Praying the Psalms

Archive for February, 2010

Psalm 1, Tehillim Mizmor Aleph

Happy is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
   Or stand in the path of sinners,
   Or sit in the company of scorners;

Rather, in the Torah of the Lord is his delight,
   And he meditates in his Torah day and night.
He is like a tree deeply rooted beside streams of water,
   That yields its fruit in season,
   Whose foliage never fades,
   And whatever it produces thrives.

Not so the wicked;
   Rather, they are like chaff that wind  blows away.
Therefore, the wicked will not survive judgment,
   Nor will sinners, in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord cherishes the way of the righteous,
   But the way of the wicked is doomed.


This kepital/chapter opens the book of Tehillim by pointing us toward righteous living.  And how does it do that?  By telling us what to avoid.  Hmmm.  Right away I begin questioning.  Why start off  Tehillim with what we are NOT to do if we want to be happy?  Initially I felt that this was a rather negative beginning to Tehillim.  Wouldn’t it be better  instead to begin this book by outlining steps TO DO to be happy?  Upon further study and reflection, however, I realized that this is indeed what we need TO DO.  Before we can walk in righteousness, before we can be happy, we must separate ourselves from that which ultimately brings about unhappiness, that which is evil, or at the very least, unholy.

More specifically, the happy person does not walk, stand or sit in the ways of the wicked, the sinner, or the scornful.  Note that “walk,” “stand,” “sit,” marks a progression as we move deeper and deeper into worldly ways.
   To WALK in the counsel of the wicked (hear their words of advice.)
   To STAND in the presence of sinners (spend time in their company.)
   To SIT with the scornful (share their viewpoints,  absorb their attitudes.)

How we think about things really does matter.  Our thoughts are what guide us in our choices.  Thoughts lead to words lead to action lead to words lead to thoughts, repeatedly making complete circles. In order to change our actions, we must remove ourselves from those influences that negatively affect our thoughts.   As a parent, I know how essential it is to guard our children against negative influences.  While we want our children to grow up to be compassionate, caring adults, we know that if they spend their leisure time with, or have a steady diet of unethical, immoral or unkind people and ideas, the likelihood of becoming mature, responsible adults is minimized.  We care about those who suffer the consequences of having made poor life choices .  We will most certainly pray for people who have chosen the worldly over the holy.  But to walk, stand or sit in their presence will eventually hinder our own spiritual growth and happiness. The sad part is we are not aware of its negative effects on our lives and spirits until too late.  Then the climb back to a holy, healthy place is arduous, if we attempt to regain spiritual ground at all. (However, as long as we live, teshuvah/repentance is possible.)

When we choose not to walk, stand or sit in the presence of the wicked, the sinner, the scornful, then we are able to focus with a clear mind and pure heart on G-d.  With clarity, we focus on the Torah, and delight in its words.  Now, as we move forward from this place, we will walk, stand, sit in the presence of righteousness.  By filling our minds and hearts with holy thoughts, we become like a tree planted by a stream.  I love this metaphor.  Years ago, one of my favorite spots was to sit by a beautiful, large willow tree that grew beside a gently flowing stream.  I often snuck away to that place when I needed to be alone, to pray, to nurture my spirit.  The tree was strong, sturdy, and very comforting.  The willow branches hung down, gently blowing in the breeze, it’s fronds skirting the surface of the water.  I felt like I was cradled in safety sitting by that tree, leaning up against its thick trunk.   When I read that we shall be “like a tree deeply rooted beside streams of water…,” this is the picture that comes to mind.  Devoting our thoughts and actions to spiritual things, makes us like those trees of strength and refuge, deeply rooted in Torah, our fruit coming to fruition b’sha’ah tovah, in good time. 

So, let us gain happiness as we begin praying and singing Tehillim, by putting all that would distract us behind us, clearing our minds of all that hinders our spiritual growth, and devote ourselves to Hashem and to meditating in Torah as we go forward.

