I’m not embarrassed by my feeling that life is short and unpredictable and I need all the help I can get. One of the ways I try to do this for myself is by saying Tehillim, prayers from the Book of Psalms. Our sages say that if we knew the power of Tehillim we would say them all day long. I remember hearing this and thinking it was almost too good to be true–all the help I need in one easy book? But, then I thought, exactly how is it that a person can actually say them all day long?
I understand now that the suggestion was meant to encourage us to set aside time for regular Tehillim saying, and to always prefer these prayers over “wasting time.”
I actually found saying Tehillim rather easy to do, not only because of the tremendous benefit I trusted I was getting, but also because the words are relatively easy to say. There’s no bowing or bending, which makes them accessible to people like me who learned to pray as an adult and not all that well. With relative ease, though, I saw I could whip out my book of Tehillim any time (better during daylight though), almost anywhere, and I was on my way to getting Help From Above. Just like that.
Well, not exactly, I quickly learned. The sages also say that the words of Tehillim are more powerful if said in the original Hebrew. Not a problem, I thought, especially if it maximizes the spiritual benefit. But because I didn’t learn the language until I was over 30, saying the Book of Psalms in Hebrew actually would take me all day long. It would also mean that nothing else would get done.
In order to start somewhere, I decided to say the daily chapters corresponding to every day of the Jewish month. This meant that by the end of every month, I said each of the 150 chapters. (This routine also helped me to know what day it was on the Jewish calendar, which made me feel very, well, Jewish.) If someone was sick, G-d forbid, I could help by saying Tehillim with that person in mind. And if I needed to catch up on these prayers, all I had to do was say Tehillim while standing in the checkout line of a store–leading to my early discovery that “checkout Tehillim” provided the added benefit of keeping me from becoming annoyed and impatient. Saying Tehillim in public did take a little getting used to though. The sages say that the power of these prayers is maximized when the words are actually said, either audibly or mouthed, which meant I had to get comfortable moving my lips when strangers were around. This wasn’t as hards as I thought, probably because people almost never noticed.
But if I wanted to have this help handy wherever I went, I thought it would also be good to carry a book of Tehillim with me in my purse. It turns out this wasn’t as easy at sounds either. If the book was too small, I couldn’t read the Hebrew letters, which meant I wasn’t saying the right words to get the maximum help. It defeated the whole purpose. But a big book required a big purse, and a big purse carried risks of its own–like the possible need to see a chiropractor–which also didn’t make sense. Today there’s a free Tehillim APP so you don’t need a book at all, but I’ve been using a mid-size book for years and I still prefer it. It even has English translation so I understand at least some of what I’m saying.
How these words do what they do, I don’t understand. I just know that these verses, mostly composed by King David thousands of years ago, helped him and who knows how many Jews since him, to travel through the long and winding road of life. And that’s enough of a reason for me to trust that they can help me, too.