Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tehillim & Chassidim

(Picture by Mikhail Levit)

Excerpt from Law and Custom in Hasidism:

The entire volume of Tehillim was never recognized as a single unit, the reciting of which should be obligatory or a segulah (i.e. an efficacious means toward obtaining a desired goal). Only in the latter part of the Middle Ages do we find the first statements in the name of R’ Avigdor of Regensburg and Rabbeinu Ephraim which speak of the Book of Tehillim and of the segulah of reciting it as a single unit.

From the various sources scattered here and there on the particular segulah of the book as a way to protect oneself from the destructive angels, it appears that its importance grew greatly among the people under the influence of the kabbalists. It was especially valued by the later kabbalists of the Ari’s school. They instituted the recitation of Tehillim on the night of Hoshana Rabbah, and composed a Yehi ratzon prayer to be said throughout the year after concluding the recitation of each of the five books into which Tehillim is divided. For Hoshana Rabbah, there are special versions to be recited after the conclusion of each book. Through the kabbalists, the Book of Tehillim became beloved by the people as a whole, and whenever there were troubles or a calamity which befell the community or an individual, they would pour out the bitterness of their heart through this book. In it, they found consolation, strength, faith and hope.

It is therefore not suprising with the growth of Hasidism, which followed the footsteps of Kabbalah, the value of this book increased, and the Hasidim considered the reading of Tehillim to be of great importance. But one should not seek the source of this only in the influence of Kabbalah on Hasidism, for this minhag is primarily a Hasidic product. After all, Hasidim attempted to lift the spirit of the simple Jew and to implant within him the recognition that he was equal to the “lamdan” in value and status, and that every Jew can be as righteous, or even more righteous, than the lamdan, as long as whatever he does is for the sake of Heaven. There is nothing better for this than the Book of Tehillim, for our Sages tell us, David asked that those who recite it should receive the same reward as those who study Nega'im and Ohalos. If so, the simple Jew who recites Tehillim is no less worthy than the Jew who studies the most difficult passages of Talmud.

There were tzaddikim who recited all of Tehillim over the course of each week, while others completed it twice a week, once over the course of the week and once over the course of Shabbos. They especially made a point of reciting Tehillim during the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance, on the night of Yom Kippur and the night of Hoshana Rabbah, According to the tradition of the Hasidim, the Baal Shem Tov instituted a special group of Tehillim to be recited Erev Rosh Hashana at the graves of tzaddikim, these being: 4, 7, 11, 12, 13, 22, 23, 24, 38, 39, 40, 42, 43, 51, 86, 90, 91, 102, 103, 141, and 142, and thereafter one recites from Tehillim from 119 (whose verses begin with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, eight verses for each letter) those verses which spell out one's name (for example, if one's name is Avraham he should recite the verses that begin with the letters alef, beis, reish, heh, mem) and then the verses which spell out Shadai K'ra Satan.

The great Hasidic masters also used the reciting of Tehillim as repentance for various sins. There are many stories in the Hasidic literature about this, showing the power of the Book of Tehillim in the forgiveness of sins. Not only in the the aggadic literature of the movement, but in the halachic words of Hasidim as well, one finds this - as actual halacha. A famous tzaddik answered a question about "a mohel, where of the children whom he had circumcised had died, and who is afraid that he was negligent in that he circumcised the child while he was jaundiced" and did not wait "to postpone the circumcision until his blood had settled down." The mohel now asked what he could do as penance for having killed the child through negligence. The tzaddik answered [She'elos U'Teshuvos Cheishiv Moshe, Yoreh Deah 49] that he was to fast forty days over a period of time, and that on each day that he fasted was to recite all of Tehillim slowly, from the beginning to the end. Furthermore on the yahrzeit of the infant each year "he is to say all of Tehillim" and study Mishnah in memory of the infant, for the infant, too, might need a tikkun from a previous gilgul (incarnation). If he accepts this, his sin will be forgiven, and from that day on he is to examine each infant on the day prior to the scheduled cirmcumcision.


At May 21, 2009 at 11:05:00 AM EDT, Anonymous schneur said...

