Tefillah Tuesday: Gives Food to the Hungry

אהללה י’הוה בחיי אזמרה לא’להי בעודי,
I will praise the Lord with my life, I will sing to God as long as I live. [Psalms 146.2]
P’sukei d’Zimra continues with Psalm 146, which begins with the declaration above. The simple semantic meaning of the first phrase – praising God “with my life” – is that the person will sing as long as he or she lives, as attested in the very next clause. (This “parallelism” is typical in biblical poetry, repeating a single idea in two ways.)
But just a bit of creative misreading – that is, midrash – yields a powerful spiritual intention for tefillah. With this verse, I pledge to turn my life into an instrument of praise. Worship cannot be limited to the words I say in synagogue, but must be exemplified in my whole life – the interpersonal and the ethical, as well as the ritual.
The psalm continues with a stirring picture of that kind of full, rounded sacred life, through its description of the God of chesed, love and kindness. Our psalm begins with some conventional religious themes: God is more powerful than people; God is eternal, and we are mortal; God created the cosmos, sea, sky and dry land. But then the theme turns from divine might to God’s tender mercies:
“God gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry. God liberates those imprisoned. God opens the eyes of the blind. God straightens those bent over. God loves the righteous. God guards the stranger. God encourages the orphan and widow, but twists the path of the wicked [146.7-9].” [Many of you will recognize these verses as the source for our birkot hashahar, the morning blessings.]
When a Jewish text describes God, most often it is inviting people to imitate divine goodness. The Talmud [Sotah 14a] echoes this ethic, saying, “as God clothes the naked, so too you should clothe the naked.” Our psalm describes just this sort of religiosity, describing acts of divine grace, and implicitly summoning us to match them.
When you daven this psalm, reflect gratefully on your own liberation, your own sight, your own food. And resolve to turn your life into praise by imitating those acts, sharing God’s grace with those who need help.