April 16, 2024
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Mizmor L’Todah: Standing or Sitting?

Have you ever noticed that some stand and others sit for Mizmor L’Toda, a most joyous perek of Tehillim that we recite each day? The issue depends to some extent if one is Ashkenazic or Sephardic. Even amongst Sephardic Jews, however, different practices exist.

Ashkenazic Practice

Shaarei Teshuva (Orach Chaim 51:9, citing the Yad Aharon) and Rav Shlomo Ganzfried in his Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (14:4) record the practice to stand for Mizmor L’Todah. They explain that this practice stems from the fact that we offer korbanot while standing, and Mizmor L’Todah takes the place of a korban todah (thanksgiving offering). Mizmor L’Todah corresponding to the korban todah is a long-venerated idea, already articulated by the Tur (Orach Chaim 51 and 281). Ashkenazic practice follows this approach.

The Practice of Many Sephardic Jews

However, the Shaarei Teshuva cites the Arizal who believes (as recorded in the Sha’ar HaKavanot) that we should recite Mizmor L’Todah while sitting. The Kaf HaChaim (Orach Chaim 51:48) endorses the Ari, as is typical for him, and recommends sitting for Mizmor L’Todah. Many Sephardic siddurim, therefore, include instructions to sit for Mizmor L’Todah.

This Sephardic approach is in line with the Beit Yosef (Orach Chaim 281 s.v. U’Mah Shekatav B’Ashkenaz), who does not accept the idea of Mizmor L’Todah as corresponding to the korban todah. Instead, Beit Yosef explains that the role of Mizmor L’Todah is one of hoda’ah, thanking Hashem. Let us try to develop this idea.

The Siddur She’lah and Rav Yaakov Emden explain that no day goes by without man experiencing a “miracle.” However, the recipients of these miracles do not always recognize them (Niddah 31a). Therefore, we recite Mizmor L’Todah to acknowledge the nissim inherent in every day.

In addition, I suggest that reciting Mizmor L’Todah is a hoda’ah of monumental importance. The Torah (Devarim 28:47) warns that Hashem holds us accountable if we fail to serve Hashem with joy. Mizmor L’Todah includes the critical pasuk of “Ivdu et Hashem b’simcha,” serving Hashem with joy, which reminds us of the centrality of cherishing our extraordinary role as Jews who carry out Hashem’s will.

The words of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 51:9) fit perfectly with this idea, as Rav Karo states, “One should sing Mizmor L’Todah, since all songs will be nullified in Mashiach’s time, except for Mizmor L’Todah.” The vital importance of Jews joyously serving Hashem is timeless and eternal.

Thus, since Mizmor L’Todah in the Beit Yosef’s eyes does not correspond to the korban todah, it is recited when sitting. Interestingly, Rav Mordechai Lebhar (Magen Avot Orach Chaim 51:9) notes that many Moroccan Jews customarily stand for Mizmor L’Todah, for reasons we shall explain shortly.

Mizmor L’Todah on Erev Pesah and Erev Yom Kippur

The Rama (Orach Chaim 51:9) records the practice to omit Mizmor L’Todah on a day when we do not offer a korban todah. As the Rama lists, the days are Shabbat, Yom Tov, Erev Yom Kippur, Erev Pesach, and Chol HaMoed Pesach. A korban todah is not offered on Erev Pesach or Chol HaMoed Pesach since we bake many of its loaves as chametz. A korban todah is not brought on Erev Yom Kippur since it does not allow sufficient time to finish eating the korban. All Ashkenazic Jews follow the Rama.

Rav Mordechai Lebhar (ad. loc.) notes that the Moroccan custom follows the Rama. This practice follows the typical Moroccan tradition to follow the Rama if the Shulchan Aruch is silent about the issue. Thus, it is not surprising that many Moroccan Jews stand for Mizmor L’Todah since they follow the Rama in such a case.

However, the Perisha (Orach Chaim 281:3) notes that according to Beit Yosef, who does not link Mizmor L’Todah with the korban todah, Mizmor L’Todah may be recited on Pesach (and Erev Yom Kippur). Indeed, the Kaf HaChaim (Orach Chaim 51:51) and Yalkut Yosef (Orach Chaim 51:32) endorse the custom of many Sephardim to recite Mizmor L’Todah on Erev Kippur, Erev Pesach, and Chol HaMoed Pesach. Accordingly, many Sephardic siddurim instruct one to say Mizmor L’Todah on these days.

Omitting Mizmor L’Todah on Shabbat and Yom Tov

Accordingly, we wonder why on Shabbat and Yom Tov many Sephardic Jews omit Mizmor L’Todah (as noted by the Beit Yosef, ad. loc.). The answer is that Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbat replaces Mizmor L’Todah on Shabbat and Yom Tov. (Kaf HaChaim, Orach Chaim 51:49, explains that the Torah also refers to Yom Tov as Shabbat, e.g., Vayikra 23:15.)

This idea fits beautifully with our approach to Mizmor L’Todah. Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbat expresses the same themes as Mizmor L’Todah—the joy of serving Hashem, “Tov l’hodot LaHashem ulezamer l’Shimcha Elyon,” it is beautiful to thank Hashem and celebrate His great Name in song.

Why is a change made for Shabbat if both mizmorim express the same theme? We answer based on a magnificent idea articulated by Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (Shiurim L’Zecher Abba Mari z”l 2:61-62). Rav Soloveitchik explains (in light of Shabbat 119a and Rambam Hilchot Shabbat 30:3 and 7) that an essential component of Shabbat is making notable changes for the day. In the superb phraseology of the Rav, “Distinguishing the day and making it special is a central pillar of Shabbat.”

The Rambam writes that a poverty-stricken individual fulfills oneg Shabbat by adding beets to his Shabbat menu. Asks the Rav, how does adding beets improve the quality of the Shabbat food? He explains that any added food item for Shabbat achieves the glorious goal of making Shabbat special.

Although the themes of Mizmor L’Todah parallels that of Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbat, reciting the latter mizmor on Shabbat and Yom Tov furthers the crucial goal of distinguishing these days as special and unique.

Conclusion

Whether one stands or sits for Mizmor L’Todah, the crucial objective of this beautiful mizmor is to internalize the great privilege of living a jubilant Jewish life permeated with abundant meaning in service of Hashem. May we successfully adopt this mindset to the fullest and successfully transmit this attitude to succeeding generations!


Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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