11-13
 IV: vv. 14-20
Postlude: v. 21

The translation I have done reflects Ashre's structure as well as its internal connections, while adhering closely to the Hebrew order and choice of terms. The Psalm's theme of divine sovereignty is announced in the first line through the words, "my God the king." Although there are other Psalms that proclaim "my king and my God," only Psalm 145:1 uses the definite article for the apparent purpose of underscoring the exclusivity of divine rule.

Psalm 145 has its message of divine sovereignty broadcast in three stages to successively broader circles. Each stage is marked by the word "bless," which crops up strategically in the second colon of lines 1, 10, and 21, the three lines that serve as prelude, interlude, and postlude. The prelude starts: "I bless Your name forever"; the interlude continues: "Your faithful ones bless you"; whereas the postlude climaxes: "all flesh shall bless His holy name forever and ever."

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Dr. Reuven Kimelman

Reuven Kimelman is a Professor of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University.