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prayer pings #24 leftovers

Chazal conclude Pesukei DeZimra with the powerful chatimah of Yishtabach: הבוחר בשירי זמרה מלך קל חי העולמים, "[Blessed are You God] Who chooses musical songs of praise, King, God, Life-Giver of the world" (Artscroll p.82).

Out of all of the descriptions of praise we have used, why in this final moment do we refer to God as הבוחר בשירי זמרה, "He Who chooses musical songs"?

On the one hand, it may seem obvious to refer to God this way-- we just spent all of Pesukei DeZimra (literally 'sentences of song') singing to God through Tehillim and Shirat HaYam-- the שירי זמרה. Concluding with a reference to God as He Who chooses such praise is the ultimate stamp of approval on our efforts. Or to put it differently, הבוחר בשירי זמרה is the summary exaltation of Pesukei DeZimra. We pray that Hashem will act as הבוחר and accept that which we have just uttered.

But Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa reveals an alternative interpretation. Instead, he teaches that שירי should be read as 'leftovers' or 'remnants' (from the word שיריים). This completely changes the meaning of הבוחר בשירי זמרה. With this translation, God is the One Who chooses the remnants of praise-- that which remains after the praise has concluded. Instead of the final words of Yishtabach serving as an affirmation of past prayers, they challenge us to look at our present selves.

Now that I have said Pesukei DeZimra, now that I have offered every form of praise Chazal could muster, what remains in me? How have I been affected? How am I changed and what is still left over for me to address in my tefillot as I go into Shacharit? This state, these leftovers are what Hashem chooses, for they are a type of worship that is completely personal. That which remains-- whether in how we have been affected by praising God or in what we have left to perfect-- is unique to each of us and cannot be voiced by anyone other than ourselves. What remains is the ikar, the core of what we need to explore as davening continues. Sometimes the leftovers are the best part.

Rabbanit Alissa

Mon, July 13 2020 21 Tammuz 5780