click here to jump to start of article
  • Torah Reading: Naso
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

Suddenly Psalms
Mom with a View

Suddenly Psalms

I never could relate to Psalms, until it got personal.


I never could relate to Psalms. "The Lord is my Shepherd" seemed to evoke Christianity -- its popularity in secular movies and novels a diminishment of any potential power. I couldn't relate to the women I saw at the Western Wall, wrinkled, hunched over, sobbing over their tiny book.

"I lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where comes my help?" What did any of it have to do with me? The words were stilted and alienating, the meaning obtuse.

And the struggles of King David? Well, we all wish the high and mighty to have struggles (Schaedenfreude having recently come into vogue) -- but how could they possibly touch my life? I'm not fighting for my throne, warring with nations, coveting someone else's spouse or battling traitorous children (does put my parenting issues in perspective!). And while we like to think of our house as a palace...

They left me cold. I recited them only when obligated. And never with feeling.

Until the Gulf War. Until I personally felt threatened and attacked. Until I felt vulnerable and exposed. Until I felt my family and my people to be at risk.

At that time, some of the leading rabbis suggested that everyone -- the whole Jewish people -- recite three particular Psalms everyday.

Unwilling to separate myself from the crowd, feeling a little more exposed and frightened than anticipated, and not wanting to take any chances, I went along. I recited the specified Psalms every day -- come rain, sleet, snow or scud. Every day no matter what, for those two months.

And skeptical as I was, it began to make a difference. The Psalms began to seep into my soul.

Psalms need to be experienced emotionally, to be internalized.

Although poetic, they are not poetry, not to be subjected to literary analysis. Although imbued with deep meaning, I think Psalms are meant to be felt. A purely intellectual approach is ineffective. Understanding and insight are always good. But not enough.

Psalms need to be experienced emotionally, to be internalized. It's not a one-shot deal, but the day-in, day-out repetition that leads to their absorption. And their power.

Thank God, the war ended. But life brought new challenges. And I turned to my new tool -- no longer an alienation, but a friend; a source of comfort and strength.

It's been almost 17 years since then. I've continued to say those three Psalms every day. I've even added more along the way -- with fervent wishes for so much good for my husband, my children, my people.

In some small way I've become like those women at the wall, wrinkles and all, sobbing over my prayers. And feeling at peace. I can skip breakfast in the morning and have a good day. But if I forget my Psalms, there is a sense of loss, a blurring of focus.

Life poses my challenges, frequently and repeatedly. Rabbi Pliskin once wrote that we shouldn't pray for a life without struggle but rather for the strength to deal appropriately with these opportunities.

Just as water slowly erodes a rock, the recital of Psalms is making a (slow!) impact on my ego. I know I can't do it alone. And when I lift up my eyes, I recognize the true Source of my help.

October 27, 2007

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 14

(14) Cal Murphy, September 1, 2013 1:50 AM

Wonderful, thank you for this! I do wish I had read it sooner!

What a wonderful piece on how the word of G-d can be brought to life in a meaningful manner! Thank you for sharing this!

(13) Ethel, November 3, 2007 11:54 AM

Candles, not Psalms

The Gulf War affected me as well. I didn't start reading Psalms but started lighting Shabbat candles and it has the same affect on me. When there are Friday nights that I am away from home, I feel deprived. I am not a religious Jew but a very connected one and lighting candles brings me closer to my heritage. I totall understand how that surreal war could affect you the way it did.

(12) Anonymous, November 1, 2007 9:37 PM

Very true

I totally agree with Emuna our author.
It is an emotional commitment.

One of my friends here in Melbourne, Australia a Holocaust survivor told me about his late Mother OBM who perished during The Holocaust. She always always said Psalms. My Friend was the only member of his family to survive miraculously The Second World War after being in Aushwitz.

One way to best recite Tehillim/Psalms is to have a translated edition handy. Some very good editions are available from Artscroll and Merkos The Chabad Printing House.
I think both editions have quotes from classic commentaries like Mezudos Dovid.
The Chabad edition also has comments from The Saintly Rebbe Rayatz R. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchaok Scneersohn Tz'l.

(11) Devorah, November 1, 2007 2:41 PM

My personal relationship with psalms

I once heard a comment that Dovid Hamelech in his lifetime experienced every type of trial and tribulation possible - all the highs and the lows that anyone would ever face, and responded to them with his profound words throughout the Psalms....if so, and added to that his gift for expression along with his closely bound relationship with Hashem - think in fact how appropriate for us that we can avail ourselves of his personal prayers. A Rebbe is considered the "heart" of klal Yisroel, bound to each soul as he shoulders everyone's needs. THis is why the power of a REbbes's prayers on behalf of others is considered so strong. Likewise, the Psalms, composed originally of course, as responses to Dovid's personal experiences, are there for all of us Universally (and by the way, don't fault the Christians on "abducting" beloved #23...all of mankind can turn to these words to connect to G-d at darker times, no?
Anyway, it is beautiful that you have been moved to bring the power of Tehillim into your heart. It truly is grounding and at the same time uplifting. They contain immeasurable power. I have become very connected to certain Psalms(including those you have listed and more)for what they mean in my own life. For instance, in observing the custom of praying for each family member with the number Tehillim corresponding to the year they are entering (i.e. say #9 for your 8-year-old)I am constantly awestruck by the phrases and descriptions of life contained in that chapter that really remind me of that person! Thus I realize in the process how appropriate the prayer must be for him/her. The same discoveries can be made simultaneously by all several million of us about each of our own family members from the same verses, and that's awesome, considering how unique each one of us is! THis is the Divine power of Tehillim and what makes it so "kedai" as they say in the Holyland. Now, memorizing the verses makes us able to access them in all kinds of circumstances, so if stuck in the car, etc, during a stressful moment or in hearing an ambulance on the street, whatever, one can immediately ask for Hashem's compassion with a quick #121. If feeling particularly grateful or joyous upon a success or special experience, one can just "rattle off" (but with feeling, now!) a quick # 100. Need a quick 'have more-faith' boost? Try#111! Better and cheaper than chocolate, burns calories, and much more effective.
Once I have repeated a certain chapter afew times upon a given occasion, it becomes that natural thing to access at all such times, by association. In this process,we gradually REMAIN attached more consistently with the Almighty -achieving an elevated consciousness about the world, and probably a healthier one. Maybe that's what's going on behind the wrinkles and tears of the women at the Kotel with their Tehillims - and I really envy what they are able to do, and feel grateful, also, because they are probably right now praying for me and my family, and it's probably helping.

(10) Emuna, October 31, 2007 11:12 AM

Which three psalms?

The psalms recommended at the time of the Gulf War were 83, 130 and 142. My personal favorite and the one I find most moving and comforting is 121.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment