D’var Tefilah: Pesukei De-Zimra, the ultimate warm-up!
Pesukei De-Zimra are the stretching exercises of tefilot. The Rabbis felt that prior to entering into the required morning prayers, a person needed time to stretch his/her spiritual muscles before being able to reach a high enough spiritual plane to access the infinite. The first prayer in this series is Baruch Sheh-Amar. The concept is not only that God created the world, but that God created it through words. “Blessed is the one who spoke and the world was.” I like to think about that a lot.
First, speaking isn’t the most obvious way to create. As I pass our construction site, I see the building of the Chadar Ochel. Workers with heavy equipment are toiling and sweating to accomplish their work. Using words as the means of creation shows us how powerful God is. God speaks and worlds are created. Creating through words also illustrates that intellect is more important than brute force. I think that God speaking through words is a subtle rebuke of human leaders and kings who show their power through violence. Perhaps a more modern day example is the Declaration of Independence. That document, which we recently celebrated on July 4th, created more than a physical country. It created an ideal by which people should live and be governed. Words can create more than things.
Second, the power of the spoken word needs to be taken seriously. If God can create a whole world using words, then shouldn’t we be very careful how we use language? The way that we speak to each other can build someone up or tear someone down. In counselor training this past week, we discussed how verbalizing a camper’s potential can inspire that child for a lifetime. Many of us remember something a counselor said in encouragement to us that gave us the confidence to pursue our dreams. Conversely, words can be demeaning and destructive. We can hurt others so much by direct insults, speaking ill of others and using language that sparks violence.
When praying, I like starting Pesukei De-Zimra with Baruch Sheh-Amar because it reminds me that words are important. In that moment, it helps me realize the words of prayer I’m about to say have meaning. It also helps me center myself and think about how I am going to use words constructively all day to have a positive influence on others.
Wishing you all two of my favorite words: Shabbat Shalom!