Psalms — Themes & Highlights

Zachary DuBow
65 min readApr 5, 2022

[Based on Artscroll Tanach series by Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer]

Themes and other tidbits from King David’s Book of Psalms.

Brief Introduction

Moses presented Israel with the Five Books of the Torah and David presented Israel with the Five Books of Psalms. Moses ~concluded the Torah with the blessing ‘How praiseworthy are you, Israel, who can compare to you? (Deuteronomy 33:29). David began his psalms with ‘The praises of man.’ (Midrash Shocher Tov, Yalkut)

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Psalm 1

Torah study and shunning evil are the keys to good fortune.

HASHEM created man with this one purpose in mind: that he should enjoy great fortune in this world and the next (Sforno).

Man need not search far for his fortune, as he was created as a model of perfection with the basic components for excellence within himself. Therefore, our prime duty is to protect our inherent goodness from external forces which seek to corrupt it (Mesillat Yesharim). David emphasizes this lesson in the opening verse, beginning his formula for obtaining fortune with a warning to avoid evil influences (verse 1).

According to the Mesillat Yesharim’s Path of the Upright, the next rung up the ladder after ‘watchfulness’ is then ‘zeal’ — performing HASHEM’s Mitzvot with fiery passion and enthusiasm.

David speaks to this in verse 2: ‘his desire is in HASHEM’s Torah’

Follow these steps and you will enjoy eternal life (v. 3).

Psalm 2

After describing the good fortunes of the righteous and the failure of the wicked in Psalm 1, the Psalmist now answers the classical opposing question: “Why then do the wicked prosper and good suffer?”

Answer: evil’s success is short-lived.

The commentators differ on whether this psalm describes the Messianic Era or David’s own life. This presents no contradiction, as David had the ability to be inspired so profoundly by present events that he could soar above the boundaries of time and sing of past, present, and future in the same breath with the same words.

In the Philistines, David detected the seeds of Gog and Magog, the arch-enemies of Messiah. The war of Gog and Magog (whose alphanumeric value is 70) begins when all 70 nations of the world unite against Israel as their scapegoat for global instability. Such nations will be suffering from revolution, audacity of the young, atheism, scandal, and unbridled inflation. Truth will be virtually non-existent and falsehood will prevail (Sotah 49b).

The ultimate victory of Messiah over evil will demonstrate HASHEM’s supremacy as it was never displayed before.

Psalm 3

Trust in HASHEM no matter how hopeless or trying the situation. He will bring peace and harmony to us all. If not now, soon. If not soon, later.

A true appreciation of this psalm requires understanding the historical background of David’s son Absalom’s revolt — see II Samuel chapters 15–19

Psalm 4

Whereas in the previous psalm David calls to HASHEM for salvation, here he addresses his enemies, lecturing them on morals and ethics and urging them to mend their ways.

We pray for our adversaries to repent rather than be destroyed. We hope to guide them to repentance and true happiness — peace.

Psalm 5

In the previous psalm David speaks to the enemy’s masses; here, he speaks to the enemy’s leaders.

When in battle with the enemy we pray to serve HASHEM without distractions.

Doeg and Achitophel, two of David’s biggest foes, were too proud to receive the Torah humbly from their teachers. Instead, they exploited Torah knowledge for riches and fame, seeking power and honor instead of studying Torah for the sake of pure truth which penetrates to the very core of one’s being, filling it with a love and awareness of G-D.

Psalm 6

On suffering, specifically: oppression, sickness, distress.

David composed this psalm when bed-ridden with a terrible illness which enfeebled his entire body. He righteously accepted his pains as a means to release his soul from the shackles of sin.

David yearns for greater self-discipline which would liberate him from the lusts and desires which lured him to sin.

Psalm 7

The righteous will prevail over the wicked, but we mustn’t rejoice selfishly over our enemy’s downfall. Rather, we should celebrate the world’s renewed awareness of HASHEM.

This psalm is customarily recited on Purim whose hero Mordechai descends from King Saul — David’s antagonist in this psalm and his greatest enemy (Moed Katan 6b) — over whose demise David fears rejoicing.

Psalm 8

On clarity of vision in seeing HASHEM’s world and the path to both love and fear Him.

All of our achievements are thanks to Him.

This psalm is customarily recited on Simchat Torah, the culmination of the High Holidays period. We celebrate completing and starting anew the annual Torah cycle in which we read the weekly Torah portion of all Five Books of Moses. The Torah is our gateway into His wondrous wisdom and His blueprint for Creation.

By appreciating the greatness of His world, we can better appreciate His own greatness. (See Rambam Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 2:2)

The formula is: first study Torah, then you will discern G-D in the universe’s natural phenomena.

Psalm 9

Despite temporary success the wicked will eventually fade into oblivion.

This has been shown time and again throughout history.

See Psalms 92:7–10 for the big picture & endgame

Psalm 10

G-D punishes the individual wicked people who threaten the righteous and downtrodden.

HASMEM will protect those who seek Him.

In the previous psalm David speaks of tyranny, which has plagued Israel and humankind through history. This psalm, now, deals with everyday human relations with degenerate men who have cast off the yoke of moral law and threaten to harm the defenseles (R’ Hirsch).

Psalm 11

Wicked men deny the cornerstone of our faith HASHGACHA PRATIT / individual divine providence AKA personal divine guidance AKA HASHEM is everywhere AKA everything happens for a [ultimately good] reason & there are no coincidences.

Have faith in the face of treachery and betrayal. Atonement serves to test and purify the righteous.

Psalm 12

Human trust is suspect whereas HASHEM’s assurances are pure and enduring.

The wicked practice deceitful speech to accomplish their goals. No organ is as enclosed as the tongue, imprisoned in the mouth and surrounding by the cheeks and held in by the lips. Still, the evil tongues of the wicked prevail over these natural deterrents (R’ Chaim Vital).

This psalm is traditionally said on Shemini Atzeret, the 8th day of the Sukkot holiday. The number 8 — whose literal word root SHEMONEH opens this psalm — indicates that which is beyond nature, beyond the natural decay due to the vicissitudes of time.

As He is beyond time, HASHEM’s promises are everlasting. The full realization of this reality will be attained in the Messianic Era, when evil will vanish in the face of the enlightenment attained through Torah study (v.7–8)

Psalm 13

On the agony of exile, a depressing gloom that seems like a long, dark night with no hope for dawn. Israel has at times appeared abandoned by G-D, as if He had forsaken them forever.

AD ANA — how long, G-D? (v.2)

We must have faith and continue to seek HASHEM.

Psalm 14

On the destruction of the Holy Temple — this psalm refers to the First Temple and psalm 53, which is linguistically similar, refers to the Second Temple (Rashi).

This psalm is an example of the historically enduring applicability of David’s songs, as he actually composed this psalm in response to the enemies of his day (Malbim).

HASHEM will ultimately redeem Israel and the Temple will be rebuilt. Speedily in our days!

Psalm 15

This psalm lists 11 principles of man’s relationship with his fellow man (Makkot 24a), examples of going LIFNIM MESHURAT HADIN / beyond the letter of the law.

Excelling in one’s relationship with others is also how one comes close to HASHEM.

Psalm 16

In this psalm we find eloquent expression of David’s humility, a crowning virtue.

‘Strength, Torah, and humility — all three can be found with David’ (Midrash Shocher Tov).

This psalm is about recognizing that HASHEM is to thank for everything we have and acknowledging Him at all times, notably: ‘I set Him before me always.’ (verse 8)

Psalm 17

A hymn of pleading and penitence, composed by David after he repented.

We plead to return to HASHEM’s grace and open affection — the kind witnessed during the Holy Temple era — and especially after we sin, weakening our soul’s connection to Him and His blessings.

We plead to be protected from enemies.

We plead to enjoy HASHEM’s majesty.

Following repentance, David is confident his intimacy with HASHEM has been restored and his spiritual eternity secured.

Psalm 18

Known as ‘the Song of David’ and composed in his old age (c.f. Abarbanel to II Samuel ch 22) after a life full of trials & tribulations (Rashi).

18 is the alphanumeric value of CHAI / life.

This is customarily recited on the 7th day of Passover, the day of the Splitting of the Sea (Vilna Gaon).

Psalm 19

The study of Torah and nature teaches us to relate to HASHEM and achieve spiritual fulfilment.

The vast heavenly bodies orbiting with flawless precision in the skies, the consistency and cycles existing throughout earth’s nature, the complexity and miracle of the human body — these are all clear manifestations of the infinite wisdom & power of the Creator.

Above and beyond nature, the study of His will as revealed in the Torah is the clearest available perception of Him.

The Psalmist proves in 6 ways that comprehension of HASHEM attained through Torah study surpasses that of scientific research.

This is customarily recited on the Shavuot holiday, the day we celebrate the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai (Vilna Gaon).

Psalm 20

In the previous psalm’s final verse we pray that our words and thoughts find favor in HASHEM’s eyes. Now, in this psalm, we connect GEULA / redemption with TEFILAH / prayer (Berachot 4b) — #19 ended with prayer, and #20 begins with redemption. In our morning prayers, we recall the Exodus redemption, then we begin the Shemoneh Esrei. Then, soon after that prayer, we recite #20 for the redemption sandwich.

Salvation and prayer — chicken or the egg? More like two peas in a pod: returning to G-D is built into the fabric of Creation; prayer is the key to unlock salvation.

Salvation depends on spirituality and prayer, not physicality and power.

Psalm 21

The true power behind the thrones of David and Messiah is their faith in HASHEM — ‘for the king trusts in HASHEM’ (v.8).

Their job is to set the example for acknowledging His kindness.

Psalm 22

This is a prayer to end the exile and rebuild the Holy Temple.

These words prophetically reference the Purim miracle and is therefore recited on the Purim holiday.

Or the energy of Purim was found in this psalm & used by Purim’s contemporaries to pen Megillat Esther.

Chicken or the egg. How about both?

Psalm 23

HASHEM nourishes and provides all our needs, even when things look bleak. Sometimes our true needs are painful to ur human minds and bodies.

This can be likened to getting sick.

We go to a doctor, they prescribe medicine, we take it. We don’t investigate the doctor’s pedigree, the medicine’s chemical compounds, nor the frequency at which we take it. We have faith in something beyond us. We trust the doctor’s expertise and that he has our best interest in mind.

57 words in this psalm corresponds to the alphanumerical value of the word ZAN, meaning nourishes/sustains. And its 227 letters corresponds to the alphanumerical value for BERACHA, meaning blessing (Arizal).

G-D is the source of all blessings and all there is.

Psalm 24

We aspire to the purity of the first man and woman prior to sin, possessing the qualities worthy of rebuilding the Holy Temple.

Composed by King David when he bought the plot of the land for the future Holy Temple and intended to be recited the day of the Temple’s inauguration, this is one of four of David’s psalms that are truly worthy of being written by Adam himself (Midrash Shocher Tov).

