Rav Kook Torah

Psalm 30: "Mizmor Shir" - Melody and Song

Pesukei deZimra, the preliminary selection of psalms which introduces the morning prayers, opens with the words, Mizmor Shir:

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“A melody (mizmor), a song (shir), for the Temple inauguration, to David.” (Psalm 30:1)

What is the difference between a mizmor and a shir? Why is this phrase appropriate for our daily initiation into prayer? And what is the connection to the Temple dedication?

Emotion and Intellect

Heartfelt emotion, emanating from the depths of the soul, lies hidden in the crevices of life. When these feelings burst forth, we do not immediately render them into words and speech. Without thinking, we may find ourselves humming a lively tune. We give voice to our emotions through zemer, in the notes of a melody or wordless tune. This is mizmor, the musical outpouring of the soul.

As our feelings expand and reveal themselves, they engage the world of reflection and thought, gaining access to the treasures of language and speech. This is the level of shir, of song and poetry. We can now articulate this outburst of emotion using our cognitive faculties of reason and language.

When we join mizmor and shir together, we link our emotional and intellectual sides. First appears mizmor, a musical outpouring of the soul’s emotional depths. This is joined by shir, poetic expression from holy meditation and thought.

As we enter our house of prayer, we need to aspire to the sublime ideal of mizmor shir. We should fully utilize both our emotional and intellectual capacities for praise and joy.

These two holy faculties achieved their greatest expression when the place most suitable for spiritual elevation was completed — at the dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. “A melody, a song, for the Temple inauguration!

(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah, vol. I, p. 186)

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