For the merit of Shaul ben BatSheva.
R. Eleazar b Abina says: Whoever recites [the psalm] Praise of David three times daily, is sure to inherit the world to come. What is the reason? Shall I say it is because it has an alphabetical arrangement? Then let him recite, Happy are they that are upright in the way, which has an eightfold alphabetical arrangement. Again, is it because it contains [the verse], Thou openest Thy hand [and satisfies every living thing with favor? Then let him recite the great Hallel, where it is written: Who giveth food to all flesh! – Rather, [the reason is] because it contains both. R. Johanan says: Why is there no nun in Ashre? Because of the fall of Israel’s enemies begins with it. For it is written: Fallen is the virgin of Israel, she shall no more rise. (In the West this verse is thus interpreted: She is fallen, but she shall no more fall. Rise, O virgin of Israel). R. Nahum b. Isaac says: Even so, David refers to it by inspiration and promises them an uplifting. For it is written: The Lord upholdeth all that fall.
Someone who recites the Ashre three times a day will inherit the world to come. Does Ashre deserve such hyperbole?
Ashre consists of sections from three Psalms: The prayer begins with a single of line Psalm 84:5 and the last line of Psalm 144:15: “Happy are those who dwell in Your house; may they always praise you, Selah! Happy is the people for whom this is so, happy is the people whose God is HaShem.” Obviously the reference here is to the Beit HaMikdash. But this is also the “light house” that we mentioned at the beginning of our examination of Berachot. Remember that the light house refers to the individual who directly experiences the Unity directly. Luzzato states in Derech HaShem that Olam Habah is the place where the soul has unfettered connection with God. We will see that each line of Ashrei describes aspect of the possible relationship and a person can have with God.
The prayer continues on with all of Psalm 145 that has an alphabetic acrostic structure where the beginning of each sentence begins with a letter from the Hebrew Alphabet. The second thing that is curious about Psalm 145 is that almost all of the sentences except one consist of two phrases joined by the conjunction “and”. So for instance:
I will exalt You, My God the King, and I will bless Your Name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless You, and I will laud your Name forever and ever. …
It seems that this bifurcated structure indicates that we live a bifurcated existence. Our souls inhabit animal bodies. And so, all too often, our animal selves pull us away from the direction our souls wish to take. Imagine attempting to pray while you held the leash of a large insistent angry and fearful dog. Your ability to concentrate and keep a single focus on your prayer would at the very least be compromised. More often than not our bodies distract from our ability to connect directly with HaShem. If we are talking about a person attempting to connect with HaShem through Psalm 145, then we could read this Psalm one of two ways. The first way would be where a single narrator is praying. Then each stanza would be interpreted from the perspective that this is what we as God’s people should do. However, what if we look at the Ashre prayer from the point of view of the bifurcated existence I mentioned earlier? From this perspective, one could interpret each phrase joined by a conjunction as the soul and body having a “duet”, working in concert where the soul calls and the body responds. From this perspective, each line expresses the awareness and direct results of the body and soul aligned together.
Let’s examine the Ashre in more detail and go through it line by line.
I will exalt You, My God the King,
And I will bless Your Name forever and ever.
The body speaks in the first line and the soul responds in the second line. The body cannot bless eternally. Only the soul can do this.
Every day I will bless You,
And I will laud your Name forever and ever.
Again, in the first line the body is bless HaShem in time and the soul laud’s HaShem eternally. There is an important idea to understand here. The body must initiate an action. The soul then amplifies the action on the spiritual plane.
HaShem is great and exceedingly lauded,
And his greatness is beyond investigation.
Notice the narrative voice changes to third person. According to Luzzato in Daat Tvunot, the soul is capable of understanding levels of holiness that the soul is incapable of understanding. In the first line the body acknowledges HaShem’s greatness. In the second line the soul recognizes the infinite and unknowable mysteries of HaShem greatness.
