Happy ... is God

These two verses, taken from Ps. 84:5 and 144:15, set the liturgical opening of the psalm (see Introduction). Some commentators take the threefold occurrence of the word "Ashrei" in these two verses as a foreshadowing of the requirement and merit of reciting the whole psalm, in its liturgical form, three times daily (Talmud, Berakhot 4b). Others, including the contemporary Roman rite, include a third verse that begins with "Ashrei" to complete the foreshadowing with three whole verses. The Mahzor Vitri lists six verse which begin with "Ashrei," which seems to have provoked a protest by the Tosafot (Talmud, Berakhot 32b).

I have consistently translated the Tetragrammaton as "the Lord" and various forms of 'elohim as "God."

1. I will exalt ... and ever

Psalm 145 is divided into two parts, each of which has literary sub-units, as well as alternation between direct address and narrative voice. The first part, composed of verses 1-13, is characterized by enormous complexity. Words describing God abound: "You, God, King, Name, greatness, what You have done, mighty acts, majestic glory, beauty, wonders, awesome deeds, goodness, righteousness, merciful, patience, caring, kingdom, and reign." Some of these are repeated, as indicated by the various typefaces. Verbs of communication also abound: "exalt, bless, praise, acclaim, tell, discuss, talk, relate, give expression, sing, give thanks, speak, and make known." However, they are given as synonyms, that is, they do not repeat but proliferate joyously. This part sings the praise of God and God's kingdom. The people are the subject of most of these verses.

The future tense denotes a continuous activity. It may also indicate acceptance of an obligation, yielding: "I accept upon myself to exalt ...to bless..." (Hacham, ad loc, who also divides the psalm differently).

The acrostic begins here. The voice is direct address. In these first two verses, note the chiliastic construction of "bless," the parallel repetition of "Your Name for ever and ever," the first mention of "king," and the use of double final-consonanted verbs in opening and closing stichs.

The ascription of this psalm as "a psalm of praise" is unique to this psalm and, from it, the last group of psalms are called "psalms of praise" and, indeed, the whole book is called "Psalms [of praise, tehillim ]."

Ibn Ezra notes that the motif "king" which appears here is "the foundation for this whole psalm." He goes on to contrast the ways of human kings with those of God, the King.

3. Great

This verse is in narration; it sets off the literary sub-units. God is said to be "great" even though His greatness cannot be probed and measured.

4. One generation ... righteousness

These four verses are in direct address: the first is in plural, the second in singular, the third is mixed, and the fourth is plural again. Note the verbs do not repeat, nor do the nouns. On the linking of "might acts" with "what you have done," see Dt. 3:24 (Hacham). God is praised precisely because one generation acclaims His ways to the next (Ibn Ezra).

8. The Lord is gracious ... has done

These two verses are in narration; they set off the literary sub-units. A human king is good to those who are loyal to him but God is good to all (Ibn Ezra), even to the wicked and the animals. [1] A feminist alternative: "slow to anger and pregnant with gentleness" (Siddur Nashim, ed. M. Wenig and N. Janowitz, unpublished: 1976, 69)

10. All that ... each generation

These four verses end the first part of the psalm. The first two and the last are in direct address; the third is in narration. Note the reversal of "the majestic glory" and "the glorious majesty"; the fourfold repetition of "kingdom" together with the fifth synonym, "reign"; the chiliastic structure of the two mediate verses ("kingdom" and "mighty deeds"); and the reprise of "that He / You have done" from the previous stich and of "bless" from the beginning of the psalm. The biblical Hebrew `olam refers to time and not to place as in later rabbinic Hebrew (Hacham); hence, "ages," which follows the other time-oriented references in vv. 1, 2, 4, 21, 22, and the second stich of this verse.

A human king rules for a short time but God rules forever (Ibn Ezra). A human king often is not the same as those who actually govern, as Joseph is not Pharoah and Eliezer is not Abraham. But God is both King and Ruler (Iyyun Tefilla ).

