While the primary focus of the Shacharit (morning) service is the recitation of the Shema and the Shemoneh Esrei (also known as the Amidah), there are several sections of prayers that precede these central prayers. The longest of these sections is known as Pesukei D’zimra, the “Chapters of Song.”
The purpose of the Pesukei D’zimra is to prepare for prayer. “Our Rabbis taught: One should not stand up to say prayer while immersed in sorrow, or idleness, or laughter, or chatter, or frivolity, or idle talk, but only while still rejoicing in the performance of some religious act” (Brachot 31a). The preparatory religious act that has been ordained is the recitation of Psalms 145-150, which are specifically psalms praising God. In time, additional prayers were added to this section, including other psalms, readings from other biblical texts and the song recited by Moses after the crossing of the Sea of Reeds.
Initially, the reading of these preliminary Psalms was an act done primarily by the pious, a fact noted by Rabbi Jose who said: “May my portion be of those who recite the entire Hallel every day…[Hallel refers to] the ‘Pesukei D’Zimra’” (Shabbat 118b).
One can view the Pesukei D’zimra as a form of meditation, or perhaps it is simply a question of appreciation. Let’s say that one had just received a gift – a beautiful oil painting. Upon first receiving the painting, the new owner looked at it and thanked the person who had given it to him/her. More than that, the person would probably express his/her appreciation by commenting upon the stunning detail, the intricate color, and the delicate technique. The more one looks at the art, however, the more one realizes what an amazing accomplishment it is and begins to praise the true artist.
At this point, one is ready to pray.
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