Bo’u sh’arav b’sodah, chatzeirosav bis’hilah; hodu lo, barchu sh’mo.
(Therefore) enter His gates with thankfulness (for the miracles), (and proceed into) His courtyard to express the praise of His greatness, (and) thank Him for the good He has done for you, and praise His Name (which represents His way of running the world to do good to us).
Gates surround what is inside the gates. This means that we first must enter through the gates and then proceed to the courtyard.
We begin our coming closer to Hashem through “todah” – by acknowledging our debt to serve Hashem, and by being grateful for the privilege and opportunity to come closer to Him. Todah is an awareness of what Hashem means to us personally.
Next, we come even closer to Hashem as we enter into His courtyard, where we excitedly sing t’hilah – the praise of His mighty acts, which stems from contemplation of all His works in general, in which He reveals His greatness, His providence, and the nature of His sovereignty.
When we express todah, we sense that Hashem is our personal G-d, whereas t’hilah is the expression of a broader view of Hashem as G-d over all. Before we can join others in praising Hashem in a broader praise, we must first truly feel that He is our own personal G-d Who takes special care of us and is involved in every aspect of our personal lives.
In a sense, it is much easier to praise Hashem for “all” and see His control over the world in general, than to recognize His control and goodness in every aspect of my own life, which includes events and life settings that are both sweet and bitter, but that are all for my benefit and best interest.
As Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch writes: “To sing G-d’s praises in hymns, but to deny Him in our own life and destiny – to cast the universe at G-d’s feet, but to stand aside ourselves, indifferent with our own tiny personality – that would be more than idle folly; it would be criminal blasphemy.”
[The above is mostly based on Praise, My Soul! by HaRav Avigdor Miller zt”l and The Hirsch Psalms by HaRav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch zt”l.]
Perhaps this is why we begin our morning tefilah of Shacharis with “Adon Olam,” where we speak about our personal relationship with Hashem. First, we remind ourselves that the Adon Olam, the Master of the entire universe, is my personal G-d of compassion (“Keili”), my living redeemer Who cares about me more than any human being cares about me (“Chai go’ali”), and the Rock Who gives me strength to endure my pain in times of trouble (“Tzur chevli”). The rest of “Adon Olam” continues to refer to my personal relationship with Hashem and my total trust in Him.
In the Pathway to Prayer siddur, HaRav Mayer Birnbaum writes:
“This song of praise of the King of the universe acknowledges that He is infinite. Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch writes that although we mention his greatness and His eternity, nevertheless, we are confident that He is so near to us that each of us may call Him “my G-d,” Who gives me life and delivers me from all difficulties. This, writes Rav Shimon Schwab, is a fitting introduction to the entire tefilah: that everyone should know that Hashem has a personal relationship with him and is interested in hearing his tefilah.”
After we internalize Hashem’s control and involvement in our personal lives, then we can move on to the P’sukei D’Zimrah, where we mostly praise Hashem for His general greatness in the world and His control and providence over every aspect of the world at large.
To access print versions of previous Tefilah segments, please visit OU Torah’s Search portal, select the Topic of “Tefillah,” and then select “Weekly Tefilah Focus” from the Series list.
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