Chanukah Special: Mizmor Shir

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מזמור שיר חנוכת הבית לדוד
A psalm – a song for the inauguration of the Temple – by David.

This mizmor, which we recite (sing) throughout the days of Chanukah, is also how nusach Ashkenaz begins P’sukei D’Zimrah of every Shacharis throughout the year.  It is chapter 30 in T’hilim.  Many say that we recite it again after Shacharis during Chanukah because it is a song for the dedication of the Beis HaMikdash.

There are two fundamental questions that we must address.  The first question is glaring.  If we look past the first pasuk, there is not one other pasuk that has anything to do with the Beis HaMikdash.  How is this chapter then a song for its dedication, and how is it so connected with Chanukah that it was selected to represent the essence of Chanukah?  The second question is, simply: Why was this chapter in T’hilim chosen to precede and introduce P’sukei D’Zimrah every day?

HaRav Avigdor Miller zt”l, in his Siddur Tefilas Avigdor, writes that this mizmor teaches us the foundation of all service to Hashem.  Aside from the first pasuk, for the rest of this mizmor, David HaMelech expresses his recognition of and thanks for Hashem’s goodness and lovingkindness.  Recognizing Hashem’s chesed – and thanking and praising Him – is our purpose in life and leads us to the fear, to the awe, and to the love of Hashem, and ultimately to d’veikus.

The mizmor ends with “Hashem Elokai l’olam odeka–Hashem, my G-d, I will thank You forever.”  HaRav Miller explains that we should be constantly thanking and praising Hashem through our contemplation, speech, and actions, and b’ezras Hashem, we will then merit to continue doing so in Olam HaBa for eternity.

The Chovos HaL’vavos – Duties of the Mind (Heart) – was written around 1040 CE by a Rishon, Rabbeinu Bachya, who preceded Rashi and Rambam chronologically.  Chovos HaL’vavos was studied by the likes of the author of the Shulchan Aruch (HaRav Yosef Karo) and the Vilna Gaon, and has been accepted in all parts of klal Yisrael.  The sefer is divided into “gates.”  The first gate is “Oneness of Hashem.”  The second gate delves, in depth, into the examination of Hashem’s lovingkindness, while the third gate discusses “Avodas Hashem” – the common sense and obligatory response of one who is the recipient of an abundance of pure, selfless kindness from Hashem.

HaRav Miller, who completed Shas annually and who was a pioneer in spreading Torah to thousands through books and tapes, was once asked how he became who he was.  While, in his humility, he denied that he was a “gadol,” he responded that, from the day he left Slabodka, he never missed a day of learning Chovos HaL’vavos.  He brought the examination and contemplation of Hashem’s awesome creations and chesed to the forefront in vivid living color in a way that perhaps nobody before him and nobody since him has.

With that in mind, perhaps HaRav Miller’s explanation of our mizmor is an extension of the principles set forth by the Chovos HaL’vavos.  The avodah performed in the Beis HaMikdash was an expression of our debt of gratitude to Hashem, which is why the gate of “Avodas Hashem” follows immediately after the gate of reflection of Hashem’s kindness.  We have no other way to “give back” other than to recognize Hashem’s kindness and express our thanks through praise and avodah, service.

We can now suggest an answer to our initial two questions.  P’sukei D’Zimrah is a general description of Hashem’s awesome kindness and greatness; accordingly, b’nei Ashkenaz thought it natural to start that part of our tefilah with David HaMelech’s recognition of and thanks for Hashem’s goodness and lovingkindness, giving us a proper context to our tefilah and avodas Hashem.

Chanukah was instituted l’hodos and l’hallel; as we close our Tefilas Shacharis, we repeat this message through this mizmor in order to take it into our day.