What is the Ashrei? Understanding Jewish Prayer

Posted By on October 9, 2019


The Ashrei, which is essentially psalm 145 with a few additions is one of the most fundamental prayers in the jewish service. Chanted three times every day, psalm 145 has been read out loud, for at least 2,000 years, something we know Because of how it appears in the dead sea scrolls Tradition says whoever recites the Ashrei three times each day, is sure to be one of those who dwell in the world to come Because it contains the verse, “You open Your hand and satisfy every living thing with favor.” Poteach et Yodecha This is the core of the whole prayer and a central idea that people both embrace and struggle with – God actively sustaining us. People often touch their tefillin, and in the Sephardi community open their hands or lift them, The Ashrei begins with two verses there to get you into the right mood to say Psalm 145 so it starts, Happy are those who dwell in your house And then it moves into psalm 145 an alphabetical acrostic Each phrase digs into an aspect of our relationship with God. On a surface read it feels repetitive… I will discuss the majestic glory of your beauty, I will relate your greatness, the Lord is good to all…we get it! God’s really great. But all the repetition is far more purposeful and interesting than an initial glance reveals There are levels of dissecting the poem, different ways to break down the section stanzas and words Key words are repeated throughout creating a tapestry of meaning, so let’s follow one word: happiness Ashrei Happiness first appears here, in reference to living in the world And then here, in reference to people who pray and then here, in reference to people Who believe in God. Is it referring to all of these? what does a person need to do to be happy? Just live? just pray? just believe in God? What’s the intended meaning for each line and how, do these three Possibly contradicting appearances change that meaning And then take that for all sorts of repeated words – praise, God, majestic generations, etc. That’s just the english the hebrew is obviously far more powerful It finishes with a verse borrowed from psalm 115 that works as a segue into the rest of the service through the word Hallelujah. While the surface read of Ashrei is simply a variety of ways in which to bless God it’s by digging beneath the simple phrases and discovering the contrasts and contradictions that turns Ashrei into a beautiful meditation

Posted by Lewis Heart

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