Classical Hebrew poetry was composed not in rhyming verses, but in pairs of clauses that rhyme conceptually. Each line has two parts, with similar, poetically complimentary meanings.
Now, when we chant Ashrei, we chant it such that the leader chants a full line, the congregation chants a full line, the leader chants a line, etc. However, it was meant to be chanted with the leader chanting clause one, congregation chanting clause two.
Such that, rather than:
Shatz: “Ashrei yoshvei veitecha, od y’hal’lucha selah.”
Kehilah: “Ashrei ha’am shekacha lo, ashrei ha’am she’Adonai elohav.”
You would instead have:
Shatz: “Ashrei yoshvei veitecha.”
Kehilah: “Od y’hal’lucha selah.”
Shatz: “Ashrei ha’am shekacah lo.”
Kehialh: “Ashrei ha’am she’Adonai elohav.”
This week, my first week back to Chavurat Lamdeinu in almost two months, I got the chance to lead Birchot Hashachar and P’sukei D’zimra. I took the chance to try this out for the first time. I explained what I wanted to do and everyone thought it sounded like a cool experiment. Normally, Ashrei is one of only two or three things we do in English at the Chavurah. Normally, when I lead, I break up the normalcy by doing Ashrei in Hebrew. But, for this one, we stuck with English so we could pay closer attention to the rhyming ideas. And it worked quite nicely.
Shatz: “Happy are those who dwell in your house.”
Kehilah: “They can always praise you. Selah.”
Shatz: “Happy the people with this heritage.”
Kehilah: “Happy the people whose God is Adonai.”