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I Will Lift You – Ashrey Psalm 145

02/02/2017 03:16:38 PM


1. David’s Psalm. I will elevate you my God the King, and I will bless your name always forever.
2. Every day I will bless you and praise your name always forever.
א תְּהִלָּה לְדָוִד
אֲרוֹמִמְךָ אֱלוֹהַי הַמֶּלֶךְ וַאֲבָרֲכָה שִׁמְךָ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד:
Aromimcha elohai hamelech vaavarcha shimecha leolam va’ed
Bechol yom avarcheka va’ahalela shimecha leolam va’ed
What a wildly self-confident vision to begin this psalm with, “I will elevate you my God…” With all the grand statements about God that follow in this prayer, this is a remarkably presumptuous statement to begin with: that I, the reader can in some way raise God up. I have a role to play in lifting God up.
What can this mean?
The Ashrey wastes no time in making it clear we have a role to play in our own well-being, our own happiness. We might think prayer is about asking God to do something for us. But prayer is fundamentally about self-transformation. Our life, our prayers, and even our God requires our action.
Should we have any illusion that our path to happiness will be taken care of for us, it is dispelled when we recite, “I will elevate my God...” Not only does our spiritual practice require our active participation, but even God is elevated by actions.
It strikes me as quite wonderful that the opening lines of this prayer tell us that those who praise God will be happy, “additionally they will praise you.” And then immediately we as readers have an opportunity to state our intention to do just this.
The Ashrey begins telling us that to be happy we should praise God, and within only a couple of lines we are offering praise. This pattern of offering advice and then an opportunity to follow it or declare our intention to follow it happens repeatedly in the Ashrey.
This pattern emphasizes the importance of taking action quickly.
It helps us to move from receiving good advice to practicing it.[1]
For example, perhaps you, like me, have a somewhat complicated relationship with the snooze bar of your alarm clock? When I don’t have a plan or an early appointment, my alarm can feel like a suggestion rather than a command. But, as it turns out the earlier I have to get up, the more likely I am to really listen to that alarm. Once a week I go to a swim class that starts at 5:45 AM. To make it there on time, I have gotten into the habit of up setting out my clothes and getting my breakfast ready the night before. I set my alarm for the last possible minute, and I know that I have to get up as soon as the alarm goes off to make it on time. If I hit the snooze bar, I am late. My action (getting up) has to follow the advice (alarm) immediately.
When it comes to bigger projects or good intentions, the importance of at least getting started on the very first step as soon as possible is critical to our success.
Jewish ritual embraces this approach. When we bless challah on a Friday night we are instructed to eat the bread before speaking. Whenever we say a blessing, we try to go directly to the action associated with that blessing. There is a tradition to begin building our Sukkah on the evening after Yom Kippur so as to follow through immediately on at least one intention to live our lives more in alignment with the values of our tradition.
Reciting the Ashrey gives us a chance to practice this. It models presenting a good idea and finding an immediate opportunity to act and affirm that idea. It reminds us that we are the only ones who can do the practice. No one else can do it for us.
The claim of this first line, “I will elevate You my God…,” transforms the rest of the psalm. Even when the psalm is speaking of what others do or what God does, it is no longer the Psalm’s author who is speaking but is now the words and praise of us as readers. Just as we have a role to play in raising up God, we have a role to play in raising ourselves up.

[1] I think this psalm has an overarching pattern of giving advice or making a claim and then giving reader of the psalm the opportunity to act on it. See Reuven Kimelman, My People’s Prayer Book, p.36.

