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Beit Midrash Prayer

Chapter fourteen-part one

Pesukei d’Zimrah

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1.The Reason for Its Recital
The appropriate sequence of prayer is to begin by praising Hashem and only afterwards to approach Him with our requests. We learn this from Moshe Rabbeinu who commenced his prayer with words of praise, saying (Deuteronomy 3:24), "Hashem, God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand. What force is there in heaven or earth that can perform deeds and mighty acts as You do?" Only afterwards did Moshe plead, "Please let me cross [the Jordan] so that I may see the good land…" Based on this, Rav Simlai interprets, "A person should always praise Hashem first and afterwards pray" (Berachot 32a). This is the order of the berachot in the Amidah. The first three berachot open with words of praise and only later continue to the berachot detailing our requests. Even in the rest of the prayer service it is proper to begin in this fashion; therefore the Chachamim established the recital of Pesukei d’Zimrah, words of praise and exaltation of Hashem. The Chachamim instituted opening Pesukei d’Zimrah with Birkat Baruch She’amar and ending it with Birkat Yishtabach.
During the time of the Tanna’im, the recital of Pesukei d’Zimrah was considered to be an extra pious act praised by the Chachamim. As time went on, however, the minhag spread until it became an obligatory custom, and now all of Israel commence their prayers with Pesukei d’Zimrah. 1
By reciting Pesukei d’Zimrah, a person reflects upon the magnitude of the Creator, and thus when he subsequently prays, he knows before Whom he stands. Otherwise, he might come to request his needs like idol worshipers, whose whole aim is to achieve personal success in their lowly matters, and who are not interested at all in devoting themselves to Hashem, the Source of Life. However, a person who purifies his heart by meditating on the greatness of Hashem knows how to pray. Even when requesting health and livelihood, he does so in order to devote himself to Hashem’s Torah and to rectify the world under the Almighty’s sovereignty. In this spirit, his prayers will be accepted (see Olat Ra’aya part 1, p.14).
The name "Pesukei d’Zimrah" means "verses of songs of praise." Additionally, it derives from the phrase "zemirat hakerem" (the pruning of a vineyard). Just like one who prunes his vineyard cuts off the extra branches in order to increase the growth of the vines and thus produce better fruit in the future - by saying Pesukei d’Zimrah we destroy our flawed thoughts and negative feelings, so that our prayers will ascend upward and be accepted. This process of mental and emotional purification inspires us to joyous song; therefore these passages are called "Pesukei d’Zimrah." 2