The congregation sings this psalm to accompany the Torah scroll back to the synagogue Ark (except Shabbat when we sing #29). This mirrors how G-D’s Presence, which is spread throughout the world, was given an abode in the Holy Temple to concentrate His Presence.

So foundational its message, this psalm was chosen to be the Song of the Day for the first day of the week. It is recited each Sunday ~end of morning prayers.

Psalm 25

David begs for HASHEM’s assistance to keep his ways straight, pure, and truthful. We are witness to his lifelong struggle against the Evil Urge, his aspirations to keep to the Path of the Upright.

Repentance and praise of HASHEM brings us closer to Him and cures us of distress.

This is the first psalm arranged according to the Hebrew alphabet (mostly), an indicator the psalm provides fundamental life lessons.

Psalm 26

The essence of David’s lifelong aspirations is condensed into this brief psalm. Perfect innocence, purity, clarity of vision, truth, separation from evil, cleanliness, zeal — all find expression here.

David yearned for these traits to be deemed worthy of rebuilding the Holy Temple.

The righteous strive for purity and vigilance, but sometimes want to be tested to prove their mettle. David was granted his wish with Bat Sheva and he fell short.

This is one perspective as to why Adam ate from the Forbidden Fruit — he wanted the challenge of the Evil Urge to prove his devotion to HASHEM, confident in his ability to overcome it.

It’s best not to put oneself into hairy situations where we will be tempted to sin.

Psalm 27

This is a psalm to usher in the High Holidays.

Sin is best combatted by preventing it at its source — the mind. A mind consumed with serving HASHEM has no reason, room, or time for sin.

Dwelling in His house [nowadays in the synagogue and study hall] is a refuge from life’s distractions and sufferings.

Psalm 28

Similar to the last psalm — this is a prayer to be freed from worldly concerns so we may instead focus on serving HASHEM and attaining His wisdom, which in turn allows for full repentance for our last sins and the opportunity to ascend even higher [as a result of those sins] (Radak).

‘Where the BAAL TESHUVA / penitent stands, the righteous cannot’

Psalm 29

We fulfill — and pray to fulfill to a greater degree with the rebuilt Holy Temple — the obligation of thanking HASHEM for giving us life / vitality / might.

HASHEM’s power pervades all Creation, at all times and places, and all functions according to His will.

The one praying may imagine standing there as witness to the wonders of the 6 Days of Creation and/or the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. When this is sung by the congregation during the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service, I sometimes march in place, rhythmically, imagining myself reenacting an army-stomping scene out of a Brandon Sanderson Stormlight novel.

Psalm 30

Occasions of innovation and inauguration are most appropriate for taking stock and thanksgiving.

Song of the Day for Chanukah, the eponymous and literally translated (not sure if that’s proper English usage but i had to seize the opp to use eponymous) [re]dedication / [re-]inauguration of the Holy Temple after the Maccabees defeated the Romans and we regained control of the Temple — now an annual holiday.

Travail is a precursor to greater success.

Psalm 31

Just as David was often pursued — most notably by King Saul, threatened by David’s rising stardom — but always rescued so too we should entrust ourselves to HASHEM’s wisdom and mercy.

Psalm 32

This is the first psalm dedicated to repentance, one of David’s greatest teachings.

Suffering and misfortune help us achieve repentance.

Song of the Day for Yom Kippur (Vilna Gaon), the Day of Atonement, when the highest level of purity and forgiveness is achieved.

32 is the alphanumeric value of LEV, meaning heart.

Psalm 33

Natural law reflects HASHEM’s constant and ubiquitous will, and on special occasions He suspends the laws of nature with revealed divine providence/guidance / supervision / intervention, AKA open miracles, as opposed to hidden miracles like the natural world obeying His laws.

What makes you think the sun will come up tomorrow…just because it did so yesterday?

Our challenge is to see through the veil, to see beyond this ‘matrix’ of His Creation and our perceptions, and to perceive HASHEM’s precision everywhere.

All who truly seek this revelation will be elevated.

Psalm 34

This psalms follow the order of the Hebrew alphabet. Previously (see #25), we said how this is an indicator of the foundational nature of the teachings in the psalm.

Slightly alternate frame:

Our every faculty, from aleph through taf, should be dedicated to serving HASHEM. Likewise, everything in the world serves a valuable function.

In this psalm, David personally experiences the value of mental illness / insanity, one of the harder-to-understand pieces of HASHEM’s world as to how it fits in with His design.

Psalm 35

A prayer for deliverance from enemies, specifically Israel’s enemies in exile.

In the previous psalm, we concluded with the faithful declaration that ‘HASHEM redeems the souls of His servants.’

Now, we request Him to put put it into practice and save us from our enemies (Tehillat HASHEM).

Psalm 36

This psalm portrays the stark contrast between those who serve HASHEM and those who defy Him.

Sin entice with false illusion and can be dispelled only with objective faith.

Fear of sin is an essential component of a servant of HASHEM. No life circumstance can shake them, no situation frightens them more than their unshakeable fear of Him.

Such praiseworthy clarity bestows happiness and fortune (Proverbs 28:14).

Psalm 37

A sequel to Psalm 36, which ends with our request for HASHEM to reward the righteous and punish the wicked, who strive to convince humankind there is no G-D involved in our affairs. They point to their own successes as evidence that there is no Supreme Being concerned with enforcing His principles of righteousness and justice.

Psalm 38

Psalms 38–41 reference the severe illness suffered by King David due to his sins.

The righteous king recognized his suffering for the positive and that it cleansed him. Repentance merits HASHEM’s salvation.

So too, in our exile, we will only be saved after first being humbled.

We conclude with a hopeful plea that our redemption will be swift.

Psalm 39

This is the psalm of a persecuted man who witnesses his life’s work going up in smoke and embarks on an agonizing expedition of self-examination, searching for meaning in a life which appears to have been robbed of all purpose.

Suffering brings with it awareness of human frailty and transience.

We pray for the ability to devote ourselves to HASHEM’s Torah and Mitzvot.

Psalm 40

This psalm was composed by David after he returned to full health following a terrible sickness (Radak, Sforno).

He sings for us a ‘new song’ (v.4), recalling his unflagging faith in even the worst circumstances, which helped him renew, refresh, and strengthen his faith even more.

We proclaim to the world our gratitude and our allegiance to HASHEM.

Psalm 41

HASHEM loves all His creatures, even and especially in their darkest hour.

David grew severely ill as result of his sins and his doubters revelled in it. Clearly, they scoffed, this man isn’t worthy of our respect if G-D punishes him so.

Then, G-D healed David and allowed him to begin the work of building the Holy Temple — to be completed in his son, Solomon’s, lifetime — vindicating him and his life’s work.

This was the pinnacle of his career and is fittingly the climax of the first Book of Psalms.

The second Book of Psalms

10 men contributed songs to the Book of Psalms: Adam, Malchizedek, Abraham, Moses, Heiman, Yedusun, Assaf, and the sons of Korach (Rashi on Psalms 1:1).

The entire 1st book is attributed to David, the 2nd book begins with 8 psalms composed by Korach’s sons, and they composed another 4 in the 3rd Book (84, 85, 87, 88). Their names are Assir, Elkanah, and Aviassaf.

In the midst of their father’s rebellion against Moses, these sons repented and were miraculously saved by HASHEM. When the earth swallowed up Korach and his assembly they landed on a plateau high above the flames of purgatory, and it was on that precarious ledge where they composed their psalms. A Holy Spirit descended upon them and they prophesied concerning the exiles of Israel, the destruction of the Temple, & the Davidic dynasty.

Psalm 42

Both the nation and individual in exile calls out to HASHEM lovingly to be brought home.

This psalm includes references to water-springs and Temple celebrations, specifically the water drawing in verse 8, and is therefore designated as the Song of the Day for the 2nd day of Sukkot, the beginning of the Simchat Beit HaShoeiva

Psalm 43

A continuation of the preceding psalm, the Psalmist expresses his deep yearning for redemption from the agony of exile.

The exiled will return to HASHEM when He sends His light.

Psalms 42 and 43 are linked with Jacob and Leah as this psalm tells of Israel’s thirst for HASHEM and our eternal attachment to Him, mirroring Jacob and Leah’s enduring relationship.

Psalm 44

Dedicated to Eretz Yisrael and how HASHEM helped us conquer the land, followed by His displeasure and our subsequent exile from the Holy Land.

G-D fashioned the earth in general and Eretz Yisrael in particular in accordance with His universal blueprint — the Torah.

We need strength to endure exile’s oppression and suffering.

Our undying loyalty will unlock the gates of redemption.

Psalm 45

Praise for the Sages and Messiah.

Like Abraham and David before him, Messiah will at first be challenged and vilified, but will finally be accepted as ruler.

The coarse body at first hinders the soul’s development but can be trained to assist it.

Relatedly, this is seen as a wedding song between bride and groom, who first begin separately — and indeed their premarital desires for each other distract them from other areas of their lives, and when they being their marriage they likely have two very different, even conflicting personalities — but ultimately unite in a perfect harmony.

Psalm 46

In the Messianic Era HASHEM is the shield of Israel.

He protects all who seek His help.

HASHEM’s salvation is never far from those who deserve it, no matter how hopeless things may seem.

The song is titled עלמות ALAMOT, meaning many worlds, hinting to G-D’s divine providence expressed constantly throughout the world (Dorash Moshe).

We must trust G-D’s guidance which controls every aspect of our lives, though his deeds are נעלמות NE’ELAMOT, hidden, in this world עולם of HASHEM obscured.

Psalm 47

Continuing the most previous theme of defeating G-D’s enemies, this psalm describes how HASHEM will eventually be recognized and accepted by all as King of kings.

This psalm is recited prior to the shofar blowing on Rosh HaShana, the day we (re)coronate G-D as King.

Whereas by the offerings in the Temple we see G-D’s Name of mercy, on Rosh HaShana — the Day of Judgment — we emphasise G-D’s attribute of justice, His Name אלקים

Psalm 48

The beauty of Jerusalem is eternal because HASHEM chose it as the Home for His presence.

Beauty, then, may be viewed in the eyes of its beholder, but it’s imbued by the eyes of the Creator.

This is the Song of the Day for Mondays and recited ~end of the morning prayer service. On Monday, Day 2 of Creation, G-D separated the upper waters from the lower waters, heaven from earth, giving birth to strife and the tension between the physical and the spiritual.

Psalm 49

Korach’s son recognized monetary greed as the root of their father’s evil and dedicated this psalm — the final of their series of 8 here — to the relationship between man’s material good and his spiritual and moral mission.

Our material and physical resources should be used to enhance our spirituality and prepare for the World to Come. Otherwise, our existence will end at our gravesite.

This psalm is recited in the mourner’s home as it emphasizes the true meaning of life and death.

Psalm 50

HASHEM wants not only external observance but internal purity. This can be accomplished through Torah study for the right reasons. Reward is His salvation.

He wants to reveal Himself to us, like the powerful desire of a father who wants to envelop his child in a protective embrace. Yet, HASHEM cannot reveal Himself until His children demonstrate a since desire to draw close to Him.

