Psalm 96: Can We Sing a New Song Every Week


The second psalm of Kabbalat Shabbat begins with another energetic call to worship:

שִׁירוּ לַה’ שִׁיר חָדָשׁ שִׁירוּ לַה’ כָּל־הָאָרֶץ׃

Shiru l’Adonai shir hadash, shiru l’Adonai kol ha’aretz.

Sing to Adonai a new song, sing to Adonai all the earth.

There is a clear irony when we begin part of our longstanding order of prayers with the claim that we should be singing a new song. When does our siddur give us a chance to use our creativity and sing a song that’s a littler newer than the ancient prayers?

Perhaps, the entire psalm is supposed to be that call for a new sort of prayer. The following verses elaborate on this call for the inhabitants of the world to raise their voice in prayer to God deserving of praise for the original work of creation. The psalm repeats this pattern of call to praise followed by a rationale one more time.

Some commentators argue that this new song will be the following psalms that we sing in the rest of Kabbalat Shabbat, but again, this song becomes old. Even if this psalm is suggesting that we try harder to introduce new melodies to our service, any melody can only be new for a short period of time, and while there are some people in the world with overflowing musical creativity, after awhile, a lot of songs, even if the melody has not been recorded before, will sound the same.

When look at the book of Psalms, you may notice that the language of the psalms is fairly ambiguous. All of the psalms we sing on Friday night are psalms of praise, so they revolve around images of God as supreme, and evoke feelings of self transcendence, but when you look at the wider variety of psalms that express feelings of vulnerability to poet evokes sickness and pain, but the language is vague enough, that it can speak to someone with a variety of ailments. The prayer book is like a toolbox whose language is able to evoke emotions that speak to many situations all at once. Even as we may say the same words, we are in different emotional places, and the words are open enough to interpretation that we can find our place in them.

Similarly, this psalm calls us to join in with the voices of nature to praise God. By looking beyond our own situation to all of the natural world, the psalm is asking us to find the wonderous things that are already in the world, and to listen for them to find the motivation to be thankful and amazed at the world around us. There are weeks where this is more difficult since we may have to work harder to ignore the pain that also exists in the world. Finding moments of wonder, however, can give us a sense of hope even during difficult times.

This search for new wonders in the world can shift our perspective and should change the way that we hear the calls to praise God for the joy of creation. When we use the end of the week to reflect on that happened to us and to look for those moments of joy, we may be singing the same words, but we sing it with a renewed sense of joy making familiar words into a new song.