Don’t Try, Praise!

Rabbi Misha Shulman
4 min readApr 1, 2022
Photo by Itamar Dotan Katz

In order to praise our existence with a full throat one has to be a prophet, a poet or suffer from some other form of insanity. Today, with the sophisticated ways of modernity, the ancient way of a complete succumbing to wonder, is too often replaced with a complex type of praise. “Try to praise the mutilated world,” wrote the Lviv born poet Adam Zagajewski. Not only does the poet relieve us of the need to see the perfection of the world by calling it mutilated, he also instructs to “try to praise,” rather than to praise. This seems somehow more doable than “Let every breath of life praise Yah — Hallelujah!

19th century German Rabbi, Samson Refael Hirsch explains this line from Psalm 150 as follows:

“Let every breath hear, recognize, sense and perceive God in all things that life may bring, in the serious introspection of solemn moments as well as in pensive meditation; in the widespread rejoicing of public jubilation as well as in the quiet serenity of inner happiness; in the unexpectedness of great surprise as well as in the stirring force of profound emotions: Kol Haneshamah tehalel Yah, Hallelujah!

This is a mammoth task. Unattainable really. A prayer or intention rather than a conquerable assignment. How in the world might we reach such a state of profound acceptance of the often-invisible justice of the universe?

Let’s try another modern poet/lunatic, one Mr. Cohen. He suggests the following approach:

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Now there’s a perfection we can recognize, because it’s the story of the failure of all of our lives. Still, despite our own failures and despite the continued failure of God — or perhaps thanks to it — we praise. Well, there’s some praise we can get behind!

No. We can do better. It’s in our DNA. Praise to Jews is like snow to Eskimos. We have an endless spring of words for it. Surely one of them can suit us.

Rabbi Misha Shulman

Jerusalem born, Misha has been working at the cusp of religion, art and activism since 1999. Rabbi @ The New Shul and Director of School for Creative Judaism.