14. The Lord supports ... forever and ever

The second part of the psalm is almost all in narration. Its style is very simple, especially when compared with the woven complexity of the first part. Note the repetition of the word "all." This part describes how the kingdom works, the relationship between God and the people. God is the subject of almost all these verses.

The letter nun is missing from the acrostic here. No one knows what happened to that verse. The Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls texts show: "God / The Lord is faithful in His words and caring with all that He has done." This, however, is considered a later addition to fill in the acrostic. In fact, there are several psalms with incomplete acrostics: Pss. 9, 25, and 34 (Hacham).

15. look expectantly

Heb., yesaberu, as in Ps. 104:27. A human king takes from all but God gives to all (Ibn Ezra).

16. You open

This verse is the epitome of God's grace to creation and, so, the Shulhan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law), Orah Hayyim 51:7, provides that one must have special focused intention (kavvana) when reciting this verse and, if one has recited it mechanically, one must go back and recite it again with the appropriate attentiveness (see Introduction). This verse is also included in the Grace after Meals, the sefardim putting it in the first paragraph and the ashkenazim putting it at the end.

Some prayerbooks include, here, a set of angel-names, representing the angel(s) who are said to be responsible for sustenance. Other prayerbooks note two magical names: p'y and htk. These are the initial and final letters of the first three words of this verse: PoteaH 'eT YadeK. To pray to, or have such angels or magical names in mind, is, however, forbidden by many other sources which note that sustenance comes from God, as indeed the verse itself says. [2]


Heb., ratson, the opposite of anger (Heb., 'apo ) as in Ps. 30:6 in contrast with ratson , meaning "will" or "that which one desires" (see below).

17. righteous

Hacham points to the similarity of language and ideas in these two verses and in Ps. 104:27-29. The text, there, reads: "All of them look expectantly to You to give them their food in its proper time. You allow them and they glean; You open Your hand and they have sufficient goodness. You hide Your Face and they are terrified; You gather their spirit and they die and return to the dust." Expectancy of God's gracious goodness is, here as well as there, followed by the the knowledge of deprivation and death -- the verse here, "The Lord is righteous in all His ways," being parallel to Ps. 104:29. Even in deprivation and death, the psalmist affirms that God is just. Feminist alternative: "The Lord is just in all Her ways an gracious in all Her works" (Siddur Nashim, 70).

18. truth

A human king is near only to those who are near to him but God is near to all who call upon Him sincerely (Ibn Ezra); to all who call upon Him by speaking the truth (Iyyun Tefilla ).

19. the will

Heb., ratson , in its usual meaning of "that which one desires" (Shemot Rabba 25:3); a play on the previous occurrence. God hears the cry of those who fear Him and saves them, but He watches over those who love Him and destroys their enemies (Ibn Ezra). Feminist alternative: "God will answer the needs of those who fear Her; She will hear their cry and save them (Siddur Nashim, 70).

21. praise ... bless

A clear echo of the ascription and first verse of the psalm, thus setting the framework for the psalm (Hacham).

22. We will

Added for liturgical use from Ps. 115:18, reiterating the motifs of blessing and praise from the opening verses. The use of the Tetragammaton here brings the number of occurrences to ten, corresponding for the kabbalists to the ten sefirot (Hacham). The last phrase is often preserved in the original Hebrew, halleluyah. Since the abbreviated Tetragrammaton is used, I have left "the Lord" in times 12 but not underlined.


Iyyun Tefilla [Siddur Otsar ha-Tefillot (New York: 1946) ad loc ], citing Talmud, Sanhedrin 39b, Avoda Zara 4b, etc. and Talmud Yerushalmi, Kil'ayim 9:4. back

Seder Avodat Yisrael, ad loc, citing Talmud, Berakhot, 55a, and Midrash Rabba, Genesis 20:9. back

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