05. What Are Pesukei De-zimra?

The main part of Pesukei De-zimra is the last six psalms in Tehilim (145-150), the most important being the first (145, “Tehilla Le-David”). Customarily, this psalm is introduced with the verses beginning with the word “ashrei,” and that psalm is therefore generally referred to as Ashrei. The other five psalms each starts and ends with the word “Halleluyah,” about which R. Yossi says, “May my portion be among those who complete the Hallel every day” (Shabbat 118b).

During the post-talmudic era of the Savora’im, the recitation of Hodu (1 Divrei Ha-yamim 16:8-36), the song and praise that King David recited as he returned the Ark of God to the Mishkan from its Philistine captivity, was instituted. Later, in the Temple, they would recite half this praise while offering the morning Tamid and the other half when offering the afternoon Tamid (Beit Yosef §50). In the Ashkenazic rite, Hodu is said after Barukh She-amar so that all the songs of praise and exaltation are included within the berakhot of Pesukei De-zimra (Tur §51). In the Sephardic rite, Hodu is said before Barukh She-amar because it is a continuation of the recitation of the Tamid offering (Ha-eshkol; Kol Bo).

The Savora’im also ordained a collection of verses, called Yehi Khevod after its first verse, to be recited before Ashrei (Sofrim 17:11). These verses reinforce faith in God and in the redemption of Israel. Arizal explained the hidden meanings of these verses at length (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 51:13).

Later, during the Geonic era, it became customary to add more psalms and verses to Pesukei De-zimra. They ordained reciting Mizmor Le-toda (Tehilim 100), for the Sages say that in the future, all songs will be nullified except for this one (Vayikra Rabba 9:7). Therefore, it is proper to recite it with a melody. It is not said on Shabbatot and festivals; instead, Mizmor Shir Le-yom Ha-Shabbat (Psalm 92) is recited. 1

During the Geonic era, some had the custom to add verses from the Torah and from Neĥemia, such as Va-yevarekh David (1 Divrei Ha-Yamim 29:10-13 and Neĥemia 9:6-11) and Shirat Ha-yam, the song that Moshe and the people of Israel sang to God after the splitting of the sea (Shemot 15:1-18). Although the main parts of Pesukei De-zimra are taken from Tehilim (as stated in the words of Barukh She-amar) there is no problem with adding Va-yevarekh David, which is not from Psalms, or Shirat Ha-yam, which is Moshe’s song (Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 14 n. 3).

  1. According to Ashkenazic custom, Mizmor Le-toda corresponds to the toda (thanksgiving) offering, which contained ĥametz. For that reason, it is not recited on Erev Pesaĥ, Ĥol Ha-mo’ed Pesaĥ, or Erev Yom Kippur, since on those days no toda offering was brought, since it could not be eaten the next day. However, in Sephardic custom,  Mizmor Le-toda is recited as praise and thanksgiving, not to commemorate the toda offering, and therefore it is also recited on those specific days (Beit Yosef and Rema 51:8).