Rav Kook Torah

Psalm 145: The Two Benefits of Ashrei

I suppose everyone has their favorite chapter of Tehillim, one that speaks to their soul. Which psalm did the rabbis of the Talmud like best?

The answer is probably chapter 145, commonly called Ashrei (although the Sages referred to it as Tehillah LeDavid, after its opening phrase). In fact, the Talmud (Berachot 4b) states that one who recites this psalm three times a day is assured of a place in the World to Come. It is also the centerpiece of pesukei d'zimra, the collection of psalms forming the introductory section of the morning prayer service.

What makes Ashrei so wonderful? The Talmud explains that this chapter has two special characteristics:

  • It is an alphabetical acrostic, containing all twenty-two Hebrew letters (except for the letter nun).

  • It contains an important verse expressing our complete trust and reliance on God: “You open Your hand and satisfy the wants of every living thing” (v. 16).

  • Every psalm has something special. What is the significance of these two advantages? Why are they so important?

    Fundamental Beliefs

    One explanation is that these two aspects of Ashrei affirm our most basic beliefs.

    The two fundamental tenets of Judaism are that

  • God created the universe.
  • God continues to watch over it (as opposed to the deist concept of God as a Divine clock-maker who created the universe and then left it running without intervention or direction).

  • Ashrei affirms both of these tenets. It contains all the letters of the alphabet — the letters with which God created the world. And the verse “You open Your hand and satisfy the wants of every living thing” confirms our belief in Divine providence.

    Spiritual Growth

    A second explanation connects Ashrei to one’s personal spiritual growth. There are two requirements to attain ethical and spiritual goals:

  • The study of Torah, which bestows enlightenment.
  • Not be disturbed by the distractions of this world. Even if we merit the light of Torah, day-to-day demands and pressures may divert our attention away from our spiritual objectives.

  • The verses of Ashrei are organized according to the twenty-two Hebrew letters. These letters are the ‘building blocks’ of the Torah. By praising God with all of these letters, we recognize that closeness to God is attained through the Torah’s enlightenment.

    To avoid being distracted by worldly pressures, we need complete trust in God. By stating, “You open Your hand and satisfy the wants of every living thing,” we are proclaiming that God watches over and protects all creatures. This affirmation of faith bolsters our reliance on God’s providence, so that mundane worries will not succeed in distracting us from our true goals.

    (Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, p. 12)

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