The most effective means of drawing close to HASHEM is by immersing one’s mind in His Torah.

Psalm 51

Known as the ‘chapter of repentance’ by Rabbeinu Yonah is his Shaarei Teshuvah, this psalm provides the foundation for the principles of TESHUVA repentance.

King David is our model repentant. ‘Whoever wishes to repent would scrutinize the deeds of David.’ (Midrash Shocher Tov). He is the ‘man who made the yoke of repentance sublime. (Moed Katan 16b)

Psalm 52

Jealous enmity underlies many of the problems we face. Jealousy undermines one’s principles to the point that one is willing to spread slander and fabricate evil tales in order to destroy their rivals.

In this psalm David recounts a painful incident from his life which illustrates this theme.

Psalm 53

This psalm is very similar to Psalm 14. Both this and that speak of the exile and future redemption.

The former focuses on the First Temple’s destruction, while this psalm focuses on the Second Temple’s destruction (Rashi).

The Davidic dynasty wasn’t founded easily, rather it was met with fierce opposition from those who denied David’s divine right to rule.

His descendant, Messiah, will also be faced with persecution by skeptics, scoffers, and attempted assassinations.

All villains eventually meet the same fate: failure and misfortune.

Psalm 54

Psalm 53 spoke to individual corruptions against David. This psalm recounts how an entire community slandered against David.

Beyond the quantity of the treachery, this one also hit closer to home to David as the community was of his own tribe. David therefore employed special musical instruments (v.1) to lift his spirits (Alshich).

When pursued by foes, pray to HASHEM.

Psalm 55

Be steadfast and unwavering in faith in HASHEM like David was, even after he was betrayed by his son Absalom and his friend Achitophel.

Due to their closeness to him, these betrayals caused him more grief than the other. ‘The pinprick inflicted by a friend is far more painful that the sword wound dealt by an enemy’ (Alshich).

Forced to flee his own kingdom, David sank into despair and yearned to abandon the society of man — ‘give me wings like the dove’ (v.7) — before recalling his responsibility to the people.

Faithful friendship is life’s most precious treasure.

Psalm 56

David bemoans his own personal grief and that of his people — ‘a silenced dove in wandering’ (v.1)

This psalm reminds us to have unshaken faith in HASHEM, even in seemingly hopeless situations and when experiencing great distress.

Psalm 57

The first of a series of three psalms which refer to King Saul’s pursuit of David. They all begin with AL TASHCHEIT do not destroy.

Ironically, David recalls here the time he had the opportunity to kill Saul but showed mercy to try and convince him (never succeeded) he wasn’t his enemy.

See I Samuel chapter 24 for the background to this psalm, which tells of Saul pursuing David and his loyal soldiers.

Even when pursued, David affirms his faith in HASHEM.

Psalm 58

Following the earlier episode where David mercifully allowed King Saul to live, Saul’s men were unconvinced and urged Saul to press on against David.

When the wicked (Saul was far from wicked, rather he made some mistakes) are destroyed all will recognize HASHEM as the one true judge.

Psalm 59

This psalm is based on the first time Saul sought to kill David (see I Samuel ch 19)

David composed this song of entreaty and thanksgiving upon his narrow escape.

We hope to continue to live and praise HASHEM.

Psalm 60

This psalm is dedicated to the Sanhedrin — the supreme Jewish court of law — whose advice was followed by David. Specifically, he relied on their approval to fight wars, which he engaged in only to establish monotheism and peace in the world. Each of the world’s 70 nations is represented symbolically by the 70 members of Sanhedrin.

This psalm presents David’s vision of a universal order of nations united in harmony. This was his ultimate dream.

Struggle, conflict, & polarisation are basic elements of the idolator’s weltanschauung and core to pagan mythology, whereas peace is a manifestation of monotheism.

Psalm 61

This psalm demonstrates that no distance or danger could diminish David’s fervent love for HASHEM.

David’s cries when fleeing into exile echoes Israel’s historical experiences and our entreaties to HASHEM (Radak).

Psalm 62

David’s complete trust in HASHEM remained unshaken, even when pursued by murderous, rich, and powerful enemies.

Trust only in HASHEM and don’t be fooled by wealth and corruption of the oppressor. A mortal’s might can never prevail against the decrees of the Almighty.

The hymn of Israel in exile, this psalm depicts the supreme test of the nation’s endurance through the long night and is a source of strength and courage (Radak).

Wait patiently — if you will place your hopes in G-D & G-D alone, your swift redemption is assured.

Psalm 63

David sought refuge from his pursuers but was then trapped in a desert wasteland. He erected a fortress of faith which insulated him from his hostile environment. He was thirsty, but primarily for closeness to HASHEM.

We thirst for HASHEM’s closeness and wisdom, especially when we are being victimized by others.

We pray for our soul to become ablaze with love of HASHEM like David’s.

Psalm 64

This psalm tells of Daniel’s time, specifically the 6th chapter in his book, when he defied the law forbidding praying to HASHEM (Rashi, Midrash Shocher Tov).

No threat — not even that of being thrown in a literal lion’s den — could prevent Daniel from serving HASHEM. Like David, Daniel thirsted only for G-D and found refuge only with Him.

We take refuge in HASHEM when the enemy threatens.

Psalm 65

David composed this prayer during a devastating famine — and invasion by a foreign army (Ibn Ezra on v.10) — and begs HASHEM to send blessings in the form of rains and harvests (Malbim, Norah Tehilot).

National calamities and natural disasters are meant to spur us to repentance.

Psalm 66

This psalm speaks of HASHGACHA PERATIT / divine providence in history and looking forward to the redemption when it will be clear.

David composed this psalm in the twilight of his career after HASHEM had released him from the threat of hostile nations and David was free to dream of the Messianic future (Ibn Yachya).

Israel’s glorious past, replete with wonders and miraculous salvations, inspires our faith that such events are destined to repeat (Meiri).

This is the Song of the Day for the 6th day of Passover, the day before the Splitting of the Sea. Even after the miraculous plagues and their release from bondage in Egypt, some Jews doubted HASHEM’s hashgacha and their own salvation while others looked forward to their salvation, just around the corner.

Psalm 67

Its words customarily fashioned in the shape of a Menorah, this psalm is a prayer for the Messianic Era when all mankind will realize HASHEM’s light, absorb His wisdom, and worship Him. True blessings.

David etched this psalm on his shelf so he could study its teachings before entering into battle, meritorious conduct that assured victory (Chida from the Maharshal).

Psalm 68

This psalms recalls the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which established Israel as the chosen nation to the exclusion of the 70 others.

The Revelation at Sinai affected the whole world, a cataclysmic event second only to the Creation in its magnitude.

Feeling estranged from G-D and jealous of Israel’s closeness to Him — or enemies of G-D and goodness who can’t tolerate seeing it manifest in the world — the 70 nations started hating Israel.

Sinai סיני is phonetically similar to SINAH שנאה hatred. Sinai is also referred to as CHOREV חורב, related to the word CHURBAN חורבן destruction.

The haters tried to destroy us Jews many times and yet here we are.

Psalm 69

This psalm is a plea for deliverance from oppression.

The great irony of Jewish history is that we’ve spent more time on foreign soil than it our own homeland, wandering the globe for the past two millennia and then some. Despite this, we’ve not only survived but flourished.

We are as a rose in exile, the Torah our thorns protecting us (Hirsch) and the water sustaining us.

From the crucible of suffering emerged a mold of ironclad faith which has withstood the tests of the ages.

Similarly, David’s less than poster-boy-perfect ancestry provided ammunition to doubters but steeled his own resolve.

Psalm 70

This psalm is a plea for personal redemption. We pray to be rescued from enemies, those of our own making & those who seek to destroy us.

A true leader is a reflection or extension of their people. As the nation goes, so does its leader. Moses suffered separation from HASHEM during those long years in the Wilderness, decreed as punishment after the nation sinned.

A parable: King David is like a shepherd in charge of the King’s flocks. The King grew angry at the shepherd and chased away the flock, tore down the animal shed, and dismissed the shepherd. After some time the King gathered in the flock & rebuilt the shed but didn’t yet restore the shepherd to his post. (Midrash Shocher Tov)

David gazed prophetically into the future & rejoiced over the rebirth of the nation. However, he feared HASHEM would hold the leaders responsible for the people’s sins and so therefore he and his descendants would be eternally doomed to exile. David acknowledges his role in his subjects’ errors but nevertheless asks G-D to remember to also credit him for the people’s merits.

If sheep are worthy to be returned, so too the shepherd who guides them.

Psalm 71

A continuation of the previous psalm & therefore requiring no superscription, this psalm gives us further insight into David’s agita.

On the run from Absalom, his son who usurped the throne, King David fell into despair. When faced with hardships earlier in his life, such as when he fleed from King Saul, David had no fear of reclaiming what was his. Now, though, later in his life, David fears he might not regain the crown and prays for a vibrant old age.

His passionate words express the feelings of all those who have reached advanced age. This psalm reflects their request for their final years to be blessed with dignity and grace. It’s a prayer that meaningful accomplishments will crown a lifetime of achievement & that HASHEM will banish emptiness and boredom, which atrophy the body and frustrate the soul.

Psalm 72

The concluding psalm of the second Book of Psalms, this is the final composition [mostly?] dedicated to specific events in David’s lifetime — ‘The prayers of David, son of Jesse, have ended’ (v.20) — whereas the following three books are predominantly songs of praising HASHEM.

This psalm was composed on David’s deathbed & commemorates the last significant act of his lifetime — crowning his son Solomon as king.

The verse reads תפילה prayer, specifically, rather than זמירות songs of praise / psalms thanksgivings / acknowledgements.

King David’s praises of G-D will never end — we still sing them today — rather his prayers, his personal pleas a& outpourings of emotion inspired by specific events in his life, his failures & tragedies, his triumphs & celebrations, his beseechings & heartfelt remorse, his requesting atonement for himself & the people.

When Messiah comes he will be a more perfect king, leading a more perfect people. Israel will rid itself of follies & failures, a nation redeemed & restored to grandeur & living in a veritable utopia in its Holy Promised Land with no need for anguished pleas of prayer. In those days, praises & songs of thanksgivings will replace prayer.

In David’s lifetime, his most outstanding achievement was paving the way for the next generation, for seeing to it that his own righteousness was passed down to his children, for building a better brighter future for humanity: ‘…may He make his [Solomon’s] throne even greater than mine…’(I Kings 1:37).

Even with all of his greatness, in his humility David understood his primary goal is leaving this world a better place than he found it.

And so it is with all of us. How are we paving the way for a more perfect world? What bricks are we laying, daily, for the to-be-rebuilt Holy Temple? How much do we want HASHEM to be more manifest in our lives? How badly do we want to feel a true connection, to experience His majesty like one upon a time, when there was a Holy Temple & HASHEM was our G-D here on earth.

