Pesukei De-zimra (2)

  • Rav David Brofsky



Last week, we discussed the development of and the reasons behind Pesukei De-zimra.  We offered two approaches to understanding its role in our tefillot. 


Pesukei de-zimra may function as a preparation for tefilla, either as part of a larger ethic of praising God before approaching Him with requests, or as an opportunity to collect our thoughts and contemplate before embarking upon prayer. 


Alternatively, Pesukei De-zimra may be an independent unit, surrounding the recitation of Ashrei, as the Gemara praises one who does so three times each day. 


This week, we will discuss the content of Pesukei De-zimra, and learn some of the relevant halakhot.





As we learned last week, the Gemara (Shabbat 118b) quotes and examines an exclamation of Rabbi Yosei:


“May my portion be of those who recite the entire Hallel every day."

Is that right? Did not the Master say that one who recites Hallel every day blasphemes and reproaches [the Divine Name]?

Indeed, we are referring to Pesukei De-zimra.


Furthermore, elsewhere (Berakhot 4b) the Gemara praises one who recites Ashrei (Tehillim 84:5, 144:15-145:21, 115:18) three times a day, and ensures him a place in the world to come.  The Gemara concludes that the uniqueness of Ashrei can be found in its alphabetical arrangement, as well as in the verse (145:16) “Potei'ach et yadekha”, which express the theme of divine sustenance.


What exactly is the difference between reciting Hallel daily, which is perceived as “blasphemous,” and reciting Pesukei De-zimra?  Furthermore, what is so special about Ashrei, that it is worthy of Chazal's praise?


The Meshekh Chokhma (Rabbi Mei'ir Simcha of Dvinsk, 1843-1926), in Parashat Bechukotai, explains that,


“One should not err and forget that God is the creator, organizer and supervisor of the natural order.  One should not think, out of routine, that nature is independent, and one should not separate it from its creator.  Therefore there are, on occasion, miracles… the purpose of which is to bring the wonders of nature to the attention of mankind, as it is all from His hands and pure providence. 


Therefore, those who recite the Great Hallel every day, which indicates that it is ONLY appropriate to acknowledge the miraculous actions of God [as described within], but the natural order, once created, is detached from its creator, are blasphemers.  On the other hand, one who recites Ashrei daily, which speaks of the natural order, is worthy of the World to Come…  That is the significance of the alphabetical arrangement of Ashrei, which hints to the natural arrangement of the world, without skipping, from alef to tav








The Rishonim discuss which texts comprise the core of Pesukei De-zimra.  Rashi (Shabbat 118b), for example, suggests that Pesukei De-zimra refers to, in addition to Ashrei, Tehillim 148 ("Hallelu et Hashem min ha-shamayim") and 150 ("Hallelu Kel be-kadsho").  The Rif (Shabbat 44a) writes that Pesukei De-zimra refers to Ashrei and the final five psalms in Tehillim (146-50).  While it is customary to say all six psalms, there may be a practical difference between the above interpretations, as we shall see later.


Regarding Ashrei, Rav Amram Gaon writes that one should “concentrate” for "Tehilla le-David" (Ashrei).  Rabbeinu Yona (Berakhot 23a) agrees but limits the absolute necessity for concentration to the verse “Potei'ach et yadekha,” which, according to the above cited gemara (Berakhot 4b), is the essence of Ashrei.  Therefore, one who does not concentrate during the recitation of this verse should repeat it.  The Shulchan Arukh (51:7) codifies the opinion of Rabbeinu Yona.


The Mishna Berura (51:16), citing the Levush and Chayei Adam, rules that one should return to that verse, and continue until the end of Ashrei, even if one remembers after completing the entire tefilla.  Others (see Tzitz Eli'ezer 12:8) disagree, and require one to merely repeat that verse. 





It seems that as early as the Saboraic period, it became customary to recite the words of praise sung by David upon bringing the Aron to Yerushalayim (Divrei Ha-yamim I 16:8-36), a full twenty-nine verses beginning with "Hodu."  To these twenty-nine verses, we append twenty-two assorted verses from Tehillim, starting with "Romemu."   


The Kol Bo (Rabbi Aharon ben Rabbi Ya'akov Ha-cohen of Narbonne, France, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries) cites the Eshkol (Rabbi Abraham ben Isaac of Narbonne, 1085–1158), who explains that this custom is based upon David’s instituting that this song should be said in front of the Aron morning and afternoon, during the offering of the korban tamid.  Similarly, the Seder Olam (14) records that even in the Beit Ha-mikdash, they recited half of this song during the morning tamid service, and the second half during the afternoon ceremony.


To this day, there are different customs regarding the location of these verses, based on one's nusach (liturgical tradition).  Those who follow nusach Ashkenaz, for example, recite these verses after Barukh She-amar (see Tur 50), in order to group all of the verses of praise together.  Those who follow nusach Sefarad or Edot Ha-mizrach, say these views after Korbanot, but before Barukh She-amar (Eshkol, Kol Bo), apparently viewing these verses as an extension of the recitation of the korban tamid passage, just as these verses were sung alongside the offering of the tamid in the Beit Ha-mikdash.





