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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The drive toward inclusiveness is reinforced by the envelope structure. By having the end formally echo the beginning, the Psalm paves the way from the "I bless" of the prelude to the "all flesh shall bless" of the postlude; both "forever and ever."

God's Greatness

Stanza I forms a quatrain on the subject of God's greatness. Line 3 opens with great/greatness as line 6 concludes with greatness. Stanza II forms a triad on God's goodness. Line 7 celebrates God's abundant goodness as line 9 proclaims that God is good to all. By opening and closing with "great" and "good" the two stanzas converge to make the point that praise is generated by appreciating the link between divine greatness and goodness. Indeed, the juxtaposition of the two intimates what is made explicit in the next stanza, namely, that God's goodness is an expression of His greatness.

Stanzas III (lines 11-13) and IV (lines 14-20) serve to advance the thesis of stanzas I and II through specification and concretization as in much of biblical parallelism. What is implicit in stanzas I and II becomes explicit in III and IV.

Thus the theme of sovereignty, intimated in stanza I through expressions of divine grandeur, is made graphic in stanza III. All the salient terms indicate divine strength and majesty such as "great," "might," "glorious," "splendor," "power." This indication is intensified by the compounding of the following terms for such greatness:

1. "His greatness" (u-gedulato),
2. "and Your might acts" (u-gevuratekha),
3. "and Your wondrous things" (ve-divre nifla'otekha),
4. "and of the power of your awesome deeds" (ve-azuz norotekha),
5. "and your greatness[es]" (u-gedulotekha).

Stanza IV adduces cases of the mercies of God mentioned in stanza II, as signs of God's divine reign. Hoping that perceiving the divine grandeur as refracted through a caring kingship will trigger the desire to acclaim God king, the psalmist anticipates all humanity joining in such an acclamation.

Each of the four stanzas forms a step in the escalation of praise. The first stanza (lines 3-6) underscores the inadequacy of only the psalmist praising every day. Not only is God, according to the psalmist, "extolled, blessed, praised, yea exceedingly praised," His works are "lauded, declared, narrated, talked of, and recounted." Nonetheless, however much "His greatness, mighty, wondrous, and awesome acts and deeds" are exalted, divine grandeur remains limitless.

The second stanza (lines 7-9) celebrates the extension of divine goodness to all. Line 8's cluster of epithets of grace (hanun v'rahum…) resonates with echoes of the 13 attributes of Exodus 34:6 that were to become, if it had not already, a liturgical staple. Verse 8 reproduces the series of epithets of Exodus 34:6, except that it has u-gadol hesed ("abundant kindness") instead of rav hesed ("abounding in kindness).

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Dr. Reuven Kimelman

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