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I have a very hard time relating to tehilim. We say multiple a day in davening and they don't mean much to me, even when reading an english translation.

Tehilim seems like it's really just religious poetry. Is it anything more, or is it just poetry that is inspiring to some people?

What is it that people connect to in Tehilim?

Any books out there that do a good job of going through tehilim?

EDIT: I saw many books with commentaries for sale. I was hoping someone could give a personal recommendation for one they felt helped them.

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  • Reciting Tehillim is a powerful segula even if you don't "connect" to it. Are you asking why it's special objectively or how to make it more personal?
    – shmosel
    Jul 26, 2023 at 1:02
  • @shmosel Both. Mainly I am asking objectively, however if the answer is that it really just is religious poetry that is supposed to be inspirational and that's why we say it in davening, then I'm looking for a recommendation on how to connect with it.
    – yalow
    Jul 26, 2023 at 1:09
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    @shmosel I really don't like saying things are 'segulas' and that's why you should do them. I like for things to have meaning behind it. There needs to be reasons for doing things.
    – yalow
    Jul 26, 2023 at 1:11

2 Answers 2

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Have you heard the famous story of the Vilna Gaon and the etrog?

There was a shortage in Vilna, and the people of the town were able to locate a single man in possession of an etrog befitting the Gaon, but he wouldn't part with it for any price. He did say, though, that he would part with it if the Gaon would give all of the reward he got for the mitzva to him. When the Vilna Gaon heard this, he was overjoyed, and danced with more fervour that Succot than any other year, claiming that he had waited his whole life for an opportunity to perform a mitzva completely Lishma, completely for Heaven.

Prayer is the main avodah, service1, and there are three levels to this service: with our heart, our soul and our might2. As you've pointed out in the question, and a lot of people would express similar sentiments, that we don't connect to the Tehillim, meaning our heart isn't in it. Even though we are aware of the reward and the fact that it fixes the world, this also doesn't seem to inspire us; our soul isn't in it either. So we are left with our might.

If we are not thinking of the reward, or following our heart, then we are simply doing it for Him. No ulterior motive, and that is our might, and indeed sometimes we need to not be in the mood to expose that diamond in us, which is that we truly do it for our Master, not our personal gain. It has been said3 that our generation only has access to this type of service, which corresponds to the highest service of all, the service of the ben aliyah4, who is motivated not at all by his own gain or fulfilment, but by the fact that this what his Master needs of him5, and is therefore doing it Lishma6.

The only thing many people of this "lowly" generation need to know is, is this truly needed of me, or not. Indeed, it is. In the leshem yichud we say before reciting Tehillim (e.g.), we explain what the purpose of saying them is: to unite the Holy One Above with the Shechina down here, we aren't doing it for reward or ourselves at all*, we are doing it for Him7. This particular job, the Lubavitcher Rebbe says, is tzorchei gvoha8, the needs of Heaven, and it is צרך גמור הוא, absolutely essential9. Of course it is, Torah is essential.

A mentsch is someone who, even though he doesn't necessarily understand why he should, nor sees personal gain in doing so, and even at times when he is not even in the mood, is always happy to give his family, community and God what they need; tell them the words and praises that they need to hear, and that his essential relationship with them needs in order to be thrive in holiness and health. To take this idea from general to specifically about Tehillim, we can now say that Hashem waits expectantly for us to say His words, the heartfelt poetry written by His beloved people (the King represents all of the nation10), which are filled with many loving praises and secrets. This invites Hashem down to His Shechina, His dwelling with His Reishit, Yisrael, the purpose of creation11.

Serving with one's might gives one a hard-earned opportunity to get away from worrying about one's owns needs and truly invest in serving someone else, and saying Tehillim truly is one of the key, essential services of our beloved God1,12. May we be blessed that in doing so, we find the promised simcha13 that is found in our might, in the joy of giving to others what they need (just because we are lowly, does not mean we do not have a real mentsch on the inside - based on the works of the Arizal, especially Shaar HaGilgulim), and that simcha should poretz gedarim, and bring our heart and our soul back in to our service as well, which will create a momentum to learn more, and delve more into the general and specific themes, commentaries and secrets of Tehillim14, and give us a tayva to sing them joyously each day.

I hope this helps discover our own connection and fire in saying Tehillim.

tl;dr: Sometimes, the only reason we are not in the mood is because we are feeling it is about us, our segula etc, and realising otherwise is all it takes to feel at home again.