Today everyone is a Daef Yomi Jew.No more pashute Yidden. In the Alte heym there were different chevras, and the chevra Tillim was an important one.
In MO shuls saying Tillim is long forgotten if anything they study Tillim.
Only some Chassidic groups keep Tilim going, but my limited experience with these groups indicate that there do Tillim saying has become very ritualized with little Taam of emotion. I hope I am wrong about this. perhaps in jerusalem or in Williamsburg Tillim is still said with emotion.I know nothing about the Sefardic communities.
In the back of the Tillim Ohel Yosef Yitzchak we have a delightful collelction of stories etc about the importance of Tillim and clearly the Rayaatz believed in its effect. The old Jews in Europe said Tillim with emotion even though many had no idea of what they were saying , like reading the eysiyos in Zohar or "scanning" a Slavuta Shaas as a Rebbe of the tchernobler geza told me he does.

At May 21, 2009 at 11:36:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the Conservative synagogue in my town they say Tehillim before Shacharis every weekday morning. They have done that for decades.
It is a minyan of older Jews, pious but unlearned. I have never seen them try to use their yiddishkeit as something to impress people with.

At May 21, 2009 at 12:43:00 PM EDT, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Thanks for posting this. Rav Weinberger actually recommended the original Hebrew version of this sefer to me as well. Shkoyach!

At May 21, 2009 at 6:53:00 PM EDT, Blogger Devorah said...

Shabbos Mervochim, all good Lubavitchers say the entire book of Tehillim. Tehillim are also said every day as part of the "Chitas".

At May 21, 2009 at 10:04:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Besht prescribed these 21 psalms for Rosh HaShanah, and Rebbe Nachman prescribed his ten psalms as a general remedy. Are there any precedents for prescribing sets of psalms like this for certain purposes (aside from the introduction of Kabbalat Shabbat), or anyone else besides the Besht and Rebbe Nachman who have done this since their time?

At May 21, 2009 at 11:10:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

respectfully to the rav: can you prove that jews before the ari valued tehilim? there were all kinds of simple jews during the besht's time who never heard of the ari, who's recital of tehilim saved worlds!
respectfully: i think that jews have always valued this holy book. and, we know, for example, from the medrash, that shir hamaalot comes from yaakov avinu's time working for lavan. he sang songs to H' which went up...and later, david heard them when he was a shepherd.
i am dismayed at your dismissal of the centrality of tehilim in jewish life.

At May 24, 2009 at 5:18:00 PM EDT, Blogger Shmerl said...

There are at least two versions on the particular order of Tehilim prescribed by the Baal Shem Tov to be said at kivrey tzadikim.

This practice (from the Baal Shem Tov) is mentioned in Likutey Halochoys as a minhog, and Reb Gedalya said, that in general if Reb Noson brings some minhogim - he practiced them himself, so it is probable that it was (is) practiced in Breslov too (i.e. saying tehilim at kivrey tzadikim using Baal Shem Tov's seyder), in addition to the seyder of Tikun haKloli.

At May 24, 2009 at 8:37:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the Moroccan community, reading Tehillim is like, I don't know, the equivalent of Ashkenazim eating gefilte fish. Every moroccan does it and does it with passion and full faith- regardless of what that person may look like on the outside. preconceptions based on chiztoniut mean nothing to moroccans when it comes to acts of emunah, like reading tehillim or praying at the graves of tzadikkim.
if only the charedi ashkenazi groups can put aside their patronizing attitude towards moroccans and see how much they can learn!
chodesh tov

At November 18, 2010 at 12:29:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this pic is the kosov rebbe - i love him, he daven in TAY beis hamedrash in meah sharim - has many guests for shabbes and yontif

At January 19, 2011 at 11:40:00 AM EST, Blogger Unknown said...

shneur,icant tell you how much i aggree with you. today everyone does the daf b"h, (dont get me wrong i aware of the deep spiritual reveloutionry effect it has on klal-yisroel.)but when was the last time you came in to shul,and saw a yid pouring his heart out over a thilim ,or breaking out in a melody on a inspiraitinal passage, this is a major issue wich has consequences on chinuch and the overall spiritualty of our people


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