אני מאמין באמונה שלימה בביאת המשיח

Third Book of Psalms

Whereas the first two books are primarily dedicated to specific personal events in the lives of individuals, the latter books emphasise universal themes demonstrating HASHEM’s greatness & goodness.

Psalm 73

The first psalm of the

Jewish history is filled with tragedy & suffering at the hands of evil. Why do the wicked prosper & righteous suffer?

This psalm addresses those plagued by indecision & doubt, counselling not to be troubled by seeming inconsistencies for everything G-D does is for the good.

We suffer now so we may enjoy the fruits of our good deeds in their unfathomable full measure of G-D’s goodness.

Analogous to fiat money on an isolated self-sustaining island. You can have millions, billions of it n that island, but of what use is it? That money can’t be spent there, it’s incompatible. So too, the pleasures and rewards that await us in the World to Come are far beyond those we experience in this world. Just wait.

See the second half of Psalm 92 for a similar understanding.

Remember this & no complaints need escape your lips, rather you will be singing hymns of gratitude to He who bestows endless blessings.

Psalm 74

Continuing on the theme of the previous psalm — suffering of the righteous — here the Psalmist studies the most painful large-scale example of this: the Jews’ long exile.

…well, we weren’t very righteous, that caused the Temples’ destruction.

No matter our moral standing, true leaders don’t give up on their people. Abraham, the father of many nations, fought for even the worst sort of people — the cities of Sodom & Gemorrah.

Likewise, the later prophets protested against G-D’s strictness & questioned its equity, engaging in rhetoric & poetic license for dramatic effect — ‘O G-D, you’ve abandoned us for eternity? Will your wrath smolder against the flock of your pasture?’ (v.1)

In truth, Assaf the Psalmist knows, it’s Israel who abandoned G-D: ‘Israel has abandoned that which is good’ (Hoshea 8:2). ‘Good’ is inseparable from HASHEM; there is no good greater than He.

Israel counters, as Moses did after the sin of the Golden Calf:

Not only Jews are endangered by the exile, but G-D’s own stature in the world is damaged, His undisputed mastery questioned by His seeming absence, His loyalty to His chosen nation doubted after throwing them to the wolves & leaving them in exile for so long.

We urge HASHEM to combat this heresy: ‘Arise, O G-D, champion Your cause! Remember Your insults from degenerates…forget not the voice of Your tormentors’ (v. 22–23)

Psalm 75

This psalm begins with אל תשחת do not destroy. Though the wicked must be punished — both wicked people and wicked traits from within righteous people — we plea for mercy in our prolonged exile, tormented by our oppressors (Chozeh David)

Israel anguishes intensifies as the exile’s end draws near & calamities befall Israel in succession [see 20th century], the world engulfed in the colossal conflict of Gog & Magog. We pray to HASHEm to be spared from this blight of evil, to be spared from the scar they want to inflict upon the earth (Meiri, Ibn Yachya).

G-D is merely waiting for the most propitious moment for His salvation of the downtrodden & His punishment of the wicked. Then, ‘All the pride of the wicked I shall cut down; exalted shall be the pride of the righteous’ (v.11)

Psalm 76

Continuing the theme of the final days of Jewish exile & the war of Gog & Magog to be waged toward its end (Radak to v. 13). The historical prototype for this global war against Israel is Sancherib, who laid siege against Jerusalem with an army composed of all the nations he had conquered.

Like the plages in Egypt, Divine protection will develop Jerusalem like a tabernacle (v.3) and shield Zion from the devastation wrought upon the nations.

This is the Song of the Day for the first day of Sukkot (Vilna Gaon), the day we bring the most offerings to HASHEM, representing the nations of the world. Like our forefathers before us we pray for the welfare of all humanity, for righteousness comes to the world as a result of our righteousness, and curses as a result of our sins.

Psalm 77

The purpose of our exile is to arouse our soul’s powers that lie dormant while we are in a state of contentedness.

Persecution arouses the soul & awakens latent spiritual energy, causing one’s heart to soar heavenward in search of comfort.

HASHEM will redeem us once the purification process is complete & the river of tears has been filled, so that we may be worthy of the final & total redemption. May it come speedily in our days!

Psalm 78

The Psalmist recounts highlights of our history from Egypt through King David.

Jewish history — & global history on a greater scale — has been ordained so that Israel may recognize the Torah as the supreme authority.

Failure to remember that HASHEM is Master leads to sin, while remembering bring solace.

Psalm 79

Assaf initially mourned the loss of his father, Korach, lost to the abyss in his rebellion. But then he prophesied that he will be raised from the depths along with the gates of the Holy Temple.

This is a prayer for Israel to be restored to their promised land, and this will restore HASHEM’s donor to a doubting world.

What exciting times we live in! HASHEM is keeping His promisees to us. We have been returning to our land. And then some.

In brief:

Aliyah migrations over the past ~150+ years, internationally recognized sovereign state, incredible military, technological, & innovative triumphs, global emergency response teams, the list goes on and on.

Honor restored indeed! May we go from strength to strength.

Psalm 80

Rav Hirsch explains this psalm is dedicated to the generations of exiled Jews who have called upon HASHEM to end the agonies of captivity & exile.

Three degrees of intensity corresponding to the circumstances of three distinct eras of exile are referred to in this psalm, represented by the phrase ELOKIM TZEVAOT אלקים צבאות appearing x3 in three similar verses (v. 4,8,20).

Three physical exiles we suffered: 1. The 10 tribes during the First Temple era 2. Babylonia exile after the Temple’s destruction 3. Roman exile after the Second Temple’s destruction.

Hirsch divides the psalm into 3 sections:

Verses 2–4 constitute the plan which the Ten Tribes direct to G-D. When they were dispersed& lost, a major portion of the Jewish people vanished from history.

Verses 5–8 is the Babylonian exiles’ petition for divine salvation from their overlords who destroyed the Temple & exiled the remaining tribes of Judah & Benjamin, leaving the land a desolate ruin.

Verses 9–20 express the cry of those exiled by the Romans, who also destroyed the Second Temple & scattered Israel to the 4 corners of the earth. This exile has continued til today.

Psalm 81

Having beseeched HASHEM for redemption in the previous psalm, we now celebrate our divine salvation from Egypt when our physical servitude stopped & we were released from slavery (which began on Rosh HaShanah 6 months prior to the fateful exodus night — Rosh Hashanah 11a).

The Exodus is our archetypal redemption story.

No matter how far one has fallen, rededicating oneself to an upright lifestyle will bring redemption.

This is the Song of the Day each Thursday & recited ~end of the morning prayer.

On Thursday the 5th day of the week, 5th Day of Creation, G-D made the myriad species of birds & fish, & their variety & beauty bring joy to the world. We can’t help but feel awed by the tremendous scope of HASHEM’s creative ability & we are stirred to praise Him with song (Rashi, Rosh Hashanah 31a).

The Talmud (Shabbat 156a) says that those born on a Thursday will be a kind person who shares joy & goodness with others because the fish & birds were born that day. Rashi there explains that these creatures exemplify a carefree existence because G-D provided them with ample & readily accessible food supplies, & this frees them from the compulsion toward selfishness for the sake of survival.

We pray to be freed from the work of the fields, free from having to sweat for our bread, free to learn, love, and serve HASHEM.

Psalm 82

This psalm represents an affirmation of the Torah judicial system & a condemnation of those who corrupt or falsify its law.

Equity and justice are prerequisites for earth’s continued existence. When these are lacking, nature’s forces are unleashed on humankind (Maharsha on Rosh Hashanah 31a).

In the Torah this was first on display in the Flood, then by Sodom & Gomorrah, then by Egypt, then plagues & other calamities listed throughout Scripture. One may say this originated in Man’s punishment for his sin in the Garden of Eden when HASHEM cursed man with mortality, making him subject to the laws of nature.

This is the Song of the Day each Tuesday & recited ~end of the morning prayer.

On Tuesday the 3rd day of the week, Day 3 of Creation, the earth brought forth DESHEH דשא vegetation (Genesis 1:12). In Pirkei Avot (1:18) we learn the world stands on three things: EMET אמת truth, DIN דין justice, SHALOM שלום peace. The three letters of דשא constitute the initial letters of these three.

This suggests the presence of these three social virtues is indicative of the goodness & fruitfulness of human civilisation, just as elation represents fertility in the natural world.

Psalm 83

After Yehoshafat restored the judicial system, Israel was attacked by foreign nations bent on destroying not just Israel but obliterating HASHEM’s Name from the world.

To every action, a reaction. Evil as a counterforce to good. The greater one’s yetzer haTov, the greater their yetzer hara.

Messiah descends from ignominy — Lots & his daughters, Yehuda & Tamar. Diamonds are formed under pressure. Bigger & better the fruit, bigger & badder the husk.

Yehoshafat’s chief weapon against his foes was singing this song, declaring G-D’s praise & his undisputed rule over the universe.

Psalm 84

Ascribed to the sons of Korach, this psalm inspired David’s own expressions of yearning to return to the Holy Ark & Altar.

Their words capture the innermost longings of the lonely exiles in future generations.

Neither persecution nor prosperity should stop us from striving to get closer to HASHEM.

He is like our nest, analogous to the homing instinct which binds animals to specific locations and people.

It is human to yearn for greater closeness to Him, to yearn for a greater & better life, for more, for warmth, for happiness, for peace, for only good things.

It’s natural to yearn for G-D, a place where we may feel at peace & rest with Him, there where we feel most secure & at our best.

The nest of Israel is found in the holy environs of HASHEM’s dwelling place.

Only there is Israel strong & secure enough to develop its future, as the Psalmist proclaims: ‘they advance from strength to strength & appear before G-D in Zion’ (v.8)

Psalm 85

This psalm describes Israel’s return from the Babylonian exile to build the Second Temple. It was an underwhelming showing & the Temple was destroyed. We yearn for a permanent redemption.

Israel’s fertility is a sign the redemption is unfolding, blossoming before our very eyes.

Indeed, since the Aliyah movement starting ~150 years ago Israel is blooming for the first time in ages, a once stubborn & desolate land now yielding its fruit to its inhabitants & the world over.

When Israel fulfills its mission HASHEM allows the earth to flourish, easing Israel’s way & rewarding its efforts, as it says: ‘Truth will sprout from earth’ (v.12).

Psalm 86

Given the superscription TEFILLAH תפילה prayer, these verses describe the essential purpose of prayer.

It’s not to obtain the desired assistance from HASHEM, but to reassure the supplicant that He is near in all moments of distress & danger.

The awareness of G-D’s intimate concern & close attention to one’s troubles is itself the response to one’s supplications (Hirsch).

This is a prayer to G-D to save us from our enemies (Malbim), as when David fleed Saul (Radak).

David sought not mere refuge & safety but the opportunity to enhance HASHEM’s glory in the eyes of the entire world, for he recognized that the ultimate purpose of his existence was the glorification of His Name.

When coupled with dedication & wholehearted devotion, this songs lifts one’s soul closer to heaven.

Psalm 87

Korach denied the sovereignty & superior sanctity of Moshe, Aharon, & the older leaders of Israel.

