Talmudic Lesson

    February 2012          
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Lesson from the Talmud
Saying Psalm 145 Three Times a Day

By Avi Lazerson

There are just so many good ideas to be picked up from the Talmud that it is a shame that it is not accessible to everyone. Deep ideas that are presented in the Talmud can help people through difficult times. These are ideas that guide a person in the correct direction in order to live a life of fulfillment and happiness; these are ideas that can even change a person's essence. Such is the small innocent looking statement in the Talmud Tractate Brachot (4b) that is quoted below:

    Rabbi Elazar said, “who ever says the Psalm which we call 'ashrei' (psalm 145) three times a day is a person who can rest assured that he will inherit the next world.” The Talmud then asks what is the reason for this and then it proposes an answer: perhaps it is since Psalm 145 is written in alphabetical order?

    The Talmud reasons that reason stating that if it is because of the alphabetical order, say Psalm 119, since it is written in alphabetical order eight times. (Each letter begins a sentence eight times, and then continues with the next letter in the alphabetical order for eight sentences and then the next eight times and so on.) So being in alphabetical order can not be the reason.

    Next suggests the Talmud perhaps it is because the Psalm 145 has the phrase, 'Open Your hand and satisfy all living beings,' but rejects that as being the sole reason for bringing a person into the next world since Psalm 136 has a similar phrase, 'He gives food to all living flesh.' Finally the Talmud concludes that the reason is because Psalm 145 has both the alphabetical order and the reference to G-d's giving satiation to all living beings.

The rabbis that comment on this part of the Talmud struggle to understand the statement of Rabbi Elazar. Can it be possible that merely reciting Psalm 145 three times a day is enough to assure a person a place in the next world?

There is much more to life than just a simple recitation that could cause people to either lose their place in the next world or gain it, such as honesty, doing good deeds, being a faithful and humble servant to G-d; how is it possible for Rabbi Elazar to suggest that saying Psalm 145 three times a day has such importance! Even more astounding is the fact that Psalm 145 is included in the daily prayers no less than three times!

The answer that is given by our rabbis is simple. There are two aspects mentioned here: there is the alphabetical order aspect and the point that G-d can open His hand and give sustenance to all living beings. These are two different aspects. The alphabetical order relates us to the Torah which is written with the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet; this alphabetical order alludes us to realizing that it is through the Torah that the world was created and through the study of the Torah we are able to bring down G-d's prescence.

The second aspect is that of G-d opening His hand and giving sustenance to all living beings. When we realize that it is only because G-d is willing to help us, and not just us but all living beings, to get the food that they need, we can then realize that we need not work so hard. Food and the necessities of life do not depend upon us alone; G-d is our partner in providing what we need. This realization can bring us back into focus and bring us closer to realizing our dependence on G-d and further into the study of His holy Torah.

There are two aspects mentioned here that bring fulfillment to the two needs of man: the physical and the spiritual. The Torah brings spiritual fulfillment and food brings physical fulfillment. Man needs both. Having one without the other makes man a person of lacking.

But it is not a mere recitation of this Psalm that brings us these benefits, but rather it is when we meditate and contemplate G-d's goodness while utilizing the words of this Psalm then we are able to achieve a place in the next world. Indeed a superficial recitation is not sufficient enough, we must utilize the words for deep contemplation which brings us so much closer to G-d than a mere superficial recitation.

Closeness to G-d will aid us in avoiding sinning and make us have a greater desire to be one with G-d. We will realize that the physical is really bound together to the spiritual and exists to bring us closer to G-d, which is the ultimate goal of man in this world. By drawing closer to G-d in this world, we assure ourselves of a place in the next world too.

This is what Rabbi Elazar alluded to by telling us that by saying Psalm 145 three times a day will assure us of a place in the next world. But that is only when we do this with the proper intentions and contemplation.


from the Febuary 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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