Praying the Psalms,or Davening Tehillim

The Psalms, or Tehillim as we say in Hebrew, have been a source of light and inspiration for people of many faiths for millennium.  Written during biblical times, they are hymns and prayers sung to Hashem expressing our joys, our sorrows, our fears, our longings, our praises, our thanks to the Creator of all that is.  These songs turn us toward and bind us to the One Omnipotent.  In praying the Psalms, we ourselves are elevated to new spiritual heights as our relationship with our Maker is strengthened.   In the Psalms, we find solace in times of sorrow, and are led to repentance in times of wrongdoing.  Psalms of supplication in times of need, and assurance of hope in times of doubt sustain us when confronted with the vicissitudes of life.

While he did not write all the Psalms, the poet and greatest king of Israel, David haMelech/the King, wrote the vast majority of the songs which have inspired, encouraged and guided multitudes to higher levels of spirituality.  Personally, my experience in davening/praying Tehillim has served to strengthen my emunah/faith .  When we make praying and singing the Psalms a part of our daily (sometimes hourly) ritual, we begin to move beyond merely offering up a “wish list” of wants, and begin to offer thanks on numerous levels as we rejoice at a deepening relationship with G-d.  It recently occurred to me that the experience of prayer is much like a parent longing to hear from her child.  I relish every contact, letter, email, phone call, visit from my children.  When I don’t hear from them, my heart is saddened.  I love them totally and unconditionally.  Prayer is my contact, letter, email, phone call, visit with my eternal Parent.  When I find myself too busy to spend time with Hashem, I bring a sense of sadness to our relationship.  That insight, that analogy, has made all the difference in the world to me as I eagerly seek to communicate with Hashem on a daily basis.  Requests are mingled in with thanks, and gratitude for the privilege of living.  It is a time for seeking guidance on what path to follow, as well as reviewing the events of my days.  I offer up prayers for the sick, the lonely, the fearful.  When at a loss for words, Tehillim guides me.  (ie, for recovery from illness, Psalm 30; to express gratitude, too many to count; for help in times of trouble, Psalm 20; for guidance, Psalm 139; to praise unabashedly, Psalm 150) 

In the coming days, I hope to go through the Psalms and write about how they speak to me.  I am no rabbi, nor am I a biblical scholar.  I am merely a seeker as many of you, and wish to share insights that I glean from davening Tehillim.  In so doing, I am singing the Psalms and hope you will join with me.  Feel free to leave your comments, gentle critiques, and questions.  If something I write strikes you as odd or incorrect, check with your rabbi or teacher (then feel free to get back with me!) 

Finally, thank you for reading this blog.  May you be blessed; may you daven tehillim with kavannah/focus, direction and intent (I don‘t know how to translate that to one word in English), and emunah/faith; may your tefilla/prayers be answered for tov/good.

*see Glossary for all hebrew words

A Spiritual Journey

Once I began blogging, I found that I rather enjoyed it!  Up until now, however, my blogs have been more reflective on personal experiences and memories of my past adventures and growing up.  My original site, has been written with my children in mind; a memoir of sorts for them.  The stories that have passed down to me from my grandparents have been awe inspiring, and given me a sense of my own history and worth.  I intend to write much more along that line…but on my original blog.

In my former life, before becoming  Jewish, I was a minister by profession.  But then I converted to Judaism, and my life has been very different since then.  This was a very good thing for me, the right thing to do.   My spiritual journey has humbled and amazed me, yet I never lost the desire to share spiritual nuggets (learned from experience and from wonderful teachers along the way) and offer encouragement to those I come in contact with.  This page is intended for that purpose.  Chana is my Hebrew name.  Chana, the mother of Shmuel (Samuel) HaMelech (the king), taught us how to pray.  Today, our jewish prayers are still modeled after the prayer she prayed when in the temple praying for a child.  After the birth of Shmuel, she sang for joy for prayer answered, thus the name of this blog.  I am learning to pray and sing the Psalms/Tehillim.  Our journey here is a song, oftentimes joyful, but also mournful in seasons of sorrow or distress.  Always, though, our prayers and songs are the ways in which we communicate with HaShem thus strengthening that spiritual bond.  I plan to reflect on those songs: Tehillim/Psalms, Emunah/Faith, Weekly Parsha/weekly Torah reading.  I may add more categories as I go along, but this is a start.  Without promise, I plan to write once a week on this site.  I hope that you feel free to add your insights and reflections in your comments. 

May we all merit continued growth in our spiritual journeys.