Happy are they who...Meditations for the Ashrey 

12/14/2016 08:42:22 PM


Happy Are They Who…
On Sabbatical last year I tried to start each day meditating on and writing about the Ashrey, a core piece of Jewish liturgy drawn primarily from Psalm 145. I will be sharing a selection of these writings over the next months. Below is my first entry. I hope that you will add to these thoughts by sharing your experiences, questions and responses. If you would like to follow these postings, comment below and I will tag you on future entries.
אַשְׁרֵי יוֹשְׁבֵי בֵיתֶךָ עוֹד יְהַלְלוּךָ סֶּלָה:
Ashrey yoshvey veytecha od yehalulcha selah:
84:5 Happy are those who dwell/live/settle in your house. Continue to praise God Selah.
“Happy are they who…”
It is such a simple claim. It is easy to overlook the promise in this line. Happy are they who…
Who…. what?
We are drawn in with a promise of advice and wisdom.
Yes – I want to be happy! Yes I want osher - richness, wellbeing, happiness.
When you are not happy, the declaration that you could be happy is like a bell announcing the broken heart.
In the first lines it rings three times.
Three ways of assuring one’s happiness are promised.
We can read the rest of this prayer as a spiritual answer to the question of how to be the “who” who are happy.
84:5 Happy are those who dwell/live/settle in your house. Continue to praise God Selah.
144:15 Happy is the people who are thus. Happy the people whose God is YHVH/Existence.
What a great claim! The path to happiness can be known and will be shared. It is a little like the anticipation that comes when reading the cover of a self-help book. Yes! Here it is, finally, a strategy that will help me with my challenges. And damn if it doesn’t always start out seeming pretty simple.
Happy Are They Who…
Chapter 1: Get to the House of God. Dwell There and Keep Praising.
Chapter 2: Be Part of a Happy People.
The promise of the Ashrey, the self-help psalm, is that happiness is within our reach. That we can take actions that will bring us spiritual richness and a sense of wellbeing.
Of course it is true. We do feel happy when we remember we are living in God’s house. Our home, our world, the earth, existence is God’s house.
We do feel happy when we associate with others who understand that the very flow of existence is God. Being able to be “thus” with whatever the current moment is and keep offering praise does set up a cycle of joy. True, but not simple.
Sylvia Boorstein has a book called Happiness Is an Inside Job. Again, the title says it all. We can change our insides, our minds, our thought patterns – or perhaps not change so much but simply notice – and happiness will arise more easily, more often.
What the psalm does not say is that the opposite is also true. That we can run away, ignore, and curse – bringing darkness and despair. It does not say that the temptation to focus on what is painful, wrong, and worrisome is strong. Our survival instinct wires us toward anxiety.
Why is it so damn hard sometimes just to enjoy a nice moment?
In one moment we notice, what a great day.
It really is beautiful.
It really is great to be alive.
Yes, I am dwelling in God’s house.
And then negativity arises in the mind or even just distraction, and we have forgotten where we dwell.
The desire and commitment to constantly praise YHVH is an expression of dedication to a challenging practice. We need to constantly be praising and thanking and appreciating to keep the positive juices flowing. Yes it gets easier with practice, but rarely is it easy.
The Ashrey hints at what other Psalms say more explicitly and what everyone alive knows: staying appreciative of the wonder of life is hard even when life is good. It is so much harder when life is hard, excruciating, and painful. When we feel like burnt -out husks. The Ashrey recognizes we have enemies and feel oppressed and depressed. It knows we can be hungry. Yet it still makes this claim that the path to happiness starts with praising Yah and ends with continuing to praise Yah and that this never stops being true.