He also refused to recognize the superior holiness of the land of Israel over any other land.

At that point, his sons refused to join his revolt.

Unlike Korach, his sons praised the holiness of Eretz Yisrael & recognized its unsurpassed beauty (Torat Chesed).

They recognized that just as some locations are better suited to the service of G-D than others, so too some people are better suited to lead.

Seeing with one third’s eye, seeing this world through heaven’s eyes — not everyone is equally suited to see.

Not everyone is equally suited to serve HASHEM. Not everyone can be a Moshe Rabbeinu.

Psalm 88

This hymn is a desperate plea for deliverance from exile, which compels us to turn to G-D for strength & purpose in life, & to realize one’s ‘home’ is with His Torah & Mitzvot.

We are all in exile, some more than others.

‘Israel’s exile & dispersion were Divinely ordained as instruments.to spur Israel’s spiritual development.

‘In exile, the lonely insecure Jew is especially close to G-D because no secular national loyalties interfere with his devotion to Him.

Ideally, the holiness of Israel & the Holy Temple should’ve brought the nation to heightened perceptions of G-D & to fulfil their spiritual potential — however, instead of using the land to enhance their development, we allowed ourselves to become creatures of the earth, bound to the land that feeds us.

Therefore, we were exiled so we would realize our home is the Torah & G-D, not than a parcel of [digital] real estate — and we would realize our success depends on Mitzvot, not the plow AKA NameThatModernProfession

Despite the opportunity for spiritual development which exile offers, depression, disgrace, & doom threaten the suffering wanderer. In these verses Korach’s sons vividly depict the agonies of exile & express our yearning for Divine redemption.

Psalm 89

HASHEM struck a pact with King David that his descendants & eventually Messiah would rule after him to establish G-D’s everlasting kingdom on earth amid world peace. We have faith in G-D fulfilling His promises to him, but in the meantime we as Israel must not betray the Covenant or else we’ll be exiled & suffer…ahem world history.

This psalms tells the lengthy tale of bitter exile, emphasizing its outstanding heroes rather than the nation as a whole.

The very first Hebrew, Abraham, was a fugitive from those who sought to obliterate G-D’s Name. Powerful kings & hostile nations rose up to defy G-D & to torment Abraham, G-D’s representative on Earth.

His children & grandchildren also faced hostilities, then Jacob & family exiled themselves to Egypt to survive a famine & stayed there for 210 years. The family grew into a nation, but then became enslaved. With G-D’s intervention they emerged from the crucible of slavery to a 40-year wandering in the Wilderness under the leadership of Moses, Aharon, & Miriam, leaders who wouldn’t survive the journey to the Promised Land.

Under Joshua’s leadership they conquered & settled much of the land, but didn’t finish the job. They were then plagued by hostilities, foreign and domestic, waging wars with enemy tribes & beset by internal strife, even civil war.

We then set over ourselves a mortal king, like the other nations, but Saul failed to live up to the task & dedicate his kingship to G-D’s rule. Finally, we were given the Davdidic dynasty & David, the model king, but he too was persecuted by those who wished to obliterate His Name.

This psalm records the pact that HASHEM struck with David. The Almighty promised that if David & his offspring would remain true 2to Him, He would be true to them. But if the seed of David would betray the covenant, exile & suffering would be their lot.

This 3rd book of Psalms concludes with a rousing message expressed in the psalm’s last verse: “Blessed is HASHEM forever, Amen & Amen!”

Fourth Book of Psalms

The 4th book of Psalms beings with 10 psalms authored by Moses, corresponding to the ~11 blessings (excluding Shimon bc they led a big orgy in the book of Numbers that resulted in the death of 1000s ) he gave to the tribes before his passing, echoing Jacob’s behavior at the end of Genesis.

According to Radak, David found these 11 psalms in a manuscript that was sourced to Moses, & David then adapted them & incorporated them into his Book of Psalms.

Psalm 90

Refers to repentance & the tribe of Reuven, who himself underwent repentance. In fact, he is one of the prototypes see Bereishit Rabbah 84:19: https://www.sefaria.org.il/Bereishit_Rabbah.84.19?ven=Sefaria_Community_Translation&vhe=Midrash_Rabbah_--_TE&lang=en

David dedicates this hymn to those crushed under the burden of exile. He speaks of man’s frailty & brevity of his life and existence on Earth.

Ultimately, man can find solace only in the fact that G-D has been a ‘dwelling place for us in all generations’ (verse 1) & that he welcome penitents to dwell with Him (v. 3)

Psalm 91

Corresponds to the tribe of Levi.

They were the tribe closest to G-D, & therefore they camped closest around the Tabernacle during their 40-year Wilderness.

According to the Midrash, Moses composed this work the day he completed the Tabernacle & these verses describe Mose himself, who entered the divine clouds & was enveloped in the ‘shadow of the Almighty’ (v. 1)

At that moment, Moses wondered how a finite dwelling can house the infinite G-D, [as did David & Solomon after him], & G-D explained: ‘The entire world can’t contain My glory, yet when I wish I can concentrate My entire essence into 1 small spot. Indeed, I am ‘Most High, yet I sit in a [limited,constricted] refuge — in the shadow of the Tabernacle constructed by Bezalel’ (v. 1)

Devout people of faith are the heroes who HASHEM pledges to rescue in times of trouble, & can therefore live without fear The Psalmist describes how such people never leave G-D’s shadow, & to whom G-D promises: ‘I will satisfy him with a long life & show him My salvation’ (v. 16)

Psalm 92

Corresponds to the tribe of Judah.

On Shabbat we can better focus on G-D.

In Messianic times all will be able to look back on history & admire G-D’s masterpiece.

‘It’s both unreasonable & unwise to pass judgment on a work of art before it’s been completed — even a masterpiece may look like a grotesque mass of strokes & color prior to its completion. Human history is G-D’s masterpiece. Physical creation was completed at the end of the 6th day, but the spiritual development of mankind will continue until this world ends, at the close of the 6th millennium. Thus, it’s both unfair & impossible to judge G-D’s equity before the denouement of human history, despite the fact that history appears to be a long series of tragic injustices.

On the 7th day of the 1st week of creation, on the Sabbath, Adam surveyed G-D’s completed work & he was stirred to sing this song in awe of the marvellous perfection which he beheld.

Similarly, when the panorama of human history is completed, the 7th millennium will be ushered in as the ‘day of everlasting Sabbath.

At that time all Adam’s descendants will look back & admire G-D’s completed masterpiece.

Therefore, the Talmud (Rosh HaShana 31a) prescribes this as the Song of the Day for Sabbath — both in the song of Levites in the Holy Temple & in our liturgy.

This Psalm is recited each Saturday ~end of morning prayer as well as Friday night.

Psalm 93

Corresponds to the tribe of Benjamin.

This psalm is dedicated to the Messianic Era when all will recognize G-D’s majesty & splendor, His undisputed glorious power.

This Psalm is recited each Friday ~end of morning prayer, as well as Friday night & Saturday morning, corresponding to the 6th Day of Creation, when G-D finished His work & donned Himself King in the grandeur of His creation.

Psalm 94

Corresponds to the tribe of Gad who were renowned for their physical might & military prowess. And they boast the great Eliyahu HaNavi as their member (Bereishit Rabbah 71:12, Midrash Shocher Tov on Psalm 90). Elijah will herald the advent of the Messianic era, when G-D will appear as the G-D of Vengeance & punish the proud & cruel nations (see Radak 91:1) run by corrupt leaders.

This psalm is recited each Wednesday ~end of morning prayer, corresponding to the 4th Day of Creation when G-D created the luminaries.

Humankind devolved in their relationship, their connection with HASHEM , in a downward spiral from the dawn of Man.

At first they realized there is only One True G-D & all is HASHEM’s will & He bestowed Nature with power.

Then they imagined Nature — & specifically the luminaries & celestial bodies — constituted a medium by which they needed to connect with Him, these great bodies still being glorious and divine but tangible, visible, a physical reality instead of an invisible G-D above and beyond this world. & these bodies would help us, middlemen, negotiators, demigods who have His ear.

Then they devolved further & imagined Nature was a god in its own right, or rather a pantheon of gods each to their own domain. And that’s how we got paganism.

This psalm speaks of G-D’s power, the Almighty’s fury which He will unleash upon those who worship these false gods.

Psalm 95

Corresponds to the tribe of Issachar who were constantly immersed in the joyous song of Torah study (see Radak 91:1), the one thing that lifts us out of exile.

This psalm is composed in 2 parts.

The 1st 7 verses are the Psalmist’s call to his people: Come with alacrity to sing to G-D, to praise Him, to thank Him, to acknowledge Him as the sole Creator & Guiding Force. Stand strong, be proud, maintain hope. Our exile is only temporary.

The 2nd section is words of warning from G-D as He recalls our ancestors’ sins in the Wilderness & urges us not to follow in their rebellious footsteps.

We must take caution not to emulate our wayward ancestors — filter out the bad from the good, use the past to learn lessons from it.

Psalm 96

This is now the 7th psalm which Moses composed, starting with #90. Midrash Shosher Tov quotes Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, who said: ‘I know to whom Moses dedicates the 1st 6 psalms because I heard it from my teachers. However, beyond that I received no tradition.’

Ibn Yachya attempts to identify the tribes to whom the remaining 5 (of 11) psalms were dedicated.

He explains this one corresponds to the tribe of Zevulun who rejoiced in supporting his brother Issachar in his Torah study while Zevulun ran the business (see Deuteronomy 33:18), which was granted much divine blessing as you might expect. Therefore, Zevulun would constantly sing to G-D a new song, thanking for His continued new blessings which resulted in new wealth.

Radak comments that David adapted this psalm & recited it (along with #105) when he brought up the Holy Ark from the house of Oved Edom (II Samuel ch 6) & so this is a joyous song if redemption.

As well, this psalm appears with slight variations in I Chronicles 16:23–33 where it’s attributed to Assaf & his brothers, whom David appointed to lead the thanksgiving to G-D on the day when David placed the Ark in a tent before the presence of HASHEM (see Meiri).

So many authors -sigh- think they had a Google doc or something?

All will eventually recognize G-D’s universal sovereignty — it will be clear as day — & will sing this song to Him.

Learn it [at least the tune?] well!

Sing it loud!

[Tribal dedications of Psalms 97–103 as per Ibn Yachya — see Psalm 96 above]

Psalm 97

Dedicated to the tribe of Joseph (including his sons Ephraim & Menashe), the ancestor of Joshua, the leader who succeeded Moses.

Joshua conquered Eretz Israel & his victory is described in verse 1: ‘When G-D will reign, the land [of Canaan[ will exult!’

After the upheavals preceding the Messianic Era, all will see their folly & G-D will reign supreme.

Psalm 98

Dedicated the tribe of Naphtali, whom Moses blessed with favor & G-D’s blessing, the like of which describes the universal abundance and peace which will envelop the earth in the Messianic Era.