2.What Are Pesukei d’Zimrah?
The main part of Pesukei d’Zimrah is the last six chapters in the book of Psalms, the most significant being the first, "Tehillah L’David" (Psalm 145). One who recites it three times daily is ensured a place in the World to Come, both because the praises in that Psalm are organized according to the order of the alef-bet, and because it mentions the important verse, "Pote’ach et Yadecha…," "You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living being" (Berachot 4b). It is customary to recite the verse "Ashrei" before it, therefore the Psalm is generally referred to as Ashrei.
Afterwards, we say the five Psalms which start and end with the word "Halleluyah," about which Rabbi Yossi says, "May my portion be among those who complete the Hallel every day" (Shabbat 118b).
During the era of the Savora’im (after the Amora’im), the recital of "Hodu" (Chronicles I 16:8-36) was instituted, which is the song and praise that King David recited as he returned the Ark of God from the captivity of the Philistines to the tent of the Tabernacle. Later, in the Temple, half of this praise would be recited while offering the morning Tamid and the other half when bringing the Tamid of the afternoon (Beit Yosef, Orach Chaim 50). According to Nusach Ashkenaz, Hodu is said after Baruch She’amar so that all the songs of praise and exaltation are included within the berachot of Pesukei d’Zimrah (Tur, Orach Chaim 51). According to Nusach Sephard, Hodu is said before Baruch She’amar because it is a continuation of the recital of the Tamid offering (Eshkol, Kolbo).
The Savora’im also instituted (Masechet Sofrim 17:11) the recital of a compilation of verses before Ashrei that start with Yehi Chevod. These verses possess a strengthening of one’s faith in Hashem and in the redemption of Israel. The Ari explains the deeper, mystical meanings of this Psalms’ enigmatic words (Kaf HaChaim 51:13).
After that, during the time of the Geonim, it became customary to add more Psalms and verses to Pesukei d’Zimrah. They established saying "Mizmor L’Todah" (Psalm 100). Chazal say that in the future, all songs will be nullified with the exception of this one (Vayikra Rabbah 9:7). Therefore, it is proper to recite it with a melody. It is not said on Shabbatot and festivals; instead, "Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbat" (Psalm 92) is recited. According to the Ashkenazic minhag, Mizmor L’Todah is recited to correspond to the Todah (thanksgiving) offering which contained chametz (leavened bread). For that reason this Psalm is not recited on Erev Pesach, Chol HaMo’ed Pesach, and Erev Yom Kippur, since the Todah offering is not brought on those days because of the prohibition of chametz, or the obligation to fast. However, the Sephardim do recite it on those days because according to the Sephardic minhag, it does not correspond to the Todah offering; rather its fundamental purpose is to praise and express thanks (Beit Yosef and Rama 51:8).
The main parts of Pesukei d’Zimrah are taken from the songs of David, as we say in the wording of Baruch She’amar, "Through the songs of David, Your servant, we will extol You." Nevertheless, in the period of the Geonim, there were those who had the custom to add verses from the Torah and from the book of Nehemiah, such as Vayevarech David (Chronicles I 29:10-13 and Nehemiah 9:6-11), and Az Yashir (Song at the Sea), that Moshe and the nation of Israel sang to Hashem (Exodus 15:1-18). By the end of the era of the Rishonim everyone became accustomed to saying them. 3

3.Customs and Kavanah Regarding Their Recital
Pesukei d’Zimrah are to be recited in a relaxed manner and not hastily (Shulchan Aruch 51:8).
Baruch She’amar possesses a special virtue and alludes to sublime matters; therefore, it is customary to recite it while standing (Mishnah Berurah 51:1, Kaf HaChaim 1). According to the Ashkenazic minhag, one also stands while saying Yishtabach, which ends Pesukei d’Zimrah. However, according to the Sephardic minhag, one need not stand (Rama 51:7; Kaf HaChaim 42).
Likewise, it is customary to stand for Vayevarech David until the words "Asher bacharta b’Avram," out of respect for the Kingdom of Israel founded by King David. 4
After learning that one of the two reasons for the recital of Ashrei (Psalm 145) is the mention of the verse, "Pote’ach et Yadecha," ("You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living being"), we understand why this verse must be said with kavanah. If it is recited without kavanah, it must be repeated. Even if one already started reciting other passages, he must say that verse again with kavanah because it is the most important part of Pesukei d’Zimrah. Some say that since he did not have kavanah for that main verse, his recital of the rest of the Psalm is not considered valid either, and he must go back and repeat from "Pote’ach" until the end (Mishnah Berurah 52:16). However, according to most poskim, it is enough to go back and recite only the verse "Pote’ach" by itself (Shulchan Aruch 52:7). 5

