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Thought for the Day: Ashrei Three Times a Day and You are Good to Go

TANSTAAFL  What?  You aren't/weren't a science fiction geek?  Moreover, you are too lazy to click that link?  Fine... I'll tell you: There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.  Them are good words by which to live.  It is similar to, but not quite the same as: Anything that sounds too good to be true, is.  The latter implies that someone is trying to con you, whereas TANSTAAFL is simply an attitude adjustment to set expectations.  If it has great rewards, then it will take work.

Chazal (Brachos 4b) tell us that anyone who says תהילה לדוד -- aka, Ashrei (תהילים קמ''ה) -- three times a day is guaranteed to be an Olam HaBah guy or gal (I really, really hate being politically correct, but it's the climate now-a-days... sigh).  Rashi comments: כנגד שלוש תפילות/corresponding to the three prayer services.  The gemara wants to know what's so special about Ashrei (I know, I know... Ashrei is from the preamble of two verses from other chapters of Psalms, but that's what we all call it).  Perhaps because it is in Aleph-Beis order; how about Psalms 119 that is also in Aleph-Beis order, but has eight verses for each letter?  Nope, answers the gemara, it is because of:
 פּוֹתֵחַ אֶת-יָדֶךָ;    וּמַשְׂבִּיעַ לְכָל-חַי רָצוֹן./You open of Your hand and satisfy every living thing with favor.
Hmm... wonders the gemara, but then you could just as well use Hallel HaGadol (Psalms 136)!  The gemara concludes that Ashrei has both, so it wins.

Let's leave aside for just a moment what this really means and how a simple recital of one Psalm thrice daily can guarantee me eternal life.  (Spoiler alert: TANSTAAFL; you are going to have to put some work into this one, but surprisingly little, actually.)  The Maharsha notes a basic issue with Rashi's explanation: we don't say Ashrei at each prayer service.  Instead, we say Ashrei twice in the morning and once in the afternoon.  I direct you to the Maharsha for real understanding; but what's follows is what I gleaned.

Rashi is to be understood as saying: Just as there are three prayer services, the fundamental ideas expressed by Ashrei need to be reiterated thrice daily.  The idea of Aleph-Beis order refers to Torah; which is expressed using the same letters that were used to create the world.  The concepts that Ashrei and Hallel HaGadol -- פּוֹתֵחַ אֶת-יָדֶךָ -- obviously refers to parnassa/food.  As noted in Avos 3:21: without parnassa, there is no Torah; without Torah, there is no parnassa.  That is, to perform a mitzvah requires a cooperative partnership between the body and the soul; that partnership is mediated and sustained by parnassa.  On the other hand, if the partnership does not involve itself with Torah and mitzvos, then there is no reason for parnassa to be provided.

That concept -- that the body and soul need each other to fulfill their mission in this world -- is so fundamental that it needs to be expressed out loud three times each day.  Speech, of course, is the perfect vehicle, as it is the quintessential expression of the body/soul partnership.  One may also speculate that this concept needs a double expression in the morning before starting the mundane business of actually living in this world.  In the waning hours of the afternoon one needs another shot of Ashrei to refocus our attention on why we are here.

So what's the work?  To believe it and follow through by living it.  In other words (and to chahp a pun, to boot), the real benefit of saying תהילה לדוד three times a day requires more than lip service.


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