Perek Shirah: When I was in tenth grade two of my friend’s and I decided to go to Florida on winter vacation. We were a group of three Orthodox-Jewish girls. On the plane on the way back there were two religious women sitting in front of us. I noticed that they were both learning something the entire ride. The book they were reading from was beautifully decorated with pictures of animals and nature. The women were also clearly quite emotional while they were reading. Finally towards the end of the flight I gained the courage to ask them what they were reading. The women were more than happy to talk. They explained that they were reading Perek Shirah “Chapter of Songs” a compilation of biblical and rabbinic verses in order to sing G-d’s praise. The book is organized into chapters based on who is singing the praises – sometimes animals, heavens or man. That explained all the beautiful pictures. The women also explained that many people recite Perek Shirah (the entire book!) for forty consecutive days in order to merit various things such as a spouse, children, or health. The woman on the plane opened up to me and said that they were actually both in their late thirties and single. They had been dating for years and started saying Perek Shirah 35 days ago in the hopes that they might finally merit to meet someone. I never expected the flight home from Florida to be so emotional, but that story will probably stick with me forever.
Psalms: One of the most well memorized books is the Book of Psalms. The most common opinion is that they were written by King David when he was running away from Saul. The fact that they were written by a man during a perilous period is quite apparent from the text. People of many religious recite psalms in times of need, and it is not uncommon for people of faith to memorize countless verses. When I was in University I had two Christian friends – Caleb and Marissa – they got together every Sunday evening to sit and recite Psalms together. On one occasion I walked by Marissa’s room. From the rhythm it was clear that they had memorized much of what they were reciting. Caleb, who came from a very religious family, told me that he actually knew the entire book by heart!
I have lived in Israel for the past four years. I frequently travel by bus early in the morning, and I am always amazed by what I see. On almost every bus route that I have been on between the hours of six and nine in the morning I tend to see most people doing one of two things. As would be expected anywhere, I see many people who are dozing off, trying to catch a little extra sleep before getting to work. However, what I find amazing is the number of people I see with an open book of psalms in hand reading the words intently. What is even more impressive is the diversity of the people who chose to spend their morning bus ride reciting psalms. Though I probably shouldn’t have interrupted, my curiosity took over as I approached one woman just last week. She was a pale blonde older woman wearing a mini skirt and a tank top. I watched this woman as she recited psalm after psalm after psalm. There was something about the way that she was focused that told me that she had a story. I watched her for about twenty minutes hoping she would take a break at some point so I could talk to her, but alas, she showed no sign of ending her prayers any time soon. Finally, I got up and approached her, tapping on her shoulder and noting exactly what I observed. I asked her if there was anything in particular that she was thinking of and told her that I would be happy add my own prayers as well. I will admit that the woman looked a bit startled by my imposing but then she did open up. The lady explained that she was praying for her daughter, who had been trying to conceive for twelve years unsuccessfully. The woman explained that saying the psalms was the only thing that gave her comfort – as she felt it was the only thing she could really do. Through tears the woman said “Psalms are magical, my mother prayed that she would be pregnant with me.”