The Heavens Declare the Glory of God | Aleph Beta

Psalm 19

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

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Rabbi David Fohrman

Rabbi David Fohrman

Founder and Lead Scholar

Recited every Saturday morning as part of the Shabbat morning liturgy, Psalm 19 is full of vivid poetry: descriptions of the sun, the sky, a groom and the Torah. Imagery and words that come together as the heavens declare the glory of God. Join Rabbi Fohrman & Imu Shalev as they discuss possible meanings to this Psalm, and why the Psalmist chose to structure Psalm 19 in this unique way.

For more courses that focus on Psalms, be sure to check out King David's Haunted Past (Psalm 30), (Psalm 30), , Shir Hamaalot (Psalm 126), and Al Naharot Bavel (Psalm 137).


Transcript

A few weeks ago, Rabbi Fohrman and I had a pretty fun conversation about Psalm 19, "Lam'natzei'ach mizmor l'David. Hashamayim m'saprim kvod Keil," the heavens proclaim the glory of God. It's a chapter of Tehillim, Psalms, that we say in our Shabbos morning prayers and it's full of poetry about the sky, the sun and Torah. It's a chapter that honestly, I never really thought much about before, but, luckily for me, Rabbi Fohrman had some really cool ideas about this chapter which he shared with me and I'm about to share with you. 

We begin with Rabbi Fohrman reading and translating the first few lines and a few minutes in, he'll begin to give me his theory for what is going on in this Psalm. 

Tehillim/Psalm 19 

Rabbi Fohrman: So this is in a piece of Tehillim, of Psalms. Basically, the piece of Psalms we're looking at is Psalms, 19. It's the one that begins, "Lam'natzei'ach mizmor l'David. Hashamayim m'saprim kvod Keil u'ma'asei Yadav magid haraki'a," let the heavens proclaim the glory of God and the -- 

Imu: Works of His hand are foretold or told by the sky, an affirmant. 

Rabbi Fohrman: Correct. So, you know, it's obviously beautiful poetry so just a couple of things. First of all, part of its beauty is just that the whole first three sentences really are about the sky telling about the works of God. It continues in Verse 3, "Yom l'yom yabi'a omer v'laylah l'laylah y'chaveh da'at," day by day, these things are told every night wisdom is given much. 

I'm not sure what y'chaveh really means. Yeah, it seems to be a synonym for speak. Yeah, so Metzudot says it's a synonym for speak. It means "yagid k'mo achaveh dei'i" in Iyov, (Job), which means I'll express my thoughts. What's interesting is the contrast to Verse 4 which is "Ein omer v'ein devarim b'li nishma kolam," which is that all of this talking, obviously, is without words. "Ein omer v'ein devarim b'li nishma kolam," because the idea is that the heavens are speaking, but they're proclaiming things silently. 

It actually is fascinating because when you think about movement in the world, movement is always usually attended by sound. We here, in Aleph Beta, know this well with the trucks that move below our area. The bigger the thing is, the louder it is when it moves. So taking that to the empts degree, you would assume that when the sun moves and the stars move that should be attended by earth shattering sound and, of course, it's silent. So "Ein omer v'ein devarim b'li nishma kolam." 

Then, "B'chol ha'aretz yatza kavam," but, nevertheless, throughout the whole world, they're -- 

Imu: Trajectory. Expression. 

Rabbi Fohrman: ein milah b'lashon -- " so it seems to be some commentaries understand it also as a word for expression, but others, like the Ibn Ezra, understand it the way I would have understood it as line. That mileihem is words, right. So it sounds like it's picking up on this idea of speech. 

Imu: Remind me the subject we're talking about. Is it the sun or is it the sky or is it -- 

Rabbi Fohrman: Well, right now, we're talking about the sky, but then we get to the sun, which is Verse 5, "B'chol ha'aretz yatza kavam u'viktzei teivel mileihem." We're talking now about that which runs the circuit of the sky which is the sun, in a line. Right, "lashemesh sam ohel bahem," that you've made the sky a tent for the sun and then we get, "V'hu k'chattan yotzei meichuppato yasis k'gibor larutz orach," which is referring to the sun. The sun bursts forth, "miktzeh hashamayim motza'o u't'kufato al k'tzotam," it rises in one place of the heavens -- 

Imu: Its circuit is the corners of the heavens 

Rabbi Fohrman: No one can avoid His sun. 

