Studying T’hilim in General –Reciting the Tiqun HaK’lali of R. Nahman of Breslev
Do you think it is wrong to say the 10 psalms that Rebbe Nachman recommended as the ‘complete remedy’ (Tikun Haklali)? I think maybe it could be a good thing to do, but I don’t know. I have done so in the past but now I am questioning it. Of course, saying tehillim is okay, but to say this particular order, with the intention of repairing things that have been broken/damaged due to my sins, etc…is that okay or not?
What does the Rav recommend?
- We read and study T’hilim for our spiritual betterment: to gain insight, to receive instruction, to imbibe wisdom, to bring us closer to HASHEM. The idea of reciting T’hilim, other parts of the T’nakh or any other text (such as the Zohar), by way of an incantation which invokes magical powers to “fix” or “repair” things is without any basis in authentic Tora tradition. Hazal, the G’onim and the Rishonim knew nothing of this notion.
- Hazal state explicitly that reciting verses or making use of holy objects such as a Sepher Tora or T’philin in order to heal sickness or achieve some other end is forbidden because it is perilously close to witchcraft, something to which the Tora is vehemently opposed (see Rambam’s MT ‘Avodha Zara 11:13; 11:12 in some editions). To “repair” one’s past sins by reading T’hilim is not that different. When Rambam z’l writes that Tora is for healing the soul rather than the body, he means that by studying, internalizing and living Tora one supplies the soul with wholesome nutrition which in turn promotes spiritual health; he was not condoning treating the Tora as a charm which miraculously “repairs” one’s sins.
- Reciting T’hilim is always an extremely positive thing. Every pereq of T’hilim is precious; each has its own theme, each one teaches and elevates us. There is no reason to single out certain chapters. If one finds, however, that particular p’raqim speak to one in an especially meaningful way, it is perfectly legitimate to have one’s personal favourites.
- The Book of T’hilim is unique and very special. It provides us with an authentic, Tora hashqapha (outlook) in all areas, in our national life as HASHEM’s chosen people-nation, and in our individual lives. The real question is how to read and study T’hilim; reciting without understanding is not very helpful.
- I can do no better than to quote HaRav Shimshon R’phael Hirsch z’l (Collected Writings Vol. IV, pp. 259-260, quoted in the foreword to the English translation): “Truly, the happiest hours of my youth were those I spent attempting to identify with the mood and train of thought of one of the Psalms, to seek out the original thought that first inspired its writing and to find the central idea around which it is built. It was pure delight for me to see the structure of the entire Psalm with all its details emerging as a living unit, as it were, around the basic concept that forms its core…. Indeed, we must never think we truly understand a Psalm as long as we can view it only as a series of loosely-jointed verses and not recreate it in our own mind as a unified, harmonious whole. It is our task to delve into the basic thought underlying each Psalm and to meditate about it as the singer himself must have contemplated before choosing the precise words and sentences in their particular sequence of thought and perception. We should then endeavour to understand every sentence, every word and every literary nuance as we come upon them, relate them to the thoughts we have thus discovered, and accept each and every word in the text not only as well-chosen but as genuinely true and vitally necessary for the proper understanding of the ideals expressed therein.” I doubt that anyone has ever better expressed and formulated the correct attitude and methodology regarding reading and studying this unique Book.
- One of HaRav Hirsch’s most important works is his commentary on T’hilim, which exists in both Hebrew and English translations from the original German. The English translation is excellent. I highly recommend studying T’hilim with this perush; it is unique and illuminating.
Rabbi David Bar-Hayim