Choosing Our Songs Of Praise

In our daily davening we say that Hashem is “habocher beshirei zimra” – He chooses our songs of praise. In what respect does Hashem choose our songs of praise as if He has different options? Rav Chaim Kanievski shlita explains that the non-Jews also sing songs of praise and thanksgiving to Hashem, but they only sing their songs of praise after a successful harvest or battle etc. We sing songs of praise to Hashem whatever happens. Our songs of praise reflect greater emuna because we believe that whatever Hashem does, is for the best. Also, even when a situation is challenging to us, we find certain aspects which we see as being proof of Hashem’s kindness, rays of light in the darkness. Therefore Hashem “chooses our songs of praise.”

Leah, in this week’s parsha, called her fourth son Yehuda as a demonstration of her particular appreciation of being granted more than what might have been regarded as her “fair share.” After Rochel gave birth she expressed her great appreciation that she was no longer childless. Rashi brings the Medrash Agada that she thanked Hashem that she would now have a way of explaining why a vessel was broken or why the figs were eaten. Even for such an apparently minor detail, Rochel was full of thanks to Hashem.

We explained last week that the penultimate kapitel Tehilim (149) of Pesukei D’Zimra expresses how much Hashem loves us and that we reciprocate by rejoicing in Hashem. We sing, dance and play musical instruments in our love for Hashem. Our emuna in Him is strengthened particularly during Succos when we no longer have a solid roof to protect us and we are under His sole protection. We previously explained also that a deeper lesson of Succos is to reach the level of humility that nothing has any power besides Hashem. Without Hashem, we would be reduced to dust and ashes in a moment, as Avrohom Ovinu said. With this emuna that nothing has any strength besides Hashem, ein od milvado, our enemies lose all their power. This explains the continuation of this kapitel. (ibid 4-8) “Hashem glorifies the humble with salvation. The chassidim will sing joyously as they lie on their beds.” If we have humility and emuna sheleima in Hashem, He will save us from our enemies without us doing anything as He destroyed the whole camp of Sancheriv during the night, as Chizkiyahu Hamelech and his people “lay on their beds.” If we do not merit this level of miracle, we will at least merit Hashem’s help as we wage war “singing Hashem’s greatness with a double-edged sword in our hands.”  This means that if we sing about Hashem’s greatness when we face our enemies, Hashem will help us overcome them as if we had a double-edged sword in our hands. (Metzudas Dovid).  Even if we have to fight with real arms, Hashem will enable us to “bind up their kings with chains and their noblemen with fetters of iron.”

The next mizmor which is also the last kapitel of Tehilim is naturally the high point of Sefer Tehilim. The last pasuk is the best known and we repeat it for emphasis. “Kol haneshomo tehalel koh hallelukoh. – Everyone with a neshomo should praise Hashem.”  Chazal darshan this last posuk and say “For every neshima – breath, we should praise Hashem.” On a basic level this means thanking Hashem that we are alive as evidenced by us breathing, our sign of life. But with the help of Rabbi Avrohom Katz’s Designer World, we can appreciate our breathing in a deeper way. He explains that when we breathe in and breathe out we are experiencing, through Hashem’s kindness, a most amazing miracle. We might imagine that when we inhale and exhale a few seconds later, we are dealing with the same air. Not true. The air we breathe in contains oxygen. This oxygen moves from our lungs into our bloodstream and performs vital functions without which we cannot live. At the same time our blood, which is constantly circulating round our bodies, exhudes waste carbon dioxide which leaves our body when we breathe out. Millions of oxygen cells enter our bloodstream as millions of different carbon dioxide cells leave. In the entertaining style for which he is renowned, Rabbi Katz compares this exchange of cells to a railway station where a train passes through a station. Millions of passengers jump off the moving train and at the same time as millions of other passengers jump on. This happens approximately sixteen times a minute, twenty-three thousand times a day. No railway station in existence could compare with the mind-boggling efficiency of the human body engineered by Hashem. If we breathe even once or twice during this last kapitel and think about what is happening, we will be consumed with thanks to Hashem for His constant kindnesses.

Dovid Hamelech praised Hashem in all the different situations he found himself in during his lifetime. He endured serious illness, being captured by his enemies, being pursued by Shaul Hamelech as well as celebrating moments of triumph and great happiness. Perhaps the variety of his experiences is reflected in the variety of musical instruments mentioned – the lyre, harp, drums, organ, flute, cymbals and trumpets. In all situations Dovid Hamelech has taught us to praise Hashem. What a wonderful springboard to our Shemone Esre which follows shortly after Pesukei Zimra and to this month in which we celebrate Chanukah, the Yom Tov of hallel vehoda’ah. No wonder Hashem is bocher beshirei zimra, lovingly choosing our songs of praise.

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