Each generation will praise Your deeds to the next
And of Your mighty deeds they will tell;
In the first line the body speaks of generations that are born into bodies in time.
In the second line, the generations of souls who are not encumbered by time, talks about HaShem’s mighty deeds. Each Jewish soul is connected to other Jewish souls of their generation. Likewise, our souls connect with the root souls of previous generations. These root souls extend to HaShem’s foot stool. The process of praise and recounting God’s deeds allow the soul to “re-member” itself, integrating higher and higher realms of the soul.
The splendorous glory of Your power
And Your wondrous deeds I shall discuss.
And of your awesome power they will speak.
And Your greatness I shall relate.
The individual soul relates to HaShem’s power. However, the individual soul needs to attach itself to the souls of other Jews and the souls of previous generations of Jews to relate the scope, power and grandeur of HaShem’s deeds.
A recollection of Your abundant goodness they will utter
And of Your righteousness they will sing exultantly.
Notice that the narrative changes to third person. As the Jewish soul combines with other Jewish souls the individual reclaims larger and larger aspects of their soul and is no longer identified with an individual.
Gracious and merciful is HaShem, Slow to anger,
and great in [bestowing] kindness.
HaShem is good to all;
and His mercies are on all of His works.
Coming from the perspective of the body, or even the individual soul, HaShem’s goodness and mercy is not necessarily evident. But, the perspective of multiple generations of souls can see the workings of Divine Providence and Divine Justice in action.
All Your works shall thank You, HaShem,
And Your devout ones will bless You.
Again, curiously, the narrative shifts to second person. This stanza makes little sense unless one sees consciousness on a continuum. Those who form an intimate relationship with HaShem will do more than thank God. They will bless HaShem. Those souls who are devout to HaShem will be the vessels for HaShem to intensify his presence in the world.
Of the glory of Your Kingdom they will speak,
And of Your power they will tell;
To inform human beings of His mighty deeds,
And the glorious splendor of His kingdom.
Your kingdom is a kingdom spanning all eternities,
And your dominion is throughout every generation.
The body can perceive of the wonder’s of HaShem’s actions in the world. Yet, it takes the eternal generations of souls to testify to God’s influence beyond this world.
HaShem supports all of the fallen ones
and straightens all the bent.
The eyes of all look to You with hope
And you give them their food in its proper time;
You open Your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
The body and soul that are sufficiently connected can perceive these events while the soul dwells in the flesh on earth. The body and soul that are not sufficiently connected do not perceive these the Soul of all Creation’s hand in these events. A Hasidic spiritual practice consisted of writing a “Personal Torah” which detailed the individual’s perceptions of God’s hand in their life. The more one observes these events, the more one grows to perceive the actions of HaShem in the world.
Righteous is HaShem in all His ways
And magnanimous in all His deeds.
While one can sometimes fathom God’s righteousness in the body, one can only understand how every event that occurred to us in this lifetime (both good and evil) was magnanimous when we totally disassociate with the body and fully identify with the soul.
HaShem is close to all those who call upon Him –
To all who call upon Him sincerely.
Notice, that the only line that doesn’t have the structure we mentioned before where there are two phrases joined by a conjunction is: “HaShem is close to all who call upon Him – to all who call upon him sincerely.” In this state, when both body and soul call upon HaShem sincerely, God is close and there is no need to for a conjunction in the sentence because the bifurcation is healed.
The will of those who fear Him He will do;
And their cry He will hear, and save them.
HaShem protects all who love Him;
and all the wicked he will destroy.
Once the bifurcation is complete, Heaven responds to the individual.
May my mouth declare the praise of HaShem
And may all flesh bless his Holy Name forever and ever.
From this perspective the last line of Ashre becomes clearer. The Ashre ends with the last line of 115:18 where the narration abruptly switches to a plural voice. Both body and soul are united and they both sing together: “We will bless God from this time and forever, Halleluyah!”