Anyway, so what struck me about all of this is that back when I was a teenager my rabbi, R' Yosef Leibowitz, gave a class on Psalms, to us, in our afterschool program. Basically, he was the one who taught me about taking apart and putting it back together again. He didn't call it taking it apart and put it back together again, but he said, whenever you learn Psalms you have to try to divide the mizmor into parts and then give each one its title. 

So if you look at this mizmor, it divides rather neatly into two parts. The first part is the part we've just been talking about which talks about the heavens and in particularly the sun declaring itself as a product of God's handiwork, basically. Then there's one other part and the other part is Torah and it's not clear what the connection between them is because there's a quick move to the idea of Torah, in Verse 8, immediately after this. 

"Torat Hashem temimah m'shivat nafesh eidut Hashem ne'emanah mach'kimat peti," the teachings of God is perfect, it renews life, the decrees of God is enduring, it makes the simple wise. "Pikudei Hashem yesharim m'samchei lev," the precepts of God are just, the heart rejoices in them, "mitvat Hashem barah me'irat einayim," the instruction of God is lucid, it makes your eyes light up. "Yir'at Hashem tehorah omedet la'ad mish'p'tei Hashem emet tzadku yachdav," fear of God is pure, it abides forever, judgments of God are true, they're righteous when taken together. 

"Hanechamadim mizahav u'mipaz rav," they're more desirable than gold, "u'metukim midevash v'nofet tzurim," all of this is talking about Torah and God's commands, they're sweeter than honey than drippings of the honeycomb. "Gam av'd'cha nizhar bahem b'shamram eikev rav," your servant, in me, I heed them and, you know, in obeying them there is "b'shamram eikev rav¬," there's much that comes from obeying them. 

"Sh'giyot mi yavin ministarot nakeini," some translate that as there's much reward, but it doesn't mean there's much reward. It means there's much that comes from it, eikev, like it comes in the aftermath of it, of obeying God's commandments. "Sh'giyot mi yavin ministarot nakeini," who can be aware of errors, clear me of guilt which I'm not aware of. "Gam mizeidim chasoch avdecha al yim'shilu vi az eitam v'nikeiti mipesha rav," let sins not dominate me, basically. "Yihiyu l'ratzon imrei fi v'heg'yon libi l'fanecha Hashem tzuri v'go'ali," may the words of my mouth be -- 

Imu: Amazing. 

Rabbi Fohrman: Anyway, so what struck me as interesting is a couple of things. First of all, if you just put these two things side by side, it's kind of interesting that each of these is comprised of seven verses. They kind of divide neatly into two pieces of seven verses. Then the only other -- the just little micro ha'arah (comment) that I had is that on the face of it, it's very jarring how these two sides of the mizmor having to do with each other because why is a mizmor that starts with "Hashamayim m'saprim kvod Keil u'ma'asei yadav magid haraki'a," spend seven verses talking about all that? Transitioning to Torah and to following Torah and how I follow Torah, that just doesn't seem like one has anything to do with the other. 

What is interesting is that if you look at the piece on Torah, the part of the Psalm that talks about Torah, it is saturated with sun-like language, which I thought was interesting. So if you just go through it quickly, right, "Torat Hashem temimah." If you think about the sunlight, where do we get the idea of purity, of, you know, a whiteness, clarity? It's from the sun and from sunlight. 

Then what do we immediately say about Torah? "Torat Hashem temimah m'eshivat nafesh," it restores the soul. Well, think about that in terms of the sun? That's the whole point of sunlight which is that it restores you after night. 

Go a little bit further, "Pikudei Hashem yesharim m'samchei lev." The, you know, the commands of God gladden the heart, "mitzvat Hashem barah me'irat einayim." Barah is Beit-Reish-Hei, which means clear. The mitzvah of God is clear. There's a clarity to it. Me'irat -- 

Imu: Even "pikudei Hashem yesharim," in as much that we're talking about the kav, the line of the sky and the circuit of the sun being sure so here you have the words of God are also straight, which is interesting. 

Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, that's interesting. I haven't thought about that in terms of the kav, right, "u'b'chol ha'aretz yatza kavam." 

Imu: Even if you're learning these up verse by verse, there is a verse before that spoke about the circuit, I believe. There's a lot of geometrical stuff with the sky. 

Rabbi Fohrman: "Torat Hashem temimah m'shivat nafesh eidut Hashem ne'emanah mach'kimat peti. Pikudei Hashem yesharim mesamchei lev." I don't see anything having to do with the circuit, but that idea of a straight line is there. I also thought m'samchei lev also is probably how people react to, you know, sunlight. Sunlight actually does go on and on if you think about what's your mood like on a rainy day, what's your mood like on a sunny day. It literally is m'samchei lev. 

Imu: There's a verse that also -- it says "v'hu k'chattan yotzei meichuppato yasis." That's the joy of the sun -- the sun is himself is joyful. 

Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, right, that's a good point. I was thinking about that yesterday, but, yeah, that notion of yasis which is in other words if you think about the only emotion ascribed to anything in the two halves is simchah and sasson and you're right that the sun is described, metaphorically, as being happy or being thrilled, "k'gibor larutz orach." 

Imu: Like a groom, like a "chattan yotzei." 

Rabbi Fohrman: And then "pikudei Hashem," and our reaction to the sun or our reaction to Torah is the Torah is "m'samchei lev," that it's mesamei'ach us as opposed to the object itself, the God itself. Then, "me'irat Hashem bara" -- Beit-Reish-Hei is the synonym for clarity. Me'irat einayim, is very sun-like; it lightens up the eyes. "Yir'at Hashem tehorah," the fear of God, again, is pure. There's that sun-like term and "omedet la'ad." 

What would you say about the sun? 

Imu: Of course it's eternal. 

Rabbi Fohrman: It's the closest thing we have and that which we see to eternality. It's interesting scientifically, by the way, I would say that's true which we say day-to-day the most eternal thing that we see is the sun. The earth is a few dawns a million years old, but the sun is a few billion years older. 

"Mish'p'tei Hashem emet tzadku yachdav." So "hanechmadim mizahav," what does the sun look like? 

Imu: It's gold. 

Rabbi Fohrman: It's golden. "U'mipaz rav," another synonym for gold, "u'metukim midevash." What color is honey? It's the color of the sun. "V'nofet tzufim," and the dripping honeycomb. All of these are sort of, you know, when you think of gold and then you think of honey you have that reflective color of sun, but it even continues to the next verse. "Gam av'd'cha nizhar bahem." If you look at the word nizhar, even though it means I, your servant, I'm careful with them -- 

Imu: Zohar. 

Rabbi Fohrman: Right, zohar, which means sunlight, the rays of the sun. It's a double entendre. "Gam av'd'cha nizhar bahem." 

Then it continues "Sh'giyot mi yavin ministarot nakeini." Nakeini, also naki which is a synonym for purity which is again that idea of the sunlight. 

"Gam mizeidim chasoch avdecha," struck me as another -- choshech, right. To keep me away from evil, there's that darkness aspect of it. And finally, "nikeiti mipesha rav," comes back to the idea of purity and that's the end of that -- of the second half of it. 

So that was just my comment, which is just it just struck me as a beautiful kind of literary device. 

Imu: It is beautiful. 

Rabbi Fohrman: The Psalmist has used it to tie the second half of the mizmor to the first half, but, I think it opens up the larger question which I haven't really thought about that much. Which is that the Psalmist seems pretty determined to argue that the Torah is, you know, is very similar to sunlight or is very similar to the sun and the question is how's that so. 

I think what's interesting also is if you come back to that notion earlier that the whole point of the first half of the Psalm is that the heavens are sort of thunderously proclaiming God and the sun is powerfully proclaiming God and yet the sun is silent, "ein omer v'ein devarim b'li nishma kolam." It has nothing to say. There's ein devarim, there's no words at all, well, what's the Torah full of? The Torah is full of words, which is that the sun has a lot to say, but it has nothing to say in the cognitive realm. 