^ 1.Berachot 4b states, "Whoever recites Tehillah L’David (Ashrei) three times daily is promised life in the World to Come," and Shabbat 118b adds, "Rabbi Yossi says, ‘May my portion be among those who complete the Hallel (meaning Pesukei d’Zimrah) every day.’" From these words it can be inferred that the Chachamim did not institute the recital of Pesukei d’Zimrah; rather, it is an extra pious act that all of Israel practiced, and consequently became an obligatory custom. As the Rasag writes in his siddur (Mekitzei Nirdamim publishers, p. 32), "Our nation has volunteered to recite a number of Psalms praising HaKadosh Baruch Hu – with two berachot before and after them..." Additionally, in the words of the Rambam (Tefillah 7:12), "The Chachamim praise a person who recites songs from Psalms each and every day, from Tehillah L’David until the end of the book. It is already customary to recite verses [of Scripture] before and after them, and a berachah was instituted for recital before the Psalms … and a berachah after them." The wording of these berachot is first mentioned in Seder Rav Amram Gaon, and some conclude that these berachot were instituted during the period of the Geonim. (There are even poskim who maintain that, halachically, Baruch She’amar and Yishtabach are less important than the rest of the berachot, as brought by the Bei’ur Halachah 51:2 s.v. "Im"). However, Tola’at Yaakov writes in the name of Or Zarua that Anshei Knesset HaGedolah instituted the wording of Baruch She’amar from a note that fell from Heaven. Many Acharonim write this, too, as brought by the Mishnah Berurah 51:1. The Mishkenot Yaakov writes that the berachot were composed during the period of the Tanna’im and therefore it is forbidden to skip them. Some maintain that Rabbi Yishmael instituted them, as written in Sefer Likutei Maharich (see Makor HaTefillot p. 13). Although Rabbi Simlai learns (in Berachot 32a) from Moshe Rabbeinu’s prayer that a person must begin praying with words of praise, Rashi in Avodah Zara 7b interprets this to mean that we must begin the Shemoneh Esrei with three initial berachot of praise. So writes the Rambam chapter 1, halachot 2 and 4. If so, there is no biblical basis for Pesukei d’Zimrah, rather its recital is an extra pious act.
However, it is implied from the Rif (Berachot 23a), Rosh (Berachot, chapter 5, 4-6) and Tur that Pesukei d’Zimrah were instituted in order to start the prayer service with words of praise. The Bach, Orach Chaim 51 explains that the Chachamim instituted berachot for Pesukei d’Zimrah based on Rabbi Simlai’s extrapolation from the verses. He reasons that although they did not obligate the recital of Pesukei d’Zimrah, if there was no certain teaching from the Torah that this was the order of prayer, they would not have instituted the recital of berachot for them.
See note 9 further in this chapter which states that according to Rav Natrunai and the Rashba, if one did not recite Pesukei d’Zimrah before the Amidah, he may not recite them after it, for their whole purpose is to prepare a person for prayer. However, according to Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah and the Rosh, one may make them up after the Amidah, including the berachot. It must be explained in their opinion, that even though they were instituted before the Amidah, nevertheless, b’dieved, they still possess value even after the Amidah, for their main purpose is to praise Hashem and not necessarily to serve as preparation for prayer.