In those times, the Jews will enjoy a special peace of mind & will sing this song.

Nothing could disturb Abraham’s unshakeable faith in HASHEM, his serene trust in Him, and his descendants inherited this sublime faith (Shemot Rabbah 23:5) & will therefore be privileged to sing of their triumphs.. King Solomon teaches that faith is the prime ingredient of song, as the Song of Songs (4:8) states: ‘You shall sing from the heights of faith.’

Psalm 99

Dedicated the tribe of Dan, blessed with the strength of a lion.

This psalm speaks of the future Day of Judgment, when G-D will call all of the depraved nations to task (Sforno). The cataclysmic war of Gog & Magog will take place during this period of judgment & retribution (Rashi, Radak). At that time, G-D will establish his universal reign, unchallenged by any nation on earth.

When G-D reigns supreme the nations will tremble & the might of Dan will conquer them in G-D’s Name.

Nations will then obey the laws of righteousness that the Jews have safeguarded in G-D’s Name all these years.

Psalm 100

The last of the 11 psalms composed by Moses, this psalm is dedicated to the tribe of Asher, whom Moses blessed with special bounty. Therefore, it’s fitting that his psalm would attest to the fact that HASHEM is good & that His kindness endures forever.

The psalm was sung in the Temple during the service of the Thanksgiving offering, a type brought brought after one had survived a great danger.

Not a day of life goes by without danger, although man is usually oblivious to the threatening forced surrounding him, or the internal biological ones that need to be kept at constant balance. For this constant deliverance, this psalm is recited in daily thanksgiving during the morning prayers.

R’ Hirsch explains this song deals with the gratitude that be due to G-D in the Messianic Era when the world has reached perfection. Thus, psalm 100 serves as a finale to the previous psalms that dealt with the Era’s approach.

Psalm 101

King David usually elevated himself to the level of divine inspiration upon the wings of his own song, but in a few instances he achieved his rapture & ecstasy without prior preparation through song, but intense meditation. Therefore, this psalms speaks to his seclusion & yearnings for HASHEM.

David reiterates his hatred for evil & his sincere love of strict justice. For him, divine kindness & justice are one & the same. David loves G-D unswervingly no matter how the Almighty treats him; therefore, he can sing at all times — ’To You, HASHEM, will I sing praise’ (v. 1)

The traits of purity & truth enable us to use our abilities for their intended purpose.

Psalm 102

This is a prayer for anyone enduring misfortune. The Jewish nation in exile is relatively poor financially & spiritually. (Radak, Ibn Ezra, Maharam Armaah).

Another aspect of our poverty in exile is the poor response which our prayers receive from heaven; in better days, G-D responded generously & in abundance, but now the blessings are meager & few (Maggid of Koznitz).

This psalm ends with a prophecy of hope & redemption, for we must remember that eventually there will be a redemption & prosperity.

Psalm 103

We thank HASHEM for His greatest gift — our soul.

Our soul makes us a reflection/ semblance of the divine.

The tragic irony of life is that people are often oblivious to their own souls, unaware of the essence of their being & the true purpose of their existence. All too often, this divine fragment is smothered by the flesh, this ray of eternal light engulfed in darkness.

The fundamental lesson of Judaism is to foster awareness of our soul & enhance it to be worthy of standing before G-D & returning to Him.

G-D’s kindness calms our soul’s turmoil.

Psalm 104

G-D created & sustains a wondrous world. His hand is unmistakable in nature & science, but the full extent of His greatness is unfathomable to us. We can’t grasp His profound motives, specifically His desire to create us & bestow good upon us, His sole concern being our welfare. Only our soul can grasp these motives & appreciate its beauty — only the soul can show & recognize true altruism.

The Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 15:22) says: In the Torah, Moses related many events without elaboration — they remained obscure until David came & explained them, as he did here by expanding upon the theme of Creation & illuminating its mysteries.

This psalm is recited on Rosh Chodesh, the ~first day(s) of the new month.

Psalm 105

This psalm was composed the day King David brought the Ark from Oved to Jerusalem (see also Psalm #96). The Psalmist emphasizes the Jews’ merit — ‘the offspring of Abraham, the sons of Jacob.’ We are still buoyed in their merit, especially Abraham who traveled around publicizing G-D’s Name, as David is now doing on his triumphant march, resembling his illustrious ancestor (Ibn Ezra).

HASHEM guides the historical arc. All world events will eventually be tied together to create a society governed by G-D’s Torah.

Psalm 106

The preceding psalm describes the extensive wonders with which HASHEM both ferociously and mercifully redeemed our forefathers from Egypt.

This psalm resumes that narrative, relating how G-D miraculously sustained the Jews during their 40-year wandering through the Wilderness. G-D then led the Jews in to the land of Canaan & empowered them to conquer their adversaries despite overwhelming odds. Throughout these great historic period, G-D repeatedly performed so many wonders that the Psalmist exclaims: “Who can express the mighty acts of HASHEM? Who can declare all of His praise?” (v. 2, Radak)

Tragically, even though HASHEM acted with unprecedented kindness toward Israel, they in turn were negligent in their duties toward Him & failed to appreciate His wonders. Indeed, they defied His representative, Moses, & rebelled against his commands, initiating a spiritual & moral decline that culminated with our exile from the Holy Land (Sforno).

This psalm’s description of our infidelity & exile ends with a prayer for redemption: ‘Save us HASHEM, our G-D, & gather us from among the people, to thank Your Holy Name & to glory in Your praise!” (v.47)

G-D’s kindness is always near, we just need to open our eyes & hearts to see it.

This psalm concludes the 4th book of Psalms with the declaration: “Blessed is HASHEM, the G-D of Israel, from This World to the World to Come, & let the entire nation say: ‘Amen!’ Praise G-D!” (v.48)

Fifth Book of Psalms

Psalm 107

This is a prayer of thanks for those who were in danger & rescued (see also TODAH offering from Psalm #100). There are a number of historical scenarios that may apply to, from the Exodus to David to our current exile — where we have endured all kinds of danger, but the upcoming war of Gog & Magog will threaten to tear the world asunder.

Upon having survived grave dangers, one should publicly proclaim gratitude for G-D’s kindness.

Psalm 108

This psalm is unique in that it’s almost an exact replica of sections of previous psalms (verses 2–6 mirror 8–12 in #57, & verses 7–14 mirror 7–14 of #60).

Radak explains that the earlier psalms relate to David’s desperate fight from King Saul & his ultimate salvation. Here, these verses take on new meaning since they refer to Israel’s fortunes as a whole.

In the future the Messiah, scion of David, will deliver Israel from exile & lead the Jews in triumphant conquest of their enemies.

At that time the refrain of Israel’s song will bee ‘Grant us help against the oppressor; futile is the aid of man. Through G-D we shall form an army, & He shall trample our oppressors.’ (v. 13–14)

Psalm 109

This is a plea for deliverance from both individual & national enemies.

David composed this psalm as he fled from King Saul, specifically after people had maligned & betrayed him to the errant king.

These wicked people praised themselves for their devious deeds, failing to realize the true things worth praising are G-D & our level of closeness to Him.

MIdrash Shocher Tov says that these words describe Israel’s unique relationship to G-D. He is Israel’s only praise, as it says in Deuteronomy 10:21: As well, Israel is G-D’s source of praise, as it states in Isaiah 43:21:

David concludes the psalm with complete confidence that G-d will respond, ‘For He stands at the right of the destitute, to save him from condemners of the soul’ (v 31)

Psalm 110

King David’s power came from G-D, earned by his righteousness.

Midrash Shocher Tov interprets this psalm is a hymn of gratitude which G-D recited to Abraham, the first Hebrew, who made the world aware of G-D thereby giving meaning to human existence. G-D addresses Abraham in the first verse as ‘My master.’

G-D Himself was indebted to Abraham because until he proclaimed G-D as Master, the purpose of Creation had been frustrated. G-D created the universe so that man could perceive Him & appreciate His works. Until Abraham’s time, however, the world failed to achieve its purpose, because men were oblivious to G-D. By teaching the wold to recognize G-D, Abraham gave meaning to existence. In a sense, therefore, Abraham became the master of the world, for it owed its continued existence to him.

G-D called Abraham ‘My master’ for he presented G-D with a gift that He, despite His infinite power, could not have fashioned for Himself. Because man is a creature of free will, even G-D cannot guarantee that man will choose good over evil & truth over falsehood. By dint of his indomitable faith, Abraham presented G-D with the heart & minds of mankind, to whom he had revealed the essence of the Divine. Abraham’s mission was continued by David, & it will be completed by the Messiah. This psalm is dedicated to these 3 pillars of Jewish tradition.

Psalm 111

Sforno explains that this psalm is a sermon exhorting the common Jew to devote time to Torah study.

Usually, simple & uneducated people offer 2 excuses for their neglect of Torah: 1. They claim the subject matter is too difficult for them 2. Their preoccupation with the pursuit of a livelihood leaves them no time for study.

In answer to these claims, the Psalmist responds that Israel is deeply indebted to G-D for all His kindness. The person who is sincerely grateful to HASHEM yearns to ‘thank Him wholeheartedly.’ (v. 1)

The primary way to demonstrate our thanks is to study His Torah in order to fathom His will. If a person dedicates all this heart to comprehend G-D’s will, then no obstacle can deter him.

G-D gave us all the tools to serve Him but it’s up to us to choose the right path — via His Torah & Mitzvot.

In conclusion, the Psalmist offers the masse the following advice on how to embark on the pursuit of wisdom: ‘The beginning of wisdom is the fear of HASHEM, good understanding to all their [the Mitzvot] practitioners (v. 10).

If a person is determined to fear HASHEM & to practice His Mitzvot, then the highest heavens are within his reach!

Psalm 112

The preceding psalm concluded with the words: ‘The beginning of wisdom is the fear of HASHEM’ (v. 10) — this psalm continues on that theme with the declaration: ‘Praiseworthy is the man who fears HASHEM’ (v. 1) & then describes the good fortune of such a man (Malbim).

Indeed, King Solomon, the wisest of all men, concluded 2 of his books with this very theme: ‘Grace is false & beauty is vain, a G-D fearing woman — she should be praised’ (Proverbs 31:21) & ‘The sum of matter, when all has been considered: fear G-D & keep His commandments, for that is man’s whole duty (Ecclesiastes 12:13) — Kohelet Rabbah

One who is truly G-D-fearing fears no misfortune & is secure knowing everything is a manifestation of Divine Providence.

Psalm 113

Psalms 113–118 are collectively known as HALLEL / praise, & sometimes referred to as the Egyptian Hallel, in that they recall the Exodus from Egypt & the splitting of the Sea. They also include the revelation at Mount Sinai, the resurrection of the dead, & the cataclysmic advent of the Messianic Era.

Hallel — or parts thereof — is included in our prayers on most holidays & Rosh Chodesh.

This psalm speaks of how G-D controls all of creation & is kind to all its creatures, from the sun in the sky to the earth below, and from the most needy of humans to the most noble.