If you think about devarim, which is the word to speak -- "b'li nishma kolam" -- in other words, not only does it not have a voice it doesn't have devarim, it doesn't have words and words are the way we breakup a voice into cognitive categories. Kind of ala Harari, in the Sapiens, where he talks about the cognitive revolution. He translates voice into words which are cognitive categories and the sun not only has nothing to say in terms of sound, it has nothing to say in terms of words. That which it says is not cognitive and the Torah is another expression of God's will, but it's all cognitive, right and it doesn't do what the sun does. It doesn't shine, it doesn't light things up. 

So really what's happening is the Psalmist is taking these two aspects of God's will that are almost like inverses of each other and suggesting that each in fact has what the other has if that talks to you. So when he describes the sun, he's describing suns as if it had the Torah's qualities which is as if it were cognitive, as if it had something to say and, therefore, "hashamayim m'saprim kvod Keil." 

How do you put together the story? A story is a combination of words. So it says if the heavens are declaring cognitively this thing about God even as "ein omer v'ein devarim b'li nishma kolam." Then when you get to Torah, Torah clearly is made out of words, but that's not the point. The point is that it has the sunlight qualities of shine and this sort of physical texture of the gold, of the color and all that stuff which the sun has in its spades. The Psalmist is borrowing for Torah as well. 

Then, you know, one other thing along those lines. Sunlight actually is straight, "yatza kavam" and "pikudei Hashem yesharim m'samchei lev," we borrow the straightness of the sun to be a metaphor for Torah as well. 

Imu: It's really beautiful. What it provokes in me is a few things: One is it seems appropriate that it's in the morning davening (prayer), in as much as, you know, you were talking to me about this the other day, that it's almost like the very rising of the sun and the lighting up of the sky is what provokes the need for us to pray Shacharit, to daven Shacharit. Here, so you have this amazing event that's going on, the rising of the sun, the lighting up of the sky, we all come out, it provides us new life. 

A poet might stand back and say wow, look at the glory of God that is being told as if it's a story mesaper the heavens and the sun and then it's sort of well, who are we on this day in relation to this great event? We are the people of the book. We are the ones who keep the Torah and, in as much as, that has tremendous majesty so does this book, this mission, this destiny in a different way. 

For me, what came to mind was enlightenment. We all refer to a cognitive spark or a cognitive revolution that gives us a guidance as enlightenment. Which is -- literally -- I mean, well, figuratively I should say, -- we instinctively relate it to light kind of the way the Psalmist does it here where it's like sunlight. 

The other thing that came up for me was the concept of eidut. So there's two different places in the Torah piece. One place it's referred to as -- I'm sorry, in the Torah pieces the Torah is it's "eidut Hashem ne'emanah," right, is that there? 

Rabbi Fohrman: Yup. "Torat Hashem temimah m'shivat nafesh eidut Hashem ne'emanah," right, the Torah of God is pure it restores the soul, "eidut Hashem," the witnessing the Torah is that which is the witness to God. 

Imu: So where in Torah do we have the concept of eidut, where the sky is involved and maybe even the sun, if I remember? 

Rabbi Fohrman: You mean like "Ha'azinu hashamayim va'adabeirah v'tishma ha'aretz imrei pi?" When the heavens is called upon to be a witness. 

Imu: Exactly. So when Moses needs to call the most steadfast -- and I'd argue most permanent -- of witnesses, he calls the heavens which maybe is the place where you get the word va'eid from, which is permanent and is infinite. L'olam va'ed, we say forever and ever. So va'eid there has testimony in that and maybe that's where testimony comes from. It's something permanent and something fixed and something established and even though we don't see that word in the first half of the piyut, it seems obvious that the sky and the sun are the established permanent ones and that Torah is contrasted to. You know, "eidut Hashem ne'emanah mach'kimat peti," the Torah is actually the testimony of God and it also makes us wiser. Maybe, I don't know, mach'kimat has an anagram of warming also. Cham and mach'kimat. Yeah, those are really beautiful parallels. That's very cool. 

