Thoughts on Saying Tehillim

Rutimizrachi wrote a moving post about RivkA, and she mentions her feelings at being included in the circle of people who were asked to say Tehillim (Psalms) on her behalf. “How do I get past this feeling that I am sitting on yet another death watch?”  Ruti asks a friend.

This sentence got me to thinking about my own feelings about saying Tehillim. About ten years ago a boy on our yishuv had a serious accident, and the women divided up the book of Tehillim for him. I remember thinking to myself – “why do we wait for an emergency to do this, we should be saying Tehillim all of the time!” I decided then and there to say Tehillim every day. I try to finish the book once a month (and I catch up on Shabbat if I don’t get to it during the weekdays).

Which doesn’t mean that I don’t have mixed feelings about it. The intellectual side of me scoffs a bit – equating (l’havdil) saying Tehillim with other actions people do to ward off bad things – a sort of “superstition lite”. On the other hand I argue with myself that I am connecting to one of the greats in the Jewish world (for those of you who don’t know, King David was the author of the Psalms). David HaMelech knew what it meant to suffer, and shares his words with us. If others can quote great poets when in times of pain, why shouldn’t I read the words of one of my “great poets”?

I am hooked on this book emotionally too. Just a few years ago it occurred to me to ask our Rav if it was permissable to say Tehillim on Tisha B’av. I was devastated when he told me no. He had taken away my greatest comfort on this awful day!

In any case, taking a sick person off my list of who to pray for has less of a sting – because I say the Tehillim anyway every day (and yes, Ruti, there have been times where I have taken the sick person off the list because they are not sick anymore!! Saying Tehillim is not always a last resort).

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. rutimizrachi
    Nov 01, 2010 @ 17:11:57

    Thank you for writing this, WBM. I think a lot of people struggle with saying Tehillim — especially at those times when it doesn’t seem to “work” the way we wanted it to. Over the years, a couple of brilliant rebbetzins have made me feel somewhat better about this, reminding me that adding light to the world is ALWAYS good, and always benefits someone. Sometimes we do a thing because we are working toward a desired result. Sometimes we do a thing just “because Abba says so.” Perhaps we will one day be surprised to find out that what appeared to be the least productive was actually what brought the Geula…

  2. faith/emuna
    Nov 01, 2010 @ 18:34:29

    in general i have a hard time saying tehillim, i didnt join in for rivkA bc i felt very comfortable that she woudld be happy in me praying for her in whatever way made me feel comfortable (and i have to catch myself in shmona esrei). i had actualy made challah on the friday that she passed away, so i ended up taking challah in her memory instead of for her refua.
    ruti i liked what you wrote “Perhaps we will one day be surprised to find out that what appeared to be the least productive was actually what brought the Geula…” , i agree, i just connect more to doing a good deed or saying a kind word, then tehillim, i think largely bc although i am fluent in hebrew i have a hard time with poetry in any language, i end up feeling like im saying some magic chant, i am impressed with people who can connect and envy them, hopefully ill get there someday.

  3. Batya
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 08:21:38

    For years I’ve been part of various divided T’hillim groups, and suddenly I’m not. OK we’re now dividing just one book. It’s very strange. For a while I was refusing adding more, because I found it too much a burden. I’d like to get one together with names of those who need to get married.

  4. sarah williams
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 19:26:39

    I have the same ambivalence (?) about Tehillim….as if I’m engaging in some rite to keep bad things from happening….then one day I spoke with a woman who said, no, that’s not what you’re doing. What you’re doing is bringing light and positive energy into the world, and in the merit of THAT then evil may be averted. Someone, somewhere, (maybe not the cause or person you have in mind) will benefit from that good, so keep praying, she told me.

    So, while I have my own needs and wants when I daven, there is a little piece of my mind that whispers, “It’s not about you, it’s not about what you want, but it is for the good anyway…..”

  5. soccer dad
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 19:40:44

    Like you I complete Tehillim once a month. (Usually I run a few days behind and finish in the next month.) And on Rosh Chodesh I say a perek for each of my children. (A perek with their names, or words similar to their names, or, in the case of my youngest, a reference to her name.)

    I’ve heard that when you say Tehilim they can mean what you want them to mean.

    As you’ve written, David Hamelech wrote them with insight that we cannot know. So I say them with confidence that they are helping, though I have no way of knowing how my saying Tehilim helps.

  6. Trackback: HH #290 — Falling Back Edition « Frume Sarah's World

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