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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Stanza III is marked by the theme of kingship. As realizing God's kingship induced the psalmist to bless God by pointing out how His acts are to be praised in stanza I, so in stanza III (lines 11-13), the faithful bless God, realize His kingship, and seek "to make His mighty acts known to humanity" (line 12). Stanza III thus advances toward the end (in both senses) of the psalm that all flesh join in such blessing.

From Divine Reign to Divine Regard

In the fourth stanza (lines 14-20) the shift from divine reign to divine regard is as dramatic as it is intentional. The cosmic ruler is also the daily nourisher. Progressing on an axis of increasing closeness, lines 16-20 state:

He feeds - all living (16);
He is close - to all who call Him (18);
He does the desire - of those who revere Him (19);
and preserves - all who love Him (20).

All four stanzas are marked by a formal frame that begins and ends with a
similar term. This stylistic device of inclusion is employed here fully three
times and partially a fourth.                

stanza I - great / greatness          vv. 3-6
stanza II - good /goodness           vv. 7-9
stanza III - kingship / kingship         vv. 11-13
stanza IV - the Lord supports / the Lord preserves  vv. 14-20

This structure also uncovers the alternating pattern of l) transcendence,
2) immanence, 3) transcendence, 4) immanence, making the point, according to
Heschel in his book The Prophets, that "the dichotomy of transcendence and
immanence is an oversimplification," for as Heschel continues, "God remains
transcendent in His immanence, and related in His transcendence."

The call of the postlude of line 21 is also the finale. The praise of God is extended to its
fullest, climaxing in a crescendo resounding throughout humanity everywhere and
forever. This extension is underscored by the contrast between the postlude and
the prelude. What began as "the praise to/of David" culminates as "the praise of the Lord." Through the reversion to the initial praise, the whole composition becomes ringed together, from beginning to end, by the motif of praise.

Unifying Features

Psalm 145 is unified by both external and internal features. Its most noticeable external feature is its Hebrew acrostic. Although some see the full alphabet as a metaphor for totality, or as a reflection of the full range of human expression, or as a memory aid, or as an expression of elation, the explanation most apropos to its use in Psalm 145 is the understanding advanced by Adelle Berlin in her article, "The Rhetoric of Psalm 145." She says, "the entire alphabet, the source of all words, is marshalled in praise of God. One cannot actually use all of the words in a language, but by using the alphabet one uses all potential words. So the form is made to serve the message."

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Dr. Reuven Kimelman

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