Rabbi Fohrman: The last thing that -- the notion that you mentioned before also is that what's interesting is that if you take that connection to sunlight and Torah just a little bit farther, the last piece of the Psalm which is talking about the person's relationship to Torah practically, which is what happens if you don't do it perfectly. Right, "gam av'd'cha nizhar bahem," I try to be careful with this, but I make mistakes, "Sh'giyot mi yavin ministarot nakeini," please forgive my mistakes. "Gam mizeidim chasoch avdecha al yimshilu vi," let even when I mean on -- 

Imu: On purpose. 

Rabbi Fohrman: -- on purpose, right, keep me away from that, don't allow those things to rule over me, "v'nikeiti mipesha rav." What's interesting also is that, you know, if you look, for example, at some of the English translations, as I alluded before, in Verse 12, "Gam av'd'cha nizhar bahem b'shamram eikev rav." So the 1917, JPS translates that as "gam av'd'cha nizhar bahem," I'm careful with them, "b'shamram eikev rav," in keeping God's commands, "eikev rav," there's much reward. 

However, as I said before that's probably not a good translation because what eikev really means is that which follows after. Almost like which comes upon the heels of. Even like in the English when we say something comes on the heels of something it means it comes right afterwards, it comes as a result of. So in the Torah you also have the word eikev which means result of, "eikev asher tish'm'u b'koli," because you will listen to me or as a result of listening to me. 

So "Gam av'd'cha nizhar bahem b'shamram eikev rav," really means that your servant pays them heed. It doesn't mean in obeying them there's much reward, it means "b'shamram eikev rav," there's much consequence to obeying them. 

Imu: They're weighty. 

Rabbi Fohrman: They're weighty. Much follows from being them. Then, if you think about, well, what happens if you disobey? "Gam mizeidim chasoch avdecha," and we talked before about chasoch being borrowed from choshech. So I wonder if in casting this connection between Torah and sun and practical Torah in actually keeping the Torah as "gam av'd'cha nizhar." We talked before about nizhar being not just being careful, but now, think about the metaphor of zohar, of shine, almost suggests that as a -- of being careful, you benefit from the shine of Torah. Right, Torah shines. 

So if I'm careful with it I get more sunlight as it were. "B'shamram eikev rav," and in keeping over them, "eikev rav," there's much consequence that the sunlight is the source of all life. In the world really comes from the sun and when I seek to stay away from even willful sins -- what's willful sins? "Gam mizeidim chasoch avdecha," I'm asking for help in staying away from that, but it's really just darkness and all darkness really is -- darkness is a punishment. It's not being thrown in the bowels of hell. It's just that you don't benefit from the sunlight. The darkness, you don't have that great benefit which is all about what? 

Think about that great emotion. The emotion is joy. "Mitzvat Hashem barah me'irat einayim," "Pikudei Hashem yesharim m'samchei lev." So it's what you lose out is in the joy of the sun. 

Then, like a close read also suggests, not for these punitive aspects of it, but just as sunlight confers that sort of benefit we try to get in the sun in terms of our relationship to Torah. 

Imu: What do you think of it read there? I hear where you're coming from and that's a nice play on it. I wondered, while you were saying that though, if there's a suggestion that the sun is especially fire and fiery and can hurt you and you should -- therefore, we protect ourselves and also sometimes darkness is good for us. What we're sort of asking is for God to spare us or to protect us, but the word we're using is to darken us. 

Rabbi Fohrman: Ah, interesting. "Gam mizeidim chasoch," we're asking for darkness. 

Imu: And even the verse before, the zohar piece is resourcing because it's so bright, we also -- we protect. 

Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, that is interesting. That is interesting. 

Imu: It may be because -- 

Rabbi Fohrman: Along those lines also, "sh'giyot mi yavin ministarot nakeini." Along the lines that you're suggesting, ministarot means literally clear me of that which is hidden. 

Imu: Of the hidden things. 

Rabbi Fohrman: But also what would you try to do from a very bright sun? Imu: You hide. 

Rabbi Fohrman: You would hide from it. It's just if you take b'shamram a little bit further you'd want to keep the Torah, but, you know, there's a thin line between that and hiding from it. 

Imu: Put on sunscreen. 

Rabbi Fohrman: Putting on sunscreen when things get too brilliant, yeah. 