* This is a Divine relationship of "I am for my Beloved, and My Beloved is for me" (שיר השירים ו׳:ג) where we both seek this dwelling, and indeed we will find that He will look after us, for instance we will find a lot of timeless relevance to our lives in the Tehillim, and those words will become prayers that He answers, B'EH!


1 - משנה תורה, הלכות תפילה וברכת כהנים א׳:א
2 - דברים ו׳:ה
3 - For example.
4 - Tanya Chapter 10
5 - As in משנה אבות א׳:ג
6 - See Rambam on ibid; משנה תורה, הלכות תשובה י׳:ד-ה; מסילת ישרים י״ח
7 - הסולם על ספר הזהר א׳ כב
8 - בשעה שהקדימו, יום ב' דחג השבועות, ה'תשי"ב
9 - לא תהי' משכלה, ש"פ משפטים, פרשת שקלים, מבה"ח אדר, ה'תשי"ב
10 - שלבו הוא לב כל קהל ישראל, משנה תורה, הלכות מלכים ומלחמות ג׳:ו; תלי בעולם כמלך על כסאו גלגל בשנה כמלך במדינה לב בנפש כמלך במלחמה, ספר יצירה, פרק ו
11 - רש"י על בראשית א׳:א׳; See also footnote 8; Based on various midrashim, cited in Tanya Likkutei Amarim, explanations there.
12 - ואהבת את ה׳ אלקיך
13 - Based on תהילים ק׳:ב
14 - I found this hidden gem of a comment, with a wide spectrum of sources to pursue, in the yeshiva world coffee room topic on this same question

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  • I appreciate the thoughtful answer, but I don't feel that it answers the question. First of all the question was partially asking if there is anything special about Tehilim in a vacuum, meaning whether or not if I could personally connect to it. That point is not addressed in this answer. But that's fine really I take more issue on another point (next comment)
    – yalow
    Aug 1, 2023 at 1:32
  • I take issue with the premise that his even answers the personal side of it. I cannot accept that Tehilim should be a mitzva that you do 'just because' even if your not in the mood. It can't be done like you would do shiluach hakan (random mitzva example). The essence of Tehilim is Tefilla and davening is not something you can 'just do' the essence of davening is the thoughts/ feelings behind it and the connection to it. So I don't think you can apply the 'Might" principle to Tehilim, Something is lacking if we need to come on to "Might" for why we are saying Tehilim.
    – yalow
    Aug 1, 2023 at 1:37
  • Thank you, @yalow. Indeed something is lacking, that's yeridat hadorot. Maybe think about it like this, when a lover recites love poetry for their partner, what matters most is that the words work for the recipient. What I am saying is that if you make that your focus, that's the only real way to bring in the reciter's heart into it. Simply trying to make it meaningful for the reciter on raw effort is not enough to break through the low ceiling we are in these days. If this just doesn't speak to you, fair enough. I hope you find the answers you are looking for, much hatzlacha
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Aug 1, 2023 at 7:03
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Tehillim is one of the books of the Bible, and as such, it has all the meaning and holiness of the Bible. As with every other book in the Bible, it was written with divine inspiration (see Bava Basra 14-15).

Many of the psalms were written by King David to be used as part of the Temple service. Others were written about significant events in his life, and will resonate with people going through similar events.

I would recommend studying Tehillim with a commentary, of which there are many. A quick search shows this volume which seems to have been written with someone like you in mind. If you have a local Jewish bookstore, you could see what they have and if one sefer catches your eye. Artscroll alone has several books on Tehillim of varying length and depth.

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  • I don't dislike saying it's divine. Is there a reason it was written so poetically? Would you say it was created with the intention to be used for praying? Can you give an example of one that is about Events in King David's life that resonate with people? I looked online also and saw a bunch of commentaries, because there are so many I was hoping for a recommendation for one that people felt helped them.
    – yalow
    Jul 26, 2023 at 13:00
  • I honestly don't really relate to your problem; I find Tehillim very easy to relate to. Which one I might relate to more changes over time, but there are many. In a way, Tehillim is the best expression of the deep emotional journey of a man committed to G-d and Torah, while he also navigates life's ups and downs, including some of his own making.
    – N.T.
    Jul 26, 2023 at 19:45

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