Halleluyah

For Miro 

The Pushkin Museum is in the heart of Moscow.  I had heard from Rabbi Millgram that the Impressionist exhibit is outstanding.  Not knowing that the museum spread out over three buildings, we entered the original building which was designed to hold a huge collection of plaster casts of classical sculptures for Moscow University.  In every room students study and make drawings of these casts.  I had not seen many of the originals so walking through the halls was worthwhile.  One of the plaster casts was of a work by Luca Della Robbia who lived in the 15th century.  The work is entitled “Cantoria.”  It is a depiction of Psalm 150 or as Miro calls it, “Halleluyah.”  The inscription is the Latin version and each section illustrates a line of the Psalm.

Halleluyah

 

Halleluya! Praise God in his sanctuary:  praise Him in the firmament of his power.  Praise Him for His mighty acts: praise Him according to His exceeding greatness.

Halleluya! Praise God in his sanctuary: praise Him in the firmament of His power. Praise Him for His mighty acts: praise Him according to His exceeding greatness.

 

Praise Him with the sound of the shofar.

Praise Him with the sound of the shofar.

 

Praise Him with the lyre and harp.

Praise Him with the lyre and harp.

 

 

Praise Him with drum and flute.

Praise Him with drum and flute.

 

Praise Him with dance.

Praise Him with dance.

 

Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe.

Praise Him with stringed instruments.

 

Praise Him upon sounding cymbals.

Praise Him upon sounding cymbals.

 

Praise Him upon loud, clashing cymbals.

Praise Him upon loud, clashing cymbals.

 

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

   Halleluyah. 

 

 

The Psalms are traditionally attributed to King David.  A few of the Psalms are listed as a song of David such as the Psalm we sing when returning the Torahs to the Ark: “Mizmor leDavid” on Shabbat and “leDavid mizmor” on other days.  Most likely the Psalms were written by a number of people.  We don’t really know when they were written but we guess somewhere between the reign of King David about 1100 BCE and 50 BCE. 

 

Della Robbia’s rendering of Psalm 150 was created at least 14 hundred years and perhaps as much as 25 hundred years later.  Instruments had not been used in Jewish worship since the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 CE.  All this makes it difficult to know exactly what the instruments were.  We have coins, freezes, etc. from the period which helps but no actual instruments have been found.

 

Listed here are some ideas as to the meaning of the names of the instruments.

 

*Teka shofar – (this one is easy) sound of the shofar

*Nevel – (?) lyre, psaltery, stringed instrument

*Kinor – harp

*Tof – tambourine, drum

*Machol – flute (In more modern Hebrew machol means dance so you can see that the artist used both; flute in one sculpture and dance in another.)

*Minim – (?) stringed instruments

*Ugav – (?) reed instrument, pipe, flute (In more modern Hebrew it means organ and the Latin translates the word as organum.  The Targum** uses the word “abuv” which is a pipe made from a reed.)

*Tsliltsley shama – sounding cymbals (shama from same word as “hear”)

*Tsliltsley truah – loud cymbals (truah is the call for alarm or battle)

 

 

Psalm 150 is said in each day in morning prayers.  What a joyful way to begin the day.  It is the last chapter in the book of Psalms (Tehillim in Hebrew), the quintessential book of praises to God. 

 

The author of Psalm 150 calls for simple instruments such as a reed pipe and noisy instruments like clanging cymbals.  Instruments used for battle calls and instruments which make sweet sounds like the harp are required.  Some instruments require more training to play, some less. 

Our Rabbis point out that this list of various instruments underscores the importance of praising God regardless of our circumstances.  We are to praise God in time of peace and in time of alarm.  We are to praise God if we have elaborate and costly means of praising God but if we only have a simple reed, we are to praise God as well.  We are compelled to use our talents and resources, be they simple or extravagant, to fill the air with praise.

 

 

 

A special thank you to one of our young men, Miro Badurina, whose love for this Halleluyah Psalm, inspired me to take a closer look at Psalm 150.

 

** Targum – Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible written between Second Temple period and the early middle ages.

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