Imu: "B'shamram eikev rav," can mean, like, this is a weighty thing. The sun is quite powerful. Let's just put on some sunscreen. Maybe, the idea there of the metaphor is that the sun is wonderful, it brings us life, but also humans in the watchful eye of the sun or if you're overexposed to the sun can also be dangerous and that's why we sort of ask for reprieve or shade or I'm not sure. Maybe. Your way also worked. 

Rabbi Fohrman: All right. I thought it was also interesting, "Pikudei Hashem yesharim m'samchei lev mitzvat Hashem barah me'irat einayim," if you think about the connection between those two ideas, the notion of the Torah gladdening the heart, I wonder if that has something to do with this notion of "mitzvat Hashem barah me'irat einayim," of enlightenment or opening up the eyes which is just that there is -- I wonder if the idea there has something to do with the intellectual joy of the Torah which is, is there a connection between clarity and having your eyes open and understanding something, you know, pure and meaningful which is itself the gladdening of the heart. It's "pikudei Hashem yesharim m'samchei lev." But how? "Mitzvat Hashem barah me'irat einayim." Just an interesting possibility. 

Imu: That's beautiful and that might go to the essence of the poetry of why it's here. Really, just sort of declaring that Torah is clarifying and gladdening as the sun, well, obviously is. 

Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah and then the final thing. Go back now to the last verse which actually falls outside the seven and seven which is kind of interesting, right. It's a prayer, "Yihiyu l'ratzon imrei fi v'heg'yon libi l'fanecha Hashem tzuri v'go'ali." 

So I'm putting that as outside the seven and seven and relating to both. So now, think about it. Think about its relationship to both. "Yihiyu l'ratzon imrei fi," isn't it interesting that the whole two first sections of this Psalm is about talking and about words. It's about the 

words of the heavens on the one hand, the wordless words of the heavens and then the words of Torah, the cognitive words of Torah. 

Now, we say, "Yihiyu l'ratzon imrei fi," let my words, right, be meaningful to you because the whole first part of the Psalm is God's words be meaningful to me. It's just God's words take the form of His creations, the sun which is saying so much and Torah which is saying so much. Then we say "yihiyu l'ratzon imrei fi," let, just as the words that come from Your servants have found favor with me, "yihiyu l'ratzon imrei fi," let my words find favor with You, "v'heg'yon libi," and the cognition of my heart, the words in cognition, those kind of ideas which came from earlier and then "Hashem tzuri v'go'ali." 

It just struck me as interesting these two ways of thinking about God. God as my rock and my redeemer. So a rock and a redeemer are sort of opposites, in some ways, because how would you say a rock and redeemer relate to each other? 

So a redeemer is very active -- 

Imu: A redeemer is rescuing me and a rock is foundation. One moves, the other doesn't sort of in my mind. 

Rabbi Fohrman: Right. One moves, the other doesn't and the strength of the redeemer is in its movement and the strength of the rock is in its non-movement. That's in its stationary-ness, in its ability to just be there. 

It strikes me as interesting, if you think of tzuri and go'ali, you know, I wonder if those two things somehow relate to topics of the Psalm before that, but I'm not quite sure how that would be true. So if you think about the sun, so does the sun express God as redeemer or does the sun express God as rock? If you think about Torah, does the Torah express God as redeemer or does the Torah express God as rock? 

So I don't know. It's interesting. All I would say is that it's also interesting that the modern word for orbit as into orbit around the sun is tzir, which is a variation on tzur. It's to orbit around an immovable thing almost. To see the sun as immovable. 

What's interesting also, I mean, if you think about -- 

Imu: It's a center of gravity, actually. 

Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah and what's kind of interesting is, you know, in terms of what we know about the sun which maybe ancient folks didn't really know about the sun is that the sun is that which appears to be in great movement. It appears to be a redeemer in the sense that it's dark and then here comes the sun and everything's going to be fine and it changes and everything it's all good, but in fact the sun is the most stationary 

thing we know and its movement comes from us. So the sun may appear to be go'ali, but it really is tzur, right. As fiery as it is, it's the immovable thing. That's the foundation, literally, for the solar system which is just kind of interesting. 

Imu: Interesting. I love what you said even without the tzur and the go'ali piece. I just like the idea of it being outside the seven and sort of well, at the end of the day for talking about celestial beings, you know, the sun and the sky and we're talking about Torah, well who am I? So sort of well, what I can I do is I could be the poet and compose these words and I hope that they mean something. I hope that they please You God. It's a beautiful way to end. 

