Question: Should one stand or sit for the Ashrei recited after Keriat haTorah, and is the answer to this question affected by the requirement to show kavod, or respect, to the Torah scroll, which is being wrapped up as Ashrei begins?
Synopsis from last week: Rabbi Yosef Grossman, zt”l, in Otzar Erchei Hayahadus explains that the Ashrei prayer’s main component is from Tehillim, the Book of Psalms (Ch. 145) with additional verses from other Psalms added to the beginning and end. The verses are organized in the order of the aleph bet, and it is said three times daily – twice as part of the Shacharit prayer, and once during Mincha.
The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 28:1) reminds us that when one recites the verse, “Pote’ach et yadecha … – You open Your hand…” – one should touch the tefillin shel yad, and when one recites “…u’masbia l’chol chai ratzon, it is proper to touch the tefillin shel rosh. Citing the Gemara (Shabbos 118b), Rabbi Grossman concludes with great praise for those who recite Ashrei as well as the pesukei d’zimra every day.
We continue with a unique aspect of this beautiful tefillah.
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Answer: Crucial to the Ashrei prayer is the requirement of kavana – concentration. This particularly applies to the verse “Pote’ach et yadecha u’masbia l’chol chai ratzon – You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” The scope of this requirement sets this prayer (Psalm 145) apart from all the others in the pesukei d’zimra. In fact, it is a unique requirement distinguished from practically every other prayer that we recite daily.
The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 51:7) states in this regard, “And it is a requirement to concentrate when one recites the verse “pote’ach et yadecha..,” (Psalms 145:16), and if one did not have proper concentration, “he is required to repeat that verse again [with concentration].”
Aruch HaShulchan (ad loc Orach Chayim 51:sk1) refers to the Gemara (Berachot 4b) that one who recites Tehila L’Dovid thrice daily is destined for Olam Habah – the [reward of the] next world. Why? Because it was composed [by King David] according to the aleph bet and more importantly it contains the verse Pote’ach at yadecha. Thus the entire focus of the Pesukei D’zimra is this one verse.
Ba’er Heitev (ad loc.) refers us to another halacha of the Mechaber (infra, Orach Chayim 91:1) which relates to the Amida: “When one prays [the Amida], one must concentrate in all of the  blessings. If, however, one is unable to concentrate for all of them, minimally one must concentrate when reciting [the first blessing of] Avot. If one did not concentrate during [the recitation of] Avot, even though he had concentrated when reciting all the other blessings, he nevertheless must again recite Avot [obviously with proper concentration, followed by all the other blessings].”
Rema (in his glosses ad loc.) states, what is now a steadfast rule: “And in our time, we do not repeat [the blessing of Avot] due to lack of concentration, for even when one will repeat it, it is quite likely that he will again lack proper concentration, therefore, why repeat [the blessing]?”
Now if such a rule exists that we need not repeat Avot, the most important blessing of the Amida, itself the primary focal point of all our prayers, due to lack of concentration, then why the absolute requirement to repeat the verse “pote’ach et yadecha,” a prayer of lesser significance, in the event that one did not concentrate during its recitation?
Therefore, Ba’er Heitev explains that being that the requirement relates only to a single verse, it is more likely that the second time around he will easily be able to concentrate on that one verse.
Another similar situation involves Keri’at Shema. The Mechaber (supra, Orach Chayim 60:5) states, “If one recited the Shema and did not concentrate while reciting the first verse of Shema Yisrael [Deuteronomy 6:4], he has not discharged his obligation. As for all the subsequent verses of Shema, if one did not concentrate, we have the following rule: that even if one was in the midst of reading [that Parasha] in the Torah scroll, or he was repairing those parshiot [Shema] at the time prescribed to recite the Shema [where his intention was clearly not to recite the Keri’at Shema], he nevertheless discharges his obligation, albeit where he, minimally, concentrated during the first verse.”
The Mechaber elaborates further (Orach Chayim 63:4), “The main requirement of concentration is for the first verse; therefore, where he recited [the Shema] but did not concentrate, minimally, when reciting the first verse, he has not discharged his obligation. Therefore, he must repeat and recite [the Shema], for even according to those authorities who rule that the performance of mitzvot does not require concentration, in this instance they too would agree that there is a need to repeat.”
Mishnah Berurah (ad loc.) explains that the requirement of repeating, in this instance, is not for lack of simple concentration, but for the sake of the central purpose of Keri’at Shema, which is accepting the yoke of the Kingship of Heaven, “Ol Malchut Shamayim.”
Thus, we see that the first verse of Keri’at Shema and “pote’ach et yadecha” in Ashrei are both similar in that they have the unique and absolute requirement for one to repeat their recitation if one lacked concentration during the first reading.
Mishnah Berurah (Orach Chayim 101:s.k. 2) clarifies the extent of the requirement of concentration to mean that one is to understand the meaning of the words, “pirush hamilot.” Thus, regarding the verse “pote’ach et yadecha,” if one understands the simple translation of the words, (lit.), “You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing,” he has discharged his obligation with this recitation. Similarly, regarding the Shema and Avot, a priori, one discharges his obligation if there is a clear understanding of the translation of the words.
Obviously, today it is within everyone’s grasp to attain such an understanding by using an ArtScroll Siddur, where one will find an excellent English translation. One who wishes to enhance his prayer experience even further and thus seeks to delve into the deeper meaning of these verses, would do well to study the commentaries to both the Siddur Beit Yaakov (by Rabbi Yaakov Emden) and the Siddur HaShelah (by Rabbi Yeshaya Halevi Horowitz), for Avot, Ashrei, Keri’at Shema and all the other Tefillot.
(To be continued)