Every Breath Praises Yah: Thoughts on Psalm 150
The command to praise God can be paralyzing.
Regardless of who or what we think God is, we don't know how to offer praise. We praise those we patronize, like children or subordinates and we praise those who have not yet disappointed us although we suspect they will, like politicians at the beginning of their terms.
But for many Jews, exhortations to “Praise the Lord” can feel foreign if not absolutely bizarre. Discuss the Lord? Sure; Seek the Lord? Perhaps. But praise the Lord? Critique is so much easier to offer - it allows us to maintain our distance and spare ourselves from disappointment. But it is not for critique that the Psalmist calls.
Psalm 150 is the end of the Book of Psalms as well as the last of Rebbe Nachman’s Tikkun Haclali, and it begins like a steamroller. “Praise the Lord!” the psalmist demands. “Praise Him in his sanctuary and strength, praise Him for His might and greatness! Praise Him!”
For many, this can be easier said than done. As Rabbi Nancy Flam puts it, “What are these mighty deeds, this abundant greatness? ...I cannot praise a power who willfully changes the laws of nature to help a particular people.” For many, the greatness of God is an abstraction and the demand to praise it is a farce.
But at the very end of the psalm, the very last line of the book of psalms, the psalmist shows his hand and lets us know what he means by praise: כֹּל הַנְּשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵּל יָהּ / Every breath praises Yah.
Every breath - every inhalation and every exhalation, every transformation of oxygen into energy, every song, every moan, every cry, every moment in which we breathe is the praise of Yah. In the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, "Every moment is a new arrival, a new bestowal. Just to be is a blessing, just to live is holy. The moment is the marvel."
May we and our children and our childrens’ children all praise Yah, now and forever more.