Rabbi Fohrman: Which really is just -- right -- because the "imrei fi" here are presumably, as you point out, are earlier parts of the Psalm which is my description. It's almost like what the Psalmist is saying is allow my description of Your servant saying things, allow that saying of me to be pleasing to You just as what Your servants have to say are pleasing me. 

Imu: And the Torah piece are the words of God, so to speak, right. They're the eidut Hashem. So like the sun and the sky have words and God has words. 

Rabbi Fohrman: And now, I have words, too. And, of course, what's interesting is, you know, in terms of prayer, we lift this verse at the very end of our Shemoneh Esrei. 

Imu: Right, yeah, that's how we end all our prayers. 

Rabbi Fohrman: That's how we end all of our prayers and if you think about it in terms of its context, so in as much as -- in as much as, you know, if we think about the earlier things that we talk about in prayer. In P'sukei d'Zimra we talk a lot about nature and in birchat Kri'at Shema we talk a lot about Torah. 

So these two things which are mentioned here, in the words, as the Psalm would put, nature and Torah, do a lot of declaring and at the end of Shemoneh Esrei which is sort of our chance to talk this is what we say. Right? That all of Shemoneh Esrei has really been our chance to respond. 

Imu: It's kind of wild. It's almost like the sun and the sky and the heavenly bodies they pray Shacharit every day. Whether we're talking or not talking, them doing the will of the Creator and lighting up the world. You know, they're testifying to the greatness of the Creator. 

The question is; A, are we recognizing it and B, what are we going to say. It's sort of like they're praying Shacharit and are we also praying Shacharit. 

Rabbi Fohrman: Right. Yeah and what do we have to say in response? Yeah, so it's kind of interesting that one way to think about our prayer is a response. 

Imu: It's kind of mind blowing. For me, it makes me want to pray Shacharit a little better than I have been, but just being mindful of there is a world outside of you every morning and that the world is waking up and this stunning world has been reborn and who are you in relation to that? 

Rabbi Fohrman: And the world is talking, in a way. The world is talking, the Torah is talking and you're being invited to be a part of the conversation and tefillah (prayer) is. So it's kind of like, you know, there is a strong social aspect to prayer, if you think about it, that's why, in a way, that we pray with a minyan (quorum) because when you're all alone it's harder to talk and it seems like your silent when others are talking so I feel like I can talk too. 

So it's almost as if the Psalmist and the structure of our prayer includes a larger social universe of talking and says hey, nature's talking, Torah's talking. That's what morning is. So you want to be part of the conversation or do you want to keep silent. That's the invitation of "yihiyu l'ratzon imrei fi," let my words, my responsibility. That's what Shemoneh Esrei all is; our chance to ask for things and to praise in response. 

Imu: Wait I have more. That's beautiful, but also it helps explain why one prays Shacharit it has a zman (time). You're not supposed to pray Shacharit too late after the sun has risen or you kind of missed the point. There's a party happening and you're going to be part of the conversation or you missed the conversation. 

Also, it sort of wants to make me feel like, you know, witnessing the sunrise is an important part of having a good davening. 

Rabbi Fohrman: By the way, halachically that's true. Halachically, there are those who argue that it's more important to pray Neitz, for example, than it is to pray with a quorum. So it would be preferable to wake up early and pray with the sunrise, according to many, than to pray with a quorum later. This would be why. 

Imu: Tremendous. That's awesome. I wanted to ask you, well, I know you're working in other areas also, but this reminds us of many of the other -- this is isn't the only Psalm or piece of prayer that talks about the sun and the stars, right, it's all over Shacharit, as you mentioned. 

Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. I'm kind of working on that separately, but the notion of that within Kri'at Shema and how that relates to Kedushah I think is also a piece which it's something I'm working on and a little bit of a deeper dive, but yeah. 

Imu: Great. I look forward to hearing more about that and there's also Keil Adon on Shabbos which also has all this imagery of the sun moving around and the stars proclaiming the glory of God. So more homework. 

Rabbi Fohrman: Yup, exactly.


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