Pslam 114

The Jews were elevated upon leaving Egypt to the status of the nobles from the preceding psalm. In journeying out into the Wilderness, then entering the Reed Sea, the Jews displayed the willingness to risk their lives at G-D’s command.

The ultimate flex was when Israel accepted the burden of the Torah at Mount Sinai & agreed to confirm completely to G-D’s will.

At that moment the world was born anew, overwhelmed by G-D’s intervention then Revelation at Sinai.

The brief revelation & transformation at Sinai provided the world with a glimpse of the metamorphosis which will occur in the redemption in the future. Indeed, it’s not nature which is destined to change; rather, it is man whose eyes & ears will suddenly be opened, for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of HASHEM as waster covers the sea (Isaiah 11:9).

Thus, says the Psalmist, ‘G-D will turn the rock into a pond water [i.e. reservoir of knowledge], the flint into a flowing fountain.’ (v.8)

Psalm 115

Whereas the preceding psalms vividly depicts the profound & immediate awe which HASHEM’s miracles inspire in all of mankind, this psalm describes the long-term effects of these wonders.

G-D’s appearance left an indelible mark of faith upon the Jewish heart for all generations, but the non-Jews were quick to forget the miraculous display of divine might, & the moment G-D concealed His presence from us, they would taunt us saying, “Where now is their G-D?” (v.2)

This is a prayer expressing hope that G-D will once again directly intervene in human affairs so all may recognize Him & have faith in Him, including the scoffers & idolaters — the ‘mixed multitude’ — who were quick to forget Egypt.

However, we must also realize that serving G-D is more about the mundane moments than the miraculous, more the day in & day out grind rather than the Sinaitic revelation.

The Jews of the Exodus, too, sinned all too quickly after experiencing first-hand G-D’s miraculous feats, & they sinned repeatedly until warranting a 40 year punishment of wandering.

Judaism is a religion of practice & of action. The heights of our values lie not in the sublime messages of brotherhood or intimately knowing G-D but in every day consistency.

Psalm 116

When David fled from Saul he felt forlorn & abandoned, forsaken by family & friends. Yet he still proclaimed “I love Him, for HASHEM hears my voice, my supplications” (v.1)

The Psalmist foresaw that Israel would also feel completely alone in exile, & this psalm was composed to encourage the downcast exiles with the assurance that indeed, HASHEM hears our voice.

The Jews stayed true to G-D despite their long exile & lowly status among the nations. Our steadfastness to Him should give us confidence that He hears our prayers.

This psalm describes the Final Judgment at the time of the Resurrection of the Dead, when G-D will save the ‘common man’ from the pits of hell because He hears their cries.

Psalm 117

The shortest chapter in all of Scripture, this psalm’s brevity mirrors the simplicity of the Messianic Era (Radak), a simple understanding between the Jews & all those who agree to abide by the 7 Noahide Laws.

Today the world is composed of countless groups which are divided by differences in religion, politics, economic, race & nationality. In the future, however, there will be but two groups: the Children of Israel who will scrupulously follow all 613 Mitzvot, & the rest of humankind who will faithfully follow the Torah’s 7 Noahide laws.

This is actually a lot easier nowadays than in the Biblical era & earlier when the world was awash with paganism. Nowadays, thanks to the spread of Christianity & Islam, much of the world already accepts the Abrahamic legacy. Therefore, the evolution to believing in the One True G-D won’t be as earth-shattering as it once was, such as during Abraham’s time.

The first verse speaks of the gentiles who will eventually recognize G-D, & the second verse describes Israel who has always recognized Him.

Psalm 118

This psalms has two primary levels of meaning: David’s path to the throne, & the Jews’ path to the Final Redemption.

King David envisions the many improvements he would make upon ascending the throne.

Similarly, in the Messianic Era & Redemption the Jews will feel a special joy when we return to our former glory & revive noble traditions. Our efforts will be met with enthusiasm & appreciation, & all will enthusiastically proclaim: “His kindness endures forever!” (v.1–4)

Psalm 119

The life of King David was devoted to the attainment of self-perfection in the service of HASHEM. Every action & every step in his life was calculated to bring him closer to the lofty goal.

David charts the stages of his ascent toward spiritual perfection in this psalm’s 176 verses, the longest chapter in Scripture.

The psalm follows the sequence of the Hebrew alphabet with eight verses for each letter, 8 symbolising that which is above the natural world, a release from the desires of the mundane world which distract us from our spiritual aspirations.

In these verses David also describes the many obstacles & dangers that confronted him, though never caused his spirit to be overwhelmed by sorrow, for he embraced the fount of joy — G-D’s Torah.

Here are brief notes with associated words for each:

  1. ALEPH

The first letter of the alphabet, the ‘head.’ The word ALEPH connotes being engaged in study. Torah study & developing one’s intellect as the primary way to come close to G-D. See Shabbat 104a for more.

2. BET

BINA — apply perception & analysis to Torah to solve problems in every area of life.

3. GIMEL

GOMEL — do kindness, especially with the poor among us. A sincere benefactor is always ready to help.

4. DALET

DERACHIM, there are many ways / paths that lie before us. The aim is to choose a DELET, doorway, that will open the way to the path of truth.

5. HEI

HASHEM created the world in such a way that that man has free will & is enticed by all the physical pleasures of this world. This causes the path to HASHEM to be relatively small, like a narrow alley amidst a bustling city.

So too, the opening of the letter HEI is narrow, while it has a wide opening through its floor, indicating the path to hell is the easier & wider route (see Menachot 29b)

6. VAV

Straight & unadorned, the letter of truth.

This letter is used to mean ‘and’ and serves to connect two words together. So too, truth leads to harmony & unity.

The word VAV also indicates something that connects, a hook.

7. ZAYIN

ZAN — livelihood & sustenance, which will be merited by one who fulfills the precepts represented by the prior six letters: study, understanding, charitableness, cherishes G-D, seeks His truth

ZACHOR — David constantly remembers HASHEM & He in turn remembers him with kindness.

8. CHET

CHEIN — grace & charm, which G-D will grant to those who follow His ways.

9. TET

TOV — ‘good,’ a succinct & accurate a description of Torah. The word TOV is also the first time the letter TET appears in the Torah.

TOV is the blessing of one who practices the Torah’s lessons: goodness.

10. YUD

YERUSHA — inheritance, for those who obey HASHEM.

The World to Come is created with the letter YUD, the smallest letter, as relatively few will merit & enjoy the full extent of its rewards.

11. KAF

KHAF — palm (of one’s hand), as Israel yearns to be sheltered in HASHEM’s palm, which will be crowned with the KETER/crown of the Final Redemption & Divine glory for all those devoted to Him.

12. LAMED

LIMUD — study, the highest value as we saw back in ALEPH, and so LAMED is the tallest letter. Likewise, the highest reward is the World to Come, merited by one who engages in Torah study.

LEV — the heart, king of all bodily organs & the source of emotions, so LAMED is the center of the alphabet.

[as the daily psalms are allotted based on verse count, we break here in the middle of psalm 119 & finish tomorrow]

כ״ו אדר א תשפ״ב

13. MEM

MAAMAR — a pronouncement, like G-D’s 10 sayings that created the world.

The numeric equivalent of MEM is 40, paralleling the 40 days in which an embryo is born, a new creation all its own.

Love — of ourselves, of HASHEM of others — love is the purpose of creation.

14. NUN

NEEMAN — loyal, like the person totally devoted to HASHEM is bent (like the letter NUN) to His will.

NESHAMA — the soul, begins with the NUN. Metaphysically, the first prerequisite for humanity (or the universe) to exist is G-D’s contraction of His all-encompassing essence, His allowing us to have our own free will separate from His.

NUN’s numeric equivalent is 50, corresponding to the 50 gates of BINAH/understanding, the gateways of insight into HASHEM’s wisdom.

The loyal devotee, NEEMAN, will illuminate his soul & attempt to reach these 50 gates using the light of the NER/candle of HASHEM’s Torah as guide.

15. SAMECH

SEMACH, meaning support or authority. HASHEM supports those who rely on Him.

This letter is shaped as an enclosed circle, symbolizing the protection on all sides received by one who has faith in HASHEM & sees His hand everywhere.

16. AYIN

ANI — a poor person…when you switch the first letter from ALEPH to AYIN. True poverty is of the mind. Torah study with one’s AYIN/eye will relieve intellectual & spiritual poverty — & will offer insights to help relieve from financial poverty as well.

-see ALEPH-

AYIN’s numeric equivalent is 70, corresponding to the 70 faces /interpretations / ways of understanding the Torah.

17. PEI

PEH — mouth, which is best used to study Torah.

One should first use their AYIN before their PEH.

18 .TZADI

The letter is shaped with two bent heads, symbolizing our submission to HASHEM with both our eyes & mouth.

One who guards his eyes & mouth & uses their vision & voice in service of HASHEM merits the title TZADDIK / righteous person.

19. KUF

TZADDIK versus the RASHA / wicked person. For the latter, there is always an opening for repentance under the KUF — when they call out in sincere KERIAH to HASHEM. They will then receive His assistance.

20. REISH

The RASHA puts himself ahead (REISH, ROSH) of others & ahead of G-D — his back is toward the KUF instead of facing it. Likewise, G-D doesn’t want to REEH/see the wicked person’s face so His face is hidden from him.

21. SHIN

SHEKER — lies, which have no feet to stand on, like the letter SHIN shaped with a precarious bottom.

SHEIN — tooth, which is used to destroy the false & wicked ones.

‘SHINEI RESHAIM SHIBARTA’

22. TAF

EMET — truth — which starts with ALEPH, includes the ~middle letter MEM in the middle, & ends with TAF — is the purpose & grand scheme of all things.

TAV — desire, which should be for the truth — HASHEM’s seal. The truth helps us draw closer to Him.

Psalms 120–134 — The 15 Shir HaMaalot

In the lengthy previous Psalm 119, King David describes in vivid detail how Torah wisdom and Mitzvah observance constitute the very basis of the world order, the alphabet of the universal design. One who follows this comprehensive program will surely be elevated and will experience blessing and success, as Solomon said: ‘The path of life for the wise leads upward.’ (Proverbs 15:24).

Now, the Psalmist begins a series of 15 psalms which describe the rising fortunes of the wise, designed to raise man’s spirits.

Each of these 15 is titled with ‘A Song of Ascents,’ rather than singular ascent, because when Israel is worthy to ascend they don’t climb one step at a time rather than mount many rungs at once, as it states: ‘And you shall be in constant ascent.’ (Deuteronomy 28:13). On the other hand, should Israel fail to obey G-D, they descend many levels at once, as it states: ‘And you shall fall very low.’ (Deut. 28:43)

These 15 psalms were sung at the Holy Temple, the central location where a Jew was catapulted toward successively higher summits.

Man’s mission is to scale the MAALOT of heavens, to scale the spiritual heights of goodness and wisdom which rise from earth heavenward.

Psalm 120

Distress of the exiles who yearn to return to Eretz Yisrael.

