Sunday, June 01, 2008

Multi-part "harmony" in the morning "songs"

Those of you not interested in Jewish prayer can just skip this post.

It occurred to me recently that P'sukei D'Zimrah, the "Verses of Song" section of Shacharit/Morning Service, is a multi-part section.

Part 1
For the weekday and Shabbat(Sabbath)/Yom Tov (Festival) Shacharit, there's the transitional Psalm 30 (Mizmor, Shir Chanukat HaBayit, L'David), followed by the official opening prayer of P'sukei D'Zimrah, Baruch Sheh-amar, Praised is the One who said . . . " and part one. Note that part one is much longer on Shabbat and Yom Tov, and includes the so-called Hallel HaGadol (Great Hallel), Psalm 135 ("Hodu LaShem ki tov, ki l'olam chasdo, Give thanks to G-d because He is good, for his kindness is forever").

(I always say Baruch Sheh-amar. Aside from that prayer, all bets are off. Whether on a weekday or on Shabbat or Yom Tov, I always skip huge chunks of this section, as I simply can't read Hebrew quickly enough. [Concerning Psalm 30, Mizmor, Shir Chanukat HaBayit, L'David, please see next post.])

Part 2
Ashrei (Psalm 145 with some verses added before and after) is the transition to part two, which includes not just random psalms and other biblical quotes or prayers, but, specifically, the last five psalms (146-150) of Sefer Tehillim, the Book of Psalms, which, according to Rabbi Hammer, form the heart of the P'sukei D'Zimrah section. The transition from part two to part three is the paragraph immediately after Psalm 150, beginning with "Baruch HaShem l'olam (Praised is G-d forever)" and ending with "Amen v'amen."

(I always say Ashrei and Psalm 150. On Shabbat and Yom Tov, I recite the entire section. I finally mastered the remaining two of the five final psalms--I already knew 146 and 150 from my former synagogue choir days, and 148 because a former rabbi recommended that I learn it--only since I started blogging. It was one of the many multi-month liturgy-learning projects that I've undertaken since my late twenties.)

Part 3
"Synagogue choreography"--in this case, the fact that we stand--indicates that part three begins with "Va-y'varech David (And David blessed)." I describe this as the "historical" part because it includes both HaShem's choice of Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Father) and Shirat Yam Suf, the Song of the Sea of Reeds (the song our ancestors sang after escaping from their Egyptian slave-masters at the Reed Sea). The paragraph following Shirat Yam Suf (also know as Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea, which was, more recently, the name of a town in Gush Katif) concludes part three.

(On weekdays, I skip this entire part, for lack of time. On Shabbat and Yom Tov, I recite the whole thing.)

Part 4 on weekdays
Here's where it gets interesting. On weekdays, part four and the conclusion of P'sukei D'Zimrah consists entirely of the one-paragraph b'rachah (blessing) Yishtabach.

(I always say Yishtabach.)

Part 4 on Shabbat and Yom Tov
The prayer Nishmat kol chai (The spirit of everything living) is an added section for Shabbat and Yom Tov. In some prayer books, it's split into a second paragraph at "Ilu finu malei shirah kayam, Were our mouth as full of song as the sea . . ."

(I davven [pray] this entire part. It's really quite poetic.)

Part 5 on Shabbat and Yom Tov
"Synagogue choreography"--in this case, the fact that a new "soloist," that is, the person leading the core (matbeiah shel tefillah) of Shacharit (as opposed to the introductory prayers and quotes), takes over at this point--indicates that a fifth section begins either at HaKel b'taatzumot uzecha on a Yom Tov or Shochen Ad on Shabbat.

Note that, in the "paragraph" beginning "B'fi y'sharim," the name Yitzchak (Isaac) is spelled out in the first letter of the second word of every phrase. In addition, if one says the words in the following order--an order in which, in many prayer books, they are not printed--the name Rivkah (Rebecca) is also spelled out in the second letter of the third word of every phrase:

B'fi yisharim t'romam,
u-v'divrei tzaddikim titbarach,
u-vi-l'shon chassidim titkadash,
u-v'kerev k'doshim tithalal.

(For non-Hebrew readers, the letters pronounced "bet" and "vet" are identical in appearance in a handwritten Torah scroll and in Modern Israel Hebrew, neither of which uses written vowels or consonant-differentiation marks. Purists would probably say that the pairs "bet" and "vet," "pay" and "fay," "sheen" and "seen," which are identical in appearance without consonant-differentiation marks, are actually each one letter--bet, pay, and sheen--pronounced two different ways.)

This section, as on a weekday, ends with Yishtabach.

(I davven this entire part.)

That's the way I see it.


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