^ 2.See Ein Ayah Berachot 32a, s.v. "Rabbi Simlai extrapolates." The Abudraham writes that Pesukei d’Zimrah are "like defenders of prayer." In Menorat HaMaor it is explained that the name Pesukei d’Zimrah comes from the words "zemirat hakerem," meaning the pruning of a vineyard. The Tur, Orach Chaim 93, based on the Gemara writes, "One must not approach prayer…unless it is out of happiness," and therefore it was customary to recite Pesukei d’Zimrah, "In order to approach prayer out of the happiness surrounding the mitzvah of being engaged in Torah."
^ 3.Regarding Tehillah L’David (Ashrei): Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah (23a) write that the essence of the institution to recite Pesukei d’Zimrah is for Tehillah L’David, based on the Gemara in Berachot 4b. The Rosh, chapter 5:6 writes, "In addition to that Psalm, the Chachamim instituted reciting [the remaining Psalms] until the end of the book of Psalms."
What was Rabbi Yossi referring to when he said (Shabbat 118b), "May my portion be among those who complete the Hallel, [meaning Pesukei d’Zimrah,] every day"? According to the Rif, Rosh, and Tur, he was referring to the last six Psalms, from Tehillah L’David until the end of the book of Psalms (Psalms 145-150). So it is written in Masechet Sofrim 17:11. However, Rashi interprets that Rabbi Yossi was discussing the two Psalms that start with "Halleluyah Hallelu" (Psalms 148 and 150). These opinions are brought by the Beit Yosef, end of section 50. Therefore, a distinction is made regarding the level of importance between the two Psalms that start with "Halleluyah Hallelu" and those that only begin with the word "Halleluyah.
In Masechet Sofrim 17:11 (which was redacted in Israel at the end of the period of the Savora’im), it is mentioned that Yehi Chevod, Hodu LaHashem, and the last six Psalms are recited. Later, in the time of the Geonim, it is recorded that we recite Mizmor L’Todah and the passages from Vayevarech David through Az Yashir (just as the Tur Orach Chaim 51 writes, that this is an enactment of the Geonim). Similarly, the Psalms that are added on Shabbat are mentioned in Seder Rav Amram Gaon. However, regarding Az Yashir, which is not one of the songs of David, the Rambam writes (Tefillah 7:13) that some are accustomed to saying it and others are not, each person according to his custom. Sefer HaManhig writes that it is not proper to skip the praise of the first redemption. The verses, "Baruch Hashem l’olam amen v’amen" etc. that are recited after the Halleluyot are originally mentioned by the Roke’ach (who was among the Rishonim of Ashkenaz). Abudraham (the Sephardi) presents a reason – because they are verses that conclude the book of Psalms. Mizmor L’Todah is mentioned in Orchot Chaim (one of the Rishonim). Three hundred years ago, Mizmor Shir Chanukat HaBayit was added to the siddur. Before then, it was only recited on Chanukah. In the Mikdash, it was recited when bikurim (first fruits) were brought (Bikurim 3:4).
^ 4.According to the Sephardic minhag, "Hashem Melech Hashem Malach…" is recited twice before Baruch She’amar, and on Shabbat and Festivals it is said while standing. Beit Yosef 50 writes in the name of Shibolei HaLeket 76 that the reason is based on the Midrash which states that the angels said it while standing. However, on weekdays, since people did not have leisure time because of work, they were not accustomed to standing. Nowadays, it is customary to stand even on weekdays.

^ 5.In Seder Rav Amram Gaon it is written in the name of Rav Natrunai Gaon that the main goal is to recite the psalm Tehillah L’David at least once a day, and the fact that the Chachamim write three times daily is so that people will not be negligent by not reciting it at all. Therefore, in his opinion, on Shabbat it is only recited twice. This is also the implication from the Rosh chapter 1, section 6, where he writes, "Whoever recites Tehillah L’David every day." However, in the Gemara before us (Berachot 4b), the version reads, "Anyone who recites Tehillah L’David three times daily – is promised life in the World to Come." So writes the Rambam, that it is recited three times on Shabbat as well. According to those who maintain that it is sufficient to recite it once a day, the Kaf HaChaim 51:33 writes not to repeat "Pote’ach" in the middle of Pesukei d’Zimrah since this is considered an interruption. Instead one should have kavanah while saying it in the Ashrei after the Amidah. However, according to the majority of poskim, one must make up its recital in the middle of Pesukei d’Zimrah wherever he realizes his lack of kavanah. This is because in addition to taking into consideration the poskim who maintain that it is necessary to recite it three times, the verse "Pote’ach" is the most important verse of Pesukei d’Zimrah (as Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah 23a write) and therefore it must be recited with kavanah specifically between the berachot of Pesukei d’Zimrah. That is what the Mishnah Berurah implies and what the Ben Ish Chai, Vayigash 12, Igrot Moshe 2:16, and Yabia Omer, part 6, 5:6 write as well. According to most poskim, only the verse "Pote’ach" must be repeated, as written in the Shulchan Aruch 51:7, Magen Avraham, Birkei Yosef 5, Shulchan Aruch HaRav 8, and Tzitz Eliezer 12:8. The Mishnah Berurah, based on the Levush and Chayei Adam, rules that one must recite from "Pote’ach" until the end of the Psalm.
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