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In between the 'Shir HaMaalot' that precedes birchat hamazon and the the blessings themselves, there are a few psukim beginning תהלת ה' ידבר פי . Some people add these, and some don't. What's the origin of the custom? Which groups practice it?

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Welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for this question, which comes up all the time! –  Isaac Moses May 15 '11 at 2:16
    
See the article on this topic in ChidusheiTorah@NDS chidusheitorah.com/sites/default/files/… –  Ariel K Oct 17 '13 at 4:23

3 Answers 3

According to Rabbi Ari Enkin (link) "The origin for reciting these verses is unclear." He says that the Kaf Hachaim O.C. 157:22 notes this minhag. However, the Kaf Hachaim there (link) lists a number of pesukim to say, two of which are part of the four one is likely to hear nowadays:

ואלו הפסוקים שצריך לאומרם אחר מים אחרונים קורם בהמ״ז מזמור אלהים יחננו וכו׳ כולו, ואח״כ פסוק אברכה את ה׳ בכל עת וכו׳ סוף דבר הכל נשמע וכו׳ תהלת ה׳ ידבר פי וכו׳ ואנחנו נברך יה וכו׳ וידבר אלי זה השלחן וכו'. שעה״מ פ׳ עקב. אור צדיקים סי׳ כ״ג או׳ ל״ה.

etc.

I'm not familiar with the sources that the Kaf Hachaim quotes here.

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Note that Syrian Jews, at least, do say avar'cha, sof, t'hilas, vaanachnu, and vay'daber today. –  msh210 May 15 '11 at 13:23
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@msh210: As does Nusach Ari. –  Alex May 15 '11 at 18:17
    
Interesting treatment. R. Enkin attributes it to the Arizal; I couldn't tell from what source, though. Maybe the attributions in the Kaf Hachaim are works of the Arizal? –  Laizer May 15 '11 at 18:20
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It's Shaar HaMitzvot Parashat Ekev (of the Arizal). –  Hacham Gabriel Jun 26 '12 at 19:38
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The first source is Shaar Hamitzvos Parshas Eikev of Rav Chaim Vital (found here‌​, at the bottom of the page), and the second is Or Tzadikim of Rav Meir ben Judah Leib Poppers (found here, note ל״ה). –  Malper Oct 16 '13 at 22:14

The question of Tehillath HaShem is actually what sparked my question yesterday about R' Hirsch. I was told that Shir HaMa'aloth was the favorite hymn of the early (proto?-)Zionists, and so R' Hirsch, the anti-Zionist that he (apparently) was, insisted on adding "legitimate" words of praise to G-d prior to Birkath HaMazon, in order to separate it from the paragraph usurped by the unsavory Zionists.

I have no source, as I would like more information myself. I made this an answer instead of a comment for two reasons.

  1. I wanted to bring this question more attention, and

  2. it allowed me more space to write it all.

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Can't be, though. The custom of saying these four pesukim goes back to various recensions of the Arizal's siddur (17th century and onward), long before R. Hirsch, and long before political Zionism. (See sources cited in Dayan Raskin's notes to the Baal Hatanya's Siddur.) For that matter, the custom of saying Shir Hamaalos also goes back to the Arizal (see previous page there, note 3), although granted that the Zionists might have re-appropriated that for their purposes. –  Alex Dec 12 '11 at 2:35
    
This is also what I've heard. In fact, "Mi yimaleil gevurot HaShem" is directly in contrast to the secular Zionist Hanukah song: "Mi yimaleil gevurot yisrael" –  Charles Koppelman Aug 17 '12 at 17:16
    
@Alex, perhaps R' Hirsch was trying to reclaim the Minhag by adding (back) the Pesukim that had fallen out of use among Ashkenazim. Interestingly, as a child I remember singing Shir HaMa'aloth without Tehillath H', for a couple of years, until my parents decided to adopt the latter Pesukim. I was always curious if it was the influence of the Bentchers we used or the influence of our close friends, (who, at the time, helped my parents learn a lot as they were becoming more religious, and) who happened to have strong Yekke customs. –  Seth J Aug 17 '12 at 17:39
    
@CharlesKoppelman The Zionist song wasn't composed until the 1930's. –  Fred Nov 3 '13 at 19:57

Rav Haim Vital, a student of the Arizal, writes in his book Shaar Hamitzvos, parshas Eikev (link - at the bottom of the page):

אמנם אלו הפסוקים צריך לאומרם אחר מים אחרונים קודם ברכת המזון מזמור אלהים יחוננו כו' כולו ואח''כ פסוק אברכה את ה' בכל עת וכו' כי הסטרא אחרא העומדת על השולחן כנ''ל בשם הזוהר הנה הוא נקרא בכל עת בסוד ואל יבא בכל עת אל הקדש וכדי לסלקו משם צריך לומר הב לן ונבריך כמ''ש בינוקא פרשת בלק ולכן אומרים זה הפסוק אברכה את ה' בכל עת כו' תמורת הב לן ונברך ואח''כ פסוק סוף דבר הכל ואח''כ פסוק תהלת ה' ידבר פי וגומר ואח''כ פסוק ואנחנו נברך יה וגומר ואח''כ יאמר וידבר אלי זה השלחן אשר לפני ה' ואח''כ יאמר ברכת המזון

These are the psukim one must say after mayim achronim before Birkas Hamazon: First all of "מזמור אלהים יחוננו וכו" (Tehillim 67), followed by the pasuk "אברכה את ה' בכל עת וכו" (Tehillim 34:2). For the sitra achra is situated on the table as cited to the Zohar [Trumah 154] above; it is referred to as "בכל עת" on a sod level by the pasuk "ואל יבא בכל עת אל הקדש" (Vayikra 16:3), and in order to remove it from there one must say "הב לן ונברך" [the Sefardi nusach for zimmun] as is described by the Yanuka in Zohar parshas Balak, so therefore we say the pasuk of "אברכה את ה' בכל עת וכו" in place of "הב לן ונברך". After this, one says the pasuk of "סוף דבר הכל וכו" (Koheles 12:13), the pasuk of "תהלת ה' ידבר פי וכו" (Tehillim 145:21), the pasuk of "ואנחנו נברך יה וכו" (Tehillim 115:18), the pasuk of "וידבר אלי זה השלחן אשר לפני ה" (Yechezkel 41:22), and then one says Birkas Hamazon.

So it sounds like this came from a kabbalistic custom to remove the sitra achra from the table (though I'm not sure if Rav Haim Vital is saying that only the pasuk of "avarcha" removes the sitra achra, or all of the psukim that he lists). I suspect that the Ashkenazic custom to recite the specific verses of תהילת ה (but not אברכה etc.) evolved out of a fusion of the Sefardic rite which followed this kabbalistic source, and the Ashkenazic rite which originally did not (as suggested here). The rumours that these verses were connected to anti-Zionism seem unlikely to be historically accurate.

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