Embedded in the Hebrew prayer book is a particularly beautiful psalm that also happens to be longer than most poems found in the siddur. The beauty is not all that surprising—there’s no dearth of beautiful poetry in those pages; what’s surprising is how often, and in how many different Jewish liturgical traditions, either part or all of this particular poem has been slipped into the service. Why, with so many psalms to choose from, should Psalm 104, known in Hebrew by its opening words, barkhi nafshi, be singled out? And why, especially, once a month like clockwork, does it appear at the very end of the morning service, just when most weekday worshippers are fretting at the lateness of the hour and anxious to get to their day jobs?
The Happiest Psalm of Them All
In a biblical book many of whose poems express anxiety and apprehension, Psalm 104 is a confident and joyous singalong.