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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.
Sat, February 16 2019 11 Adar I 5779