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.

Eoneren/iStockPhoto.

Eoneren/iStockPhoto.

Atar Hadari
Observation
April 4 2018
About the author

Atar Hadari’s Songs from Bialik: Selected Poems of H. N. Bialik (Syracuse University Press) was a finalist for the American Literary Translators’ Association Award. His Lives of the Dead: Poems of Hanoch Levin earned a PEN Translates award and was released in 2019 by Arc Publications. He was ordained by Rabbi Daniel Landes and is completing a PhD on William Tyndale’s translation of Deuteronomy.


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?

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

More about: Barkhi nafshi, Prayer, Psalms, Religion & Holidays, Siddur