Psalm 121

This psalm is unique among the 15 in that it begins Shir LaMaalot, instead of HaMaalot.

This LAMED, this looking to / reaching for HASHEM in the heights, is the means by which Israel finds the strength to emulate Him & then ascend & draw closer to His Presence.

All this is possible when we forsake our faith in all earthly power and lift our eyes only to HASHEM. Israel is truly secure when it recognized that all moral protectors are frail and unreliable, whereas the ‘Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.’ (v.4)

Psalm 122

The glory of Jerusalem of old, where every Jew experienced an encounter with holiness in their own unique way that demonstrated to each person the special, divine nature of their soul.

‘For just as no two faces are alike, no two minds are alike.’ (Berachot 58a)

Every additional pilgrim to the city gave further evidence to the diversity and uniqueness of G-D’s creatures. This heightened the individual’s self-esteem and lifted his spirits, in contrast to the typical city where masses gather then gradually decrease the significance and value of each individual as the urban multitude increases.

This fostered brotherhood and unity in Jerusalem, which came to be known as the city of peace, the ‘city that is united together.’ (v.3)

Psalm 123

Exile purges us of our negative traits & humbles us to acknowledge our dependence on HASHEM.

Psalm 124

We give thanks to HASHEM, for only His love & protection — and our love for Him — has saved us from extinction while in exile among our enemies.

Psalm 125

The defense and security of Israel is a matter of primary concern.

Historically, Israel has been found vulnerable, or even helpless. The Psalmist emphasizes that our true fortifications are internal — when we have faith in HASHEM, He will not fail us.

This utopian state is reserved exclusively for ‘those who are good and upright in their hearts’ (v.4), while the ‘perverse and workers of iniquity’ (v.5) will be rejected from this righteous assembly.

Then we will achieve our long-awaited goal: peace. (v.5)

Psalm 126

This song describes the highest of Ascents, our Redemption from exile in both body & spirit.

This psalm is recited before Birkat HaMazon on the Sabbath and Festivals since these holidays afford the exiled Jew a glimpse of their future elevation and glory, as does this psalm. [As opposed to Psalm 137 which describes the descent of our exile and is sung prior to Birkat HaMazon on weekdays to remind us of the Temple’s destruction and our duty to help rebuild it, even when our bodies are sated and comfortable in exile.]

Psalm 127

On managing the joint demands of marriage and parenthood and livelihood — which need to be performed in accordance with Torah law to merit His blessing — this psalm touches upon many of the primary problems that occupy a person’s thoughts and concerns.

Psalm 128

Continuing the theme of the previous psalm: marriage & parenthood are the noblest of pursuits IF done in partnership with HASHEM. And so too, any endeavor is valuable, be it physical labor or healing the sick, if done for the purpose of enhancing His creation.

Psalm 129

The history of Israel is one extended story rather than separate, detached episodes.

Even looking back from David’s lifetime, we grew from our bitter youth as exiles and then slaves in Egypt, and even after we entered the Holy Land we were met with endless adversity and hatred. We survived thanks to HASHEM’s mastery of the historical arc, saving us time and again from annihilation.

And history repeated throughout the millennia.

Thus, we thank and praise HASHEM for protecting us throughout, while we as a nation continued to blossom and develop as we overcame each successive threat.

Psalm 130

One in distress prays to HASHEM from the heart’s depths.

G-D desires our prayers & repentance, which will end the exile.

Psalm 131

King David was humble. So too, redemption will only be achieved with humility.

“Concerning any person who has arrogance within him, the Holy One, Blessed be He, said: He and I cannot dwell together in the world.” (Sotah 5a)

Psalm 132

Of David’s quest to build the Holy Temple & his son Solomon’s fulfillment of that dream.

We look forward to the rebuilding of the Temple & the rekindling of the Davidic dynasty, both bound up with the fortunes of Israel.

One must faithfully lay the groundwork & trust the work will be completed in that merit.

Psalm 133

King David toiled to bind up the wounds of the strife-torn Jews, and his dream of harmony was finally realized in his son Solomon’s reign.

Unity among brothers/sisters/humanity brings HASHEM’s blessings.

Psalm 134

Even at night priests stood in the Holy Temple, and even in exile suffering Jews bless HASHEM. The priests who serve in the Temple in Zion are to spread the blessings throughout Israel.

Psalm 135

HASHEM controls all, therefore all is futile except serving Him.

This will be realized in the Messianic Era when there will be an outpouring of praise to G-D and people will appreciate His mastery of the historical arc and guidance of world events.

Psalm 136

The 26 verses in this psalm correspond to the numerical value of the Tetragrammaton.

This psalm outlines the prime elements of Creation, the Exodus, and conquering Eretz Yisrael.

The Psalmist here equates HASHEM’s most awesome miracles, like the Splitting of the Sea, with seemingly mundane things like one’s daily sustenance. (Pesachim 118a)

Besides the momentous historic occasions, history unfolds every day as HASHEM provides all with their daily needs, no less significant an occurrence because both demonstrate G-D’s absolutely control over every detail.

Therefore, this psalm is referred to as the Great Hallel since it speaks to G-D’s greatest and most ensuring achievement — the sustenance of every living thing.

This psalm is recited Shabbat morning when Jews commemorate G-D perfect 6/7-Day Creation, which continues perpetually, & is also included in the Passover Seder in recalling the Exodus.

Psalm 137

Describes the descent into exile of a once-proud and joyous nation.

It’s a custom for the bridegroom to recite verses 5–6 under the wedding canopy as he awaits the arrival of his bride to fulfill the Jew’s eternal view to keep the unbuilt Holy Temple as a constant reminder of our exile, and not to fail to elevate Jerusalem above his foremost joy

We must never forget the Holy Temple and Jerusalem, even when we feel content without them.

On weekdays it’s customary to recite this psalm before Birkat HaMazon, the blessing after a meal, in order to keep fresh in our minds the memory of the destroyed Temple, even when our bodies are filled with contentment.

Psalm 138

On the awareness that HASHEM is all-powerful and close to those who seek Him, a triumphant realization of the Messianic Era.

Psalm 139

No other psalm examines the roots and reasons of Creation so intimately. This psalm is credited to Adam, the first man (Midrash Shocher Tov).

HASHEM’s omniscience and omnipotence are absolute.

There’s no escape from the divine plan which is knowable only to Him, since it defies human comprehension and baffles all men.

Still, men of faith follow willingly.

Psalm 140

We must place faith in HASHEM to fight deceit and to help us overcome difficult periods.

This psalm reflects Davi’d dark & lonely feelings I the bitter periods of his life when he was a fugitive from King Saul & other enemies (Ibn Ezra). Had David merely been a commoner the situation would’ve been difficult enough, but he had already been anointed for monarchy by the prophet Samuel, so he knew he was G-D’s chosen leader & so those. Who opposed him we’re in effect opposing G-D Himself! How difficult this must have been for him. He was so close to leading the people of G-D, yet those same people refused to recognize him, or His will.

Similarly, in the Messianic Era, the enemies of Israel will ignore her Messiah and defy G-D’s will and attack Israel in the awesome War of Gog & Magog, in which they will meet their final defeat.

Psalm 141

The Incense offering in the Temple atones for misusing our speech (Yoma 44a). We pray to avoid sin, even in a crisis.

Using hurtful speech is a form of self-righteous arrogance, for the speaker seems himself worthier than his victim. Incense, which is made of crushed herbs, symbolises self-effacement & humility (Zohar)

Psalm 142

When one is trapped they realise they are truly at HASHEM’s mercy. Prayer and dedication to Him is the only path of escape.

In his life’s most vulnerable moments, on the run from King Saul, David retreated deep in a dark cave (I Samuel ch 24) and, seeing himself on the brink of death, recited this prayer, pleading for a last minute reprieve. (Radak)

David’s life was a precursor to Jewish history, a tiny nation surrounded by hostile nations whose miraculous survival points the way to G-D.

Psalm 143

Continuing the previous psalm’s theme of a fugitive, trapped, with little hope.

Recalling HASHEMs past miracles helps to pull oneself out of the abyss brought on by suffering an persecution.

Psalm 144

This psalm is one of thanksgiving to HASHEM for all accomplishments, for all blessings come from Him.

There’s a custom to sing this psalm as an introduction to the Maariv service on Motzai Shabbat, the first prayer of the new week. This is a most appropriate beginning for the week’s activities, because in this psalm man declares that despite his own strenuous efforts all credit for success belongs to HASHEM.

Psalm 145

This is the only psalm entitled TEHILA — root word of TEHILLIM/Psalms — because its verses embody the essence of the Psalmist’s passionate love and appreciation for HASHEM.

Its following 150 words correspond to the 150 total Psalms, all of which are distilled into this one (Eish Das).

The Talmud states that whoever recites this psalm 3x daily — which is built into the daily prayers — is worthy of the World to Come (Berachot 4a).

The two elements which make this psalm so important:

  • It follows the order of the Hebrew alphabet, indicating this psalm is both fundamental and contains an orderly program for life and progress toward G-D.
  • Emphasizes G-D’s most crucial function as Chief Sustainer who provides for the nourishment of all creations, ‘satisfying the desire of every living thing.’ (v.16)

Psalm 146

A hymn of hope and encouragement for the exiled. We mustn’t let our suffering make us forget to praise HASHEM in all situations, and to rely on only Him (v.3,5).

Psalm 147

Continues the theme of the previous psalm’s last verse: ‘HASHEM shall reign forever — He is Your G-D, O Zion, from generation to generation. Praise G-D!’

Jerusalem will be rebuilt with praises and songs (Midrash Shocher Tov) and will be the source of Torah and holiness.

Our generation enjoys the privilege of witnessing the physical reconstruction of Jerusalem, but it remains far from its former grandeur as the world’s spiritual center.

Psalm 148

All of nature and creation join in a symphony of joyous songs of praise to HASHEM. They are all His legion.

Psalm 149

The wicked will be cut down and the righteous will glory in the world’s lofty praises honoring HASHEM.

The Psalms are only the prelude to even greater songs yet to be sung. To sing G-D’s praise is the perpetual destiny of Israel; as long as history unfolds, new songs will be composed to commemorate G-D’s kindness.

In every generation we meet new challenges, and every fresh dawn reveal new horizons.

Psalm 150

The psalms were composed to give man an opportunity to develop and enrich his soul by recognizing the accomplishments and kindness of HASHEM and by offering Him songs of praise.

Praise HASHEM in every possible way, for all manifestations of His greatness, in all circumstances.

The broad spectrum of human emotions brought on by a range of scenarios is reflected in the wide variety of musical instruments mentioned in this psalm, i.e. the blast of the shofar, which may be used to awaken / inspire / frighten / galvanize / invigorate / time-to-fight

Every experience offers us an opportunity to arouse another part of our soul to a new awareness of G-D’s goodness.

Let the soul not remain insensitive and silent, rather let it respond to the Psalmist’s final call:

“Let the entire soul praise Him. Praise G-D!”

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