Throughout the first part of our morning prayers, known as the Pesukei D’Zimrah, we sing praises to Hashem from chapters of Psalms. One chapter that we recite (Tehillim 150 – the last of the chapters brought there that begin with the word Hallelukah), lists the many different musical instruments we use to praise Hashem. We say,הַלְלֽוּהוּ בְּתֵֽקַע שׁוֹפָר, הַלְלֽוּהוּ בְּנֵֽבֶל וְכִנּוֹר. הַלְלֽוּהוּ בְּתֹף וּמָחוֹל, הַלְלֽוּהוּ בְּמִנִּים וְעֻגָב. הַלְלֽוּהוּ בְּצִלְצְלֵי שָֽׁמַע, הַלְלֽוּהוּ בְּצִלְצְלֵי תְרוּעָה—“Praise Him with the shofar blow, praise Him with the harp and lyre, praise Him with drum and dance, praise Him with [different] types of instruments and the flute, praise Him with loud cymbals, praise Him with blasting trumpets.”
What is the purpose of enumerating all of these instruments in our prayers?
There is a beautiful insight that might give this part of our prayers more meaning to us. The Sages tell us (Sanhedrin 92b) that, when the wicked King Nevuchadnetzar heard that the prophet Yechezkel had performed a revival of the dead, he opened his mouth in praise to Hashem. He continued—until an angel came and slapped him on the mouth. Rabbi Yitzchak says that, had the angel not hit Nevuchadnetzar, he would have denigrated all the songs and praises of King David in Psalms. The commentary, Rashi, explains this to mean that Nevuchadnetzar’s praises were even more pleasant than David’s were, and if he had completed them, Hashem would have preferred them to the songs of King David!
One may ask: What right did the angel have to stop Nevuchadnetzar from singing Hashem’s praises?
The Rebbe from Kotsk explains: The angel did not stop him. Rather, he slapped him. Sure, Nevuchadnetzar was able to sing the most beautiful praises to Hashem when all was going well. But as soon as things became painful, he no longer had the ability to praise Hashem. This is why the angel slapped him—to give him pain and thereby show his tremendous limitations.
In contrast, King David sang praises to Hashem under all circumstances—when times were clearly good and at times of great difficulty. He sang even in the face of the greatest challenges, such as when he was fleeing his pursuers.
Based on this idea, we may be able to explain the chapter from Psalms we mentioned before. There are all types of musical instruments that are used in different settings. There are flutes used in upbeat situations like at the Simchas Beis Hasho’eivah (the great rejoicing that took place on the holiday of Sukkos in the Beis Hamikdash), instruments the Levites used on the steps of the Beis Hamikdash, a harp to provide calm music like David used when he arose, and instruments used for mourners to lament. The point is that a person must strive to praise Hashem in all situations. Indeed, this is how David finishes this chapter: כֹּל הַנְּשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵּל קָה— “The soul in its entirety should praise Hashem.” This means that, in every situation, covering every aspect of the soul, we should strive to be תְּהַלֵּל קָה—praising Hashem.
Adapted from the new book, “Passion for Perfection”, written by Usher Smith