It’s not only what you say, but how you say it. One of the most intriguing aspects of Jewish life is the way in which different communities communicate with Hashem. In some quarters the prayer book is read cover to cover, every sentence enunciated to the full, without leaving out a single word. Others use the framework of the siddur, but do not say certain passages during formal service. All this diversity goes under that huge umbrella called minhag, and it is indicative of much that makes every kehila the unique place it is.
I remember once meeting an older Yid who had lived in the East Side of New York City during the Twenties. In those days Yidden from every European center lived and prayed in the few available shuls that thrived in the neighborhood. This fellow told me jokingly, “On Hoshana Rabba I don’t daven!!! ” I looked at him curiously. “You see, in my youth I davened in a shteibelin the East Side, and every Hoshana Rabba fights would break out because each member had a different custom as to what should or should not be said on that unique Yom Tov. So I decided to follow everyone’s custom, and ended up leaving every thing out!” Obviously he was kidding (or was he?), but you get the picture.
One of these prayers that seem to gather controversy is the psalm of Barchi Nafshi which is said on Rosh Chodesh. Not that anyone questions its saying; rather there are different opinions as to when to do so. In many communities there was a reluctance to introduce prayers into the proper service that were not included specifically in ancient texts, out of a fear of creating customs that had no precedent. Others had a more open opinion and chose to add things as time went on. Barchi Nafshi seems to fall into this grey area. Most shuls add it towards the end of davening, whilst there are those who leave it out.
In Bobov it is not said by the davening but rather, it is sung at the Rosh Chodesh meal. I remember well how on Rosh Chodesh the Rav, zy”a, would sit with his talmidim, and in his very special way, he would speak about the special spiritual needs of the forthcoming month. These festive meals were usually attended only by the talmidim of the Yeshiva and so it was a special opportunity the Rav had to speak to their needs. After a while the Rav would call for a siddur, open it up to Barchi Nafshi and set the words to a special niggun. It was then that one tasted the uniqueness that was the Rav’s mind set about the world around us. His expansiveness singing these words was awesome, and each phrase of the psalm came alive through his expressions. Perhaps the most astounding part of all this was that this was done on a regular weekday morning. There was no Shabbos aura, nor the grandeur of a major Yom Tov. This was happening amidst the hustle and bustle of the weekday, the banks were open, and business was as usual, except in this Beis Midrash a holy Jew was singing about the glory of Hashem’s creation.
We all know that the world was created in six days, and that on the seventh Hashem rested. But what a glorious creation this was, and is, was first expressed by David Hamelich and can be expanded upon by each of us.
To see this creation and its purity of purpose, takes a huge effort on ones part. You have to clear your spiritual sinuses of all the murky rubbish that becomes embedded in your heart. True value can only be weighed by that part of the soul that can rise above the daily grind. Chazal gave us the tool to do this with this psalm, and saying it on Rosh Chodesh focuses our realization that such purity of sight can be had in the midst of our daily life.
The Rav would sing these words with such passion and eloquence that everyone in attendance could actually visualize what the phrases were depicting. You were on those mountains, and in the seas; it was all so real, so glorious.
Let us just share a few of these magnificent words, and remember that holy words are meant to direct our hearts to places where words are no longer needed. Barchi Nafshi Es Hashem … “Bless Hashem, O my soul, Hashem, my G-d, You are very great, You have donned majesty and splendour.”
The soul can bless with clarity, for it sees beyond the corruption of the mortal body. Hashem dons garments of majesty and splendor so that we can have a glimmer of His wondrous power. The whole of creation is the clothing that surrounds His majesty. The kapitel goes on to describe this:
Oteh Ohr Kasalma … “Cloaked in light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a curtain.”
Hamikareh Bamayim … “Who roofs His upper chambers with water, Who makes clouds His chariot, Who walks on winged wind.”
This creation exists only through the spiritual energy that emanates from Hashem. Yasad Eretz … “Who established the earth upon its foundations, that it falter not forever and ever.”
Hameshalei’ach Ma’eyanim … “He sends the springs into the streams, they flow between the mountains.”
The psalmist then goes on to explain that the waters give life to the beasts of the field, and the birds in the skies.
Yashku Kol Chayeso Sadai … “They water every beast of the field, they quench the wild creatures thirst. Near them dwell the heaven’s birds; from among the branches they give forth song.”
All that we see, it is all a huge jigsaw puzzle that fits perfectly to Hashem’s Will. Matzmiach Chatzir … “He causes vegetation to sprout for the cattle, and plants for the service of man, to bring forth bread from the earth; and wine that gladdens man’s heart, to make the face glow from oil, and bread that sustains the heart of man.” The kapitel continues its moving description of Hashem’s magnificent creation. Everything has its place, its purpose.
Harim Hagevohim … “High mountains for the wild goats, rocks as refuge for the gophers.”
Then we see the intent of this entire puzzle:
Asa Yarei’ach Lemoadim … “He made the moon for festivals; the sun knows its destination.”
All this is created so that mankind can benefit from His Good, and make festivals to give thanks for His light and warmth.
Hashem is the Supreme giver of Good, and the greatest good can be ours through our recognition of this.
On and on the beautiful picture is drawn:
Ma Rabu Maasecha … “How abundant are Your works Hashem, with wisdom You made them all; the earth is full of Your possessions.”
Gevald! It is all Hashem’s! What a huge and lovely statement. And we say it when? In the midst of a weekday morning while trains wait to be boarded, and appointments remain to be kept. This is the enabling power of these words. We are meant to stop for a moment and reflect on how special Hashem’s world is, in the flow of our daily tribulations.
The Rav would sing out these words with such holy sweetness, the moment was beyond description, and it lives within all those who shared it. The true lesson of Rosh Chodesh was there for all to learn – that being Hashem’s stewardship in our everyday world, a world beautiful in its perfection.