When I was a kid, I always knew the day of the week based upon the TV shows we watched. Tuesday was my favorite with Jack Benny, Red Skelton and F Troop. Through most of my professional life, I knew the day of the week because of job responsibilities. Now that I’m a retiree, I know what day it is because of TEFILA, and, specifically, the daily Psalm, Shir Shel Yom. This is the beginning of a series of seven articles describing each day’s SHIR, and its connection to its day of the week.
Sunday bats leadoff. Here in Eretz Yisrael, we really feel like Sunday begins the week because it’s the back to work day. B”H that’s the way the Torah and Jewish custom meant it to be. While living in the States, it didn’t feel like the week had begun until Monday. But here we start our week with chapter 24.
The selections for Shir Shel Yom are listed and partially explained in the Talmud: We learn in a Braita (TANYA): Rabbi Yehuda says in the name of Rabbi Akiva on the first day what did they (the Levi’im) recite (while the Kohanim were bringing the daily offering)? ‘To God is the world and the fullness thereof (Tehillim 24:1).’ This is because God (created, and therefore) acquired the world and rules it (Rosh Hashanah 35a).
So, according to Rabbi Akiva, the reason that Chapter 24 is the Psalm for Sunday is that it declares that God owns and rules the earth based on the Creation process, which began on Sunday. It’s sort of a variation on an announcement my adolescent incarnation would hear from store keepers when my friends and I would enter a store: If you break it, you own it! Here we announce: if you create it, you own it. Remember this was a long time before intellectual property legislation.
However, I believe that there’s much more in our poem to suggest the spirit of YOM RISHON BaSHABBAT. For example: Who can ascend the mountain of God, and who can stand upon His holy place (verse 3)? The Malbim explains that inquiry is ‘even if you can find someone who can scale the heights for an instant, but can they remain permanently in that holy place?’
In the literal meaning of the question, this means that achieving permanent residence within the holy precincts is unusual and can only be achieved by the few who are described in verse 4, ‘clean hands, pure hearts, hearts that avoid vanity, and never deceive.’ However, I would submit for your consideration, that this question is asking about the sanctity achieved on Shabbat. It’s cool that we can have a day, Shabbat, within the holy precincts, but when the profane days (CHOL) of the week arrive, can we maintain that holiness while interacting with the world at large? Not so easy!
Then we must consider verse 6. This is hard to translate. The Hebrew says ZEH DOR DORSHOV. Perhaps, we can render that, “This is the generation that seeks God.’ And then we refer back to Ya’akov Avinu, ‘Those who seek Your face, Ya’akov.’ Are we addressing Ya’akov? Weren’t we trying to seek God, just a few words back? Two popular suggestions are 1. we mean the God of Ya’akov, or 2. we mean to seek God as Ya’akov did. Either could work.
I would like to strongly propose option 2. We want our generation to emulate the efforts of Ya’akov Avinu to search for God at all times. Remember Ya’akov is the Patriarch of the Ladder (SULAM). In our Psalm, the SULAM is identified with the Temple Mount. Our beloved Patriarch taught us about ascending towards God. So, on Sunday we are Ya’akov at the bottom of the Ladder ready to resume the climb, striving for the top. There is also this strong desire for continuity, emulating Ya’akov. Similarly, we want this new week to be a quest for God, not just worldly needs. As we begin a new week, we reaffirm our commitment to this endeavor.
The rest of the Psalm, I believe, is a description of what exactly we desire from this pursuit of God. We seek God and, in return, we anticipate, God throwing open the gates which have separated us from our Divine King. We emphasize and repeat (verses 7 & 9) our request, almost a demand for God to fling open the gates, and reveal the glory within. On the literal level the Psalm has two parts verses 2-6 are about us coming to the holy mountain and the Beit HaMikdash, the final verses are about God also arriving at the holy site to rendezvous with us.
The image of the gates opening in anticipation of the arrival God the King is also appropriate to Sunday. On Saturday night with Havdala, there is a sense of a curtain coming down on the Sabbat joy, and now on Sunday morning we chant about a new beginning with the gates flung open wide to receive the King who we pray will arrive this week.
This is our Sunday prayer and need. As we begin a new week of work and worldly involvements, we leave Shabbat in the rear-view mirror, and continue to anticipate a future filled with all the promises of a world, created and possessed by God, which will soon also be filled with God’s revealed presence.