I recently began a journey through Tehillim/Psalms. Along the way I decided that I would journal the words and passages that spoke to me. Helping me in this journey is the 2 vol set of Tehillim part of the Artscroll Tanach Series which is full of information and commentary throughout the ages from the Sages of Israel.
As I ventured into the 2nd Tehillim a question I had was becoming answered and it is the answer that has inspired this blog. In this blog I will refer back to Tehillim 1 as well as the passages in Tehillim 2 that spoke to me explaining my earlier question.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslev in his teaching, Outpouring Of The Soul, makes these statements: “If a person wishes to return to G-d, he must make it a habit to recite Tehillim/Psalms . Reciting Tehillim is a specific practice that has the power to bring a person back to G-d.” – “Many people have no idea how to reach the specific gate of repentance through which they can return to G-d. However, through reciting Tehillim, one can reach the gate of repentance that pertains to his soul.”
When I first read these I questioned how could reciting Tehillim lead one to return to G-d and to the specific gate of repentance for my soul?
As we venture into the opening Tehillim we will begin to find the answer and understanding one needs in how reciting Tehillim is a path to returning back to G-d.
In Tehillim 1 we are told that the man whose desire for and the day and night meditation of the Torah of G-d will keep him from walking in the council of the wicked, standing in the path of the sinful or sitting in the company of scorners. When we get to Tehillim 2:11-12 we find further instruction that helps us make steps toward our return to G-d.
Serve Hashem in awe and rejoice in trembling. Yearn for purity, lest He grow wrathful, and your way be doomed, for in a brief moment His anger will blaze. Praises – for those who trust in Him.
The instructions in these two passages are very strong. Most if not all of us do not apply these even 1% in our life. I know I fail miserable in this; thus by desiring the Torah, looking into it and meditating on it will bring us to serve Hashem in awe. The word in Hebrew that is translated as awe can also be translated as fear. But the service of Hashem with a fear stricken heart is not what we are told here. The word awe gives us a clue as that as we study Torah and recite Tehillim that respect an honor becomes our awe in His Service. One should obey out of love not fear – one who loves knows the consequences of disobedience.
Thus tied to the service of Hashem with awe is admonition to rejoice in trembling. The Sages of Israel helps us out here: Ibn Ezra holds that it is a continuation of the previous warning to fear G-d, rendering the verse literally – “Even when you rejoice, remember to tremble before Hashem’s presence at all times.”
Abaya was sitting before his master, Rabba, and Rabba noticed that Abaya seemed exceptionally happy. Rabba remarked: Is it not written ‘and rejoice with trembling’? Abaya replied: I am wearing tefillin [I cannot become excessively happy because tefillin bear the testimony that the sovereignty of my Maker rest upon me.]
Those of us that are non-Jewish do not wear tefillin as we are not commanded to but we can learn to recognize the sovereignty of G-d upon us by learning from the Sages of Israel in Sayings of the Fathers or Avos
Reflect upon three things, and you will not come within the power of sin: Know what is above you – a seeing Eye, and a hearing Ear, and all your deeds written in a Book.
With this reflection it can become our remembrance of our Maker so that when we not only when we are rejoicing but at all times we tremble in Hashem’s presence.
Just reading this and thinking it is cool and good does not cut it; we need to make Torah study and recitation of Tehillim a very part of our life. If we fail in this then we will not be in awe or tremble before G-d. How do I know this? Because these to things have been lax in my own life; but when I pick up the Tehillim and begin reciting it out loud so that my ears, brain and heart hears the words then my heart begins it turning back to G-d. It ponders the words and awe arises in the soul.
Then we move on to verse 12 – to yearn for purity. Rashi the great Jewish commentator interprets the Hebrew word that is translated as ‘yearn’ as ‘stimulate’. i.e. ‘bestir and arouse yourselves quickly to acquire purity of heart.’
By serving Hashem in awe and trembling in His presence then we are primed to yearn for purity and cling to Him in truth.
King David over in Tehillim 119:9 asks, “How can a youngster purify his pat? By observing Your word.”
So here in the Tehillim we are given over and over instruction on how to return to G-d and within it we find the answers to our questions. Seeking purity leads back to the observance of the Torah – observance of the Torah instructs us to be in awe and tremble before Him. Torah and Tehillim become a cycle of life for us.
We have to make this a habit as Rabbi Nachman admonishes us to do. If we do not make recitation of Tehillim and Torah study a habit and practice then we are warned what will happen in last part of verse 12.
…lest He grow wrathful and your way become doomed.
We need to mend our ways swiftly lest we get caught up in the wrath that is coming upon the wicked. The distractions that lure us away from the straight path will cause us to perish; in returning to G-d one needs to make it a habit of reciting Tehillim and Torah study-meditation.
This is how the recitation of Tehillim leads us to return to G-d and helps us find our individual gate of repentance for our soul.
Terry W. Hayes
Tehillim – Artscroll Tanach Series
Outpouring Of The Soul by Rabby Nachman