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Psalm 19  Print

Words Acceptable to God

Rav Avraham Isaac Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Israel

Psalm 19: Words Acceptable to God

"May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be acceptable before You, God - my Rock and Redeemer." [Ps 19]

This verse is added to the end of the Amida, the central prayer said three times a day. Yet the Talmud was in doubt - does this verse belong before the Amida, or after it? Should it be said beforehand, and thus refer to the words of prayer about to be said? Or should it be said afterwards, referring to the prayers previously recited?

This verse - "May the words of my mouth ... be acceptable" - is itself a plea. What are we asking for?

The meaning of this small prayer depends on the discussion above. If recited at the start of the Amida, then it refers the prayers about to be said. It expresses the desire that the following prayers will engage the heart and uplift the mind. We hope that we will succeed in directing our prayers with proper concentration ("kavana"). It is a prayer for a powerful, elevating Amida.

On the other hand, if the verse belongs at the end of the Amida, then it really refers to the lingering after-effects of the prayer session. R. Yehuda HaLevy (in his book "The Kuzari") wrote that each prayer serves to uplift the soul and refine one's actions. But with the passage of time, we become inevitably involved in mundane matters, and the light from the previous prayer gradually dims. Until the hour of the next prayer arrives, and we once again renew the light of the soul.

When said after the Amida, this request of "May the words of my mouth ... be acceptable" reflects our desire that the Amida should properly enlighten the soul even after we have finished praying. The outpouring of the soul in prayer should serve as an effective means of sanctifying life on a practical level.

So how did the Sages resolve this question? They noted that King David placed this verse in the 19th psalm, after 18 chapters of prayer. So too, the proper place of this verse is at the end of Amida, after its 18 blessings ("Shmone Esray").

This is the primary benefit and the fundamental purpose of prayer. Even more important than feelings of elevation while praying, are the practical effects that prayer should have on our personality traits and actions. This we learn from David, sweet singer of Israel, who would raise up the level of his actions, to approximate the sublime feelings of enlightenment he experienced during the hour of prayer itself.

[Ayn Aya I:47]