 - Ashrey אשרי

אַשְׁרֵי יוֹשְׁבֵי בֵיתֶךָ עוֹד יְהַלְלוּךָ סֶּלָה:  
84:5 Happy are those who dwell/live/settle in your
house. Continue to praise God Selah.
אַשְׁרֵי הָעָם שֶׁכָּכָה לּוֹ אַשְׁרֵי הָעָם שֶׁיֲהוָה אֱלֹהָיו: 
144:15 Happy is the people who are thus. Happy the
people whose God is YHVH/Existence.
 א תְּהִלָּה לְדָוִד אֲרוֹמִמְךָ אֱלוֹהַי הַמֶּלֶךְ וַאֲבָרֲכָה שִׁמְךָ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד: 
1. David’s Psalm. I will elevate you my God the King,
and I will bless your name always forever.
ב בְּכָל־יוֹם אֲבָרֲכֶךָּ וַאֲהַלְלָה שִׁמְךָ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד: 
2. Every day I will bless you and praise your name
always forever.
ג גָּדוֹל יְהֹוָה וּמְהֻלָּל מְאֹד וְלִגְדֻלָּתוֹ אֵין חֵקֶר:
3. Great is YHVH/Being and super praised. (YHVH)’s
greatness is beyond finding/exceeds definition.
ד דּוֹר לְדוֹר יְשַׁבַּח מַעֲשֶׂיךָ וּגְבוּרֹתֶיךָ יַגִּידוּ: 
4. Generation after generation praise your workings, and speak about your powerful actions.
ה הֲדַר כְּבוֹד הוֹדֶךָ וְדִבְרֵי נִפְלְאֹתֶיךָ אָשִׂיחָה:
5. The intense/heavy beauty of your splendor and the
words of your wonders I will share/meditate on. 
ו וֶעֱזוּז נוֹרְאֹתֶיךָ יֹאמֵרוּ וגדולתיך [וּגְדוּלָּתְךָ] אֲסַפְּרֶנָּה:
6. People speak of the strength of you awesomeness,
and I tell of your greatness.
ז זֵכֶר רַב־טוּבְךָ יַבִּיעוּ וְצִדְקָתְךָ יְרַנֵּנוּ:
7. Memor(ies) of your great goodness will bubble up.
They will sing joyfully for your justice.
ח חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם יְהֹוָה אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וּגְדָל־חָסֶד:
8. YHVH is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and tremendously loving.
ט טוֹב־יְהֹוָה לַכֹּל וְרַחֲמָיו עַל־כָּל־מַעֲשָׂיו:
9. YHVH is good to all and God’s compassion rests on
every creation.
י יוֹדוּךָ יְהֹוָה כָּל־מַעֲשֶׂיךָ וַחֲסִידֶיךָ יְבָרֲכוּכָה: 
10. All your creations, YHVH will thank you, and your
loved ones will bless you.
יא כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתְךָ יֹאמֵרוּ וּגְבוּרָתְךָ יְדַבֵּרוּ:
11 The glory of your absolute power they will speak of
and your strength they will tell.  
יב לְהוֹדִיעַ לִבְנֵי הָאָדָם גְּבוּרֹתָיו וּכְבוֹד הֲדַר מַלְכוּתוֹ:
12 To announce to all humanity God’s strong protections and the heavy splendor of God’s true authority.  
יג מַלְכוּתְךָ מַלְכוּת כָּל־עֹלָמִים וּמֶמְשַׁלְתְּךָ בְּכָל־דּוֹר וָדוֹר: 
13 Your authority is the kind of authority that exists in all worlds and you governance applies to every generation.
יד סוֹמֵךְ יְהֹוָה לְכָל־הַנֹּפְלִים וְזוֹקֵף לְכָל־הַכְּפוּפִים:
14 You hold up the fallen and raise up those who are
pushed down.
טו עֵינֵי כֹל אֵלֶיךָ יְשַׂבֵּרוּ וְאַתָּה נוֹתֵן־לָהֶם אֶת־אָכְלָם בְּעִתּוֹ:
15 All eyes look towards you hopefully, and you give
them food at its season.
טז פּוֹתֵחַ אֶת־יָדֶךָ וּמַשְׂבִּיעַ לְכָל־חַי רָצוֹן:
16 Opening your hand and satisfying every living
יז צַדִּיק יְהֹוָה בְּכָל־דְּרָכָיו וְחָסִיד בְּכָל־מַעֲשָׂיו:
17 YHVH is just in every path/direction, and kind
loving in every act.
יח קָרוֹב יְהֹוָה לְכָל־קֹרְאָיו לְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יִקְרָאֻהוּ בֶאֱמֶת: 
18 YHVH is close to all who call, to all who call in truth.
יט רְצוֹן־יְרֵאָיו יַעֲשֶׂה וְאֶת־שַׁוְעָתָם יִשְׁמַע וְיוֹשִׁיעֵם:
19 The deep purpose/desire of those in awe (God) fulfills
and hears their cries and saves them. 
כ שׁוֹמֵר יְהֹוָה אֶת־כָּל־אֹהֲבָיו וְאֵת כָּל־הָרְשָׁעִים יַשְׁמִיד:
20 All who love YHVH protects and all the wicked are
כא תְּהִלַּת יְהֹוָה יְדַבֶּר־פִּי וִיבָרֵךְ כָּל־בָּשָׂר שֵׁם קָדְשׁוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד:
21 My mouth will speak YHVH praises, let all life bless
the holy name for all time and every place.
 יח וַאֲנַחְנוּ ׀ נְבָרֵךְ יָהּ מֵעַתָּה וְעַד־עוֹלָם הַלְלוּיָהּ:
115:18 We will bless Yah from now until eternity.


Fri, December 14 2018 6 Tevet 5779