Rosh Hashanah 5779: P’sukei D’Zimra Kavana

By: Rabbi Jeff Stombaugh

I come from a very musical family. My great uncle, his brother my grandfather, their cousin, all of their children and even me and my sister — and that’s only my mom’s side of the family. Dad also had musical chops. My point, however, is that one could easily say that music is in my DNA. Though I would say, that music is in all of our DNA.

The story of creation may have ushered the world into being, but it was a song that brought about the birth of the Jewish people: the Song at the Sea, led by our matriarch Miriam but joined by all those who had witnessed their deliverance from slavery.

While in the desert, the spoken words Torah outlines God’s exhaustive requirements for Israel – much of which made it into our liturgy – but it is through the psalms we sing and celebrate our response to those commandments.

This is the part of our service that we are about to participate in: P’sukei D’zimra – literally translated as verses of song. Psalms are our response to Torah and our story; singing our struggles to reconcile what God wants with the lives that we as individuals lead. The disparity between the divine standard set before us as a Jewish people – “Be holy because I, your God, am holy” – and the standard we are limited to because of our humanness.

We are limited when we can’t find the words, or don’t know what to do with all of these rules and laws and things we’re commanded to to to do judaism. We are limited when we can’t conceive of the vastness of the cosmos and the network of the divine that connects us all. We are limited when we screw up, and make decisions that don’t align with the beauty of creation.

But humanness is also our great advantage. God may speak, but we sing; and singing is an expression for when words are inadequate, or impossible to find to properly detail what we’re feeling inside. And when we feel we can’t find the words, the right words, the best words, the words that will fix the wrongdoings or the woes that are beyond our control to fix, singing, psalms, p’sukei d’zimra is our advantage. Singing and praying psalms is our advantage to offer a deep part of ourselves that we otherwise could not.

We do not speak or read psalms but we sing and offer them, holding them lovingly up to the light, singing these song as through we ourselves wrote them long ago. When we offer psalms, it’s as though we are standing at the sea, because singing is in our DNA.