All About the Book of Psalms

The Book of Psalms ('tehillim' in Hebrew, meaning 'praise') consists of 150 songs which highlight the greatness of Gd. The Book of Psalms was thought by many to be attributed to King David, although many of them are now now accredited to earlier authors, including Moses. King David appears to have drawn on other sources and incorporated them within his work to form a unique and inspiring selection of versa.

The recitation of tehillim is common among both Christians and Jews. They can be recited collectively or individually and are read either as a form of thanksgiving or a request for help.

Many psalms begin with a description of despair or a cry for help and then conclude with hope and joy. Their longevity may be due to the fact that they describe situations which are still applicable today and which before continue to inspire and help us. The recitation of psalms provides comfort to many and attracts a feeling of wellbeing and spiritual fulfillment in those who incorporated them into their prayers.

The Book of Psalms is divided into five parts, corresponding to the Five Books of Moses. These five parts are then further subdivided into sections, to be read by Jews each day. There is set rota of tehillim to be said on each day of the Hebrew Month. Psalms are also incorporated into the standard daily prayers and festival services.

In Israel and in religious communities around the world, it is a common sight to see people reciting psalms during their day to day lives, particularly while traveling. It is traditional to read tehillim when a person is sick, hoping for children, trying to find a spouse or has any kind of problem. They are also read at the happiest and saddest occasions; during a marriage and following a death. It is believed that psalms are an effective form of prayer that can bring peace and healing for those at critical points in their lives but which can also bring comfort to the souls of the deceased.

The most popular chapter to be read, especially in cases of danger or illness, is Chapter 20. This is relatively short, and can be read for an entire list of people, if required. The person reciting the psalm would add the name of the person or people they are praying for. Their Hebrew name is used, but unusually it is shared with their mother's Hebrew name and not their father's. The word "ben" (son of) for a man or "bat" (daughter of) for a woman is placed between the person and their mother's name; ie. Sara bat Rivkah or Yosef ben Rivkah. If the person being prayed for is not Jewish then we use their English name and 'son / daughter of' and then say their father's name (as non Jewish descent is via the father).

For the conductor, a song of David.
May the Lord answer you on a day of distress; may the name of the Gd of Jacob fortify you.
May He send your aid from His sanctuary, and may He support you from Zion.
May He remember all your meal offerings and may He accept your fat burnt offerings forever.
May He give you as your heart [desires], and may He fulfill all your counsel.
Let us sing praises for your salvation, and let us assemble in the name of our Gd; may the Lord fulfill all your requests.
Now I know that the Lord saved His anointed; He answered him from His holy heavens; with the mighty acts of salvation from His right hand.
These trust in chariots and these in horses, but we-we mention the name of the Lord our Gd.
They kneel and fall, but we rise and gain strength.
O Lord, save [us]; may the King answer us on the day we call.

Another tradition is to recite daily the chapter that corresponds to the year of your life. For example a 30 year old should recite Chapter 31 as they are in their 31st year. Another custom is to recite a verse beginning and ending with the same letters as one's name each day. Likewise, when praying for a sick person, in addition to Chapter 20, some also recites verses of Tehillim that begin with the same letter as their name.

Psalms are a popular and cherished form of prayer which give comfort to many. The range of events described encapsulate the human experience, past and present and are there before something which is relevant to our lives today. The role and sanctity of Gd within all of these situations underlines the very nature of our relationship with Gd. They underpin the centrality of Gd within our lives and are a vehicle to communicate both our needs, anguish, faith and appreciation.

Their incorporation into our daily prayers, as well as the allocation of specific psalms for any given situation, give them a unique place and a special affection in our daily lives.