The custom to say this psalm in Pesukei De-zimra appears in many Rishonim, including the Shibbolei Ha-leket, Rokei'ach and Manhig.


Chazal speak very highly of this psalm.  For example, the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 9:7) states that “In the days to come, all of the sacrifices will be obsolete, except for the korban toda (thanksgiving offering), and all of the prayers will be obsolete, except for praise (hoda'a).”  Furthermore, the Gemara (Shevuot 15a) explains that this psalm was recited with the offering of the korban tamid in the beit Ha-mikdash.


Apparently, we express the idea that on some level, every day, miraculous events occur, and it is therefore fitting to recite this psalm, as if we are offering a korban toda. 


As it is based upon the song recited with the korban toda, our practice is to omit it on Shabbat, Pesach and Erev Yom Kippur, when this korban either cannot be brought or cannot be consumed.





Massekhet Soferim (18:2) mentions that a collection of verses, starting with “Yehi Khevod” (Tehillim 104:31) was recited on the first two days of Pesach.


Rav Amram Gaon and Rav Se'adya Gaon include Yehi Khevod as part of the daily Pesukei De-zimra.   


The Rishonim also mention the custom of reciting “Barukh Hashem le-olam” (Tehillim 89:53, 135:21, 72:18-19) as well as “Va-yvarekh David” (I Divrei Ha-yamim 29:10-13, Nechemya 9:6-11) and “Az Yashir” (Shemot 14:30-15:19).  The Rambam (Hilkhot Tefilla 7:13) even mentions that some are accustomed to saying the Song of Ha'azinu (Devarim 32:1-43) in place of Az Yashir, and some even recite both!





Being that Pesukei De-zimra is comprised of many parts, some of greater importance than others, at times one may shorten, or skip all together, Pesukei De-zimra.


For example, Chazal place great importance upon Tefilla be-tzibbur, saying Shemoneh Esrei with the congregation.  The Gemara (Berakhot 8a) even describes Tefilla be-tzibbur as a "tefilla be-et ratzon” (prayer at a time of favor).  May one abridge, or even skip Pesukei De-zimra altogether, in order to say Shemoneh Esrei with the tzibbur?


One can find a number of approaches among the halakhic authorities.


The Kabbalists, for example, cite a passage from the Zohar that strongly condemns those who change the order of the tefillot, accusing them of “rerouting the pipes” (mehapekh et ha-tzinorot) of efficacious prayer.  Later authorities debate whether this is true only when praying privately, or even when communal prayer is at stake.


Incidentally, the Beit Yosef (OC 51) cites the Orechot Chayim, who criticizes those who rush through Pesukei De-zimra in order to pray with the tzibbur.  “Is it appropriate to shorten the praises of God in order to ask for one’s needs?” he asks.  “Is there a ruler that would be happy with that?”


Alternatively, the position of many Geonim, as well as the Rosh and Tur (see Tur OC 52), is that one may omit the entire Pesukei De-zimra, INCLUDING the berakhot, if necessary, in order to pray with the tzibbur.  The Shulchan Arukh and the Rema (52:1) adopt this position.


The Mishkenot Ya’akov (Rabbi Ya’akov of Karlin) suggests a middle approach.  He maintains that the berakhot of Barukh She-amar and Yishtabach are of great importance, and therefore one may omit the entire Pesukei De-zimra, EXCEPT for the two berakhot and Ashrei. 


It seems that this halakha is in accordance with the Shulchan Arukh and Rema, who rule that in order to pray with the tzibbur, one may omit the entire Pesukei De-zimra.  (Last week we discussed whether one should recite that which he skipped after his Tefilla.)  The Mishna Berura (52:6 and Biur Halakha 53:2), however, rules in accordance with the Mishkenot Ya’akov. 


That being the case, if one has enough time to say PARTS of Pesukei De-zimra, and still say Shemoneh Esrei with the tzibbur, but must omit certain sections of Pesukei De-zimra, which passages should one say, and which may one omit?


Preferably, one should at least say Elokai Neshama, Birkot Ha-torah, and the two berakhot of Pesukei De-zimra with Ashrei between them.  Seemingly, one who has more time should recite the rest of the Birkot Ha-shachar.


If one has more time, which parts of Pesukei De-zimra have higher priority?


The Shulchan Arukh (52:1), based upon Rashi’s explanation of Pesukei De-zimra (Shabbat 118b), rules that one with limited time should recite Tehillim 148 and 150.  If one has even more time, once should say all six psalms.  The Mishna Berura suggests that if one has even more time, one should say from “Va-yvarekh David” until “le-shem tifartekha” (the half which comes from Divrei Ha-yamim) and then from “Hodu” until “Ki kadosh Hashem elokeinu" (i.e., the full passage from Divrei Ha-yamim plus the two verses from Tehillim 99 which start with "Romemu").


Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe OC 2:16) points our that if one has miscalculated how much time one has, one may recite parts of Pesukei De-zimra out of order, as there is no official order to this collection of psalms.


What if by skipping parts (or all) of Pesukei De-zimra, one will still NOT pray WITH the tzibbur, but will be able to pray WITH the sheliach tzibbur for his repetition?  The Acharonim debate this question. 


The Peri Megadim (52), as well as Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe OC 3:9), who believes that the Rema also concurs with his opinion, rule that praying WITH the sheliach tzibbur does NOT constitute tefilla be-tzibbur.


However, the Eshel Avraham of Butshatsh (52) and others (as summarized by Rav Ovadya Yosef in Yabia Omer, OC 2:7:4-6) disagree, maintaining that reciting the Shemoneh Esrei WITH the sheliach tzibbur is considered tefilla be-tzibbur. 


It seems that one may justify omitting parts of Pesukei De-zimra in order to pray WITH the sheliach tzibbur.  However, it is doubtful whether one should skip the ENTIRE Pesukei De-zimra (including the berakhot) in order to pray with the sheliach tzibbur.  Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yechavveh Da’at 5:5) rules, however, that in this case it is proper to omit the entire Pesukei De-zimra.


It is important to note that the laws of “abridging” or “skipping” Pesukei De-zimra, apply in other cases as well.  For example, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe OC 4:91) rules that a teacher who will be late to teach Torah or even a regular employee who may be tardy to his job (that he is expected to show up to on time!), may also follow the above principles of abridgment.  Similarly, one who is sick and too weak to recite the entire tefilla, may follow the guidelines of abridgment as presented above. 





Just as certain psalms were added to the weekday Pesukei De-zimra, so to a number of psalms were incorporated into the Shabbat Pesukei De-zimra.  In addition, the weekday Yishtabach appears in an expanded form, beginning with the prayer Nishmat.


What is the origin of Nishmat? 


Nishmat is comprised of three parts.    


The Gemara (Berakhot 59b and Ta’anit 6b) mentions part of Nishmat—"If our mouths were full of song like the sea… we could not sufficiently give thanks to You, O Hashem our God…"—as part of the blessing said over rain. 


Elsewhere, the Gemara (Pesachim 117b-118a) mentions another part, “They fill the third cup for him, and he then recites Birkat Ha-mazon.  Over the fourth cup, he concludes the Hallel and recites BIRKAT HA-SHIR.”  The Gemara identifies this “Birkat Ha-shir” as Nishmat (at least part of it), with its concluding blessing. 


The final part, from “kol peh…,” was authored by the Geonim, who apparently combined the different parts and created the tefilla current known as Nishmat.


The Zohar (Vayakhel 205b) mentions saying Nishmat on Shabbat morning.  Rabbeinu Yona (Berakhot 24a) refers to Nishmat as a "custom of the Geonim."


Finally, there was apparently a widespread rumor in the middle ages that Nishmat was authored by the apostle Peter.  Rashi, in the Machzor Vitri (Hilchot Pesach) writes,


Some say that is was composed by Shimon (Peter)… but Heaven forbid that this be said in Israel, and when the Beit Ha-mikdash will be built, anyone who says this will need to bring a fat sin-offering!


I would like to mention two final two points regarding Pesukei De-zimra on Shabbat.


Firstly, the Mishna Berura (52:5), citing the Chayei Adam, writes that one who must abridge his Pesukei De-zimra on Shabbat should first say all of the weekday sections, as that which is “tadir”, i.e. said more often, takes precedence.  If one has additional time, one should preferably add Tehillim 19 ("La-mnatzei'ach mizmor le-David"), 34 ("Le-David be-shannoto") and 90 ("Tefilla le-Moshe"). 


Secondly, he continues, even if once must skip all but the berakhot and Ashrei, Nishmat should still be recited.  The Sha’arei Teshuva (281) and Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yechavveh Da’at 5:5) disagree. 





We began last week by suggesting two different understandings of Pesukei De-zimra.  I would like to conclude with a question that may be related to this very issue.


Are women obligated in Pesukei De-zimra?


The Mishna Berura (79:2) writes that since Pesukei De-zimra was instituted as a preparation for tefilla, and women ARE obligated in tefilla (as we will discuss in a future shiur!), then they are certainly obligated to recite Pesukei De-zimra.


The Arukh Ha-shulchan (70:1) disagrees.  He writes that fundamentally women are exempt; nevertheless, he writes, “Why would they not want to say praise to God as Miriam and all the women did at the crossing of the Reed Sea?”  It seems that Arukh Ha-shulchan must believe that Pesukei De-zimra is not linked primarily to tefilla, and therefore women may still be exempt from its recitation.


Next week we will begin our study of Keriat Shema.