“And through the psalms of David, Your servant, we shall praise you, Hashem, our God.” (Baruch Sh’omar – introductory blessing to the morning psalms)
We will soon begin, with the help of Hashem, our discussion on universal themes within the morning psalms. It is therefore relevant to cite some excerpts from the introduction to the Book of Psalms by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a noted sage and biblical commentator of the 19th century. Rabbi Hirsch points out that the universal themes within the Torah serve as a basis for the universal themes within the Book of Psalms, and he writes: “Taking as their basis the truths taught in the Torah, the Psalms sing of Hashem’s workings both in nature, and in the fate of the individual human being, of Israel, and of the nations.”
Rabbi Hirsch discusses how David was aware that his psalms would become a source of inspiration, comfort, and encouragement to his own people throughout the generations. Rabbi Hirsch then adds the following insights:
“However, David did not expect that the influence of his songs would be limited solely to the spiritual and moral edification and refinement of the generations of his own people. He confidently felt that his psalms would have an impact also upon the spirits and emotions of all the other nations. He viewed himself and his songs as servants and instrumentalities to advance that Divinely-promised future on earth when delusion and injustice will have vanished from among humanity, when, with the restoration of reverence for the One God, the supreme reign of truth, righteousness, and love, and hence of salvation, will have begun on earth.
“One aspect of the efficacy of his psalms, which David had expected and proclaimed with full confidence, has been gloriously vindicated even now, after so many centuries, in that the Psalms have been disseminated with telling effect not only among the elements of his own people, of whose liturgy they form a substantial part of to this very day, but also among almost all of the other peoples known to us. Thus they constitute a shining testimony of the Divine spirit which rested upon the singer when, inspired with so much faith and confidence, he first uttered these glorious hymns.
“For, far beyond the confines of the Jewish people, even today, the psalms still serve to lift up to Hashem the emotions of all those who seek Him, to bring them enlightenment, consolation and strength, and to inspire them to show self-sacrificing devotion in their conduct on earth.”
The Psalms of David also serve as a reminder that each human being can get close to Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, through praying to Hashem directly, without an intermediary. This is the way our people have prayed ever since Abraham and Sarah, and the following verses indicate that “all” human beings can follow our example:
“For You, O Master of All, are good and forgiving, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.” (Psalm 86:5)
“Hashem is close to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him sincerely” (Psalm 145:18).
“To all who call upon Him” – A classical biblical commentator, Radak, explains that this phrase is revealing that Hashem is close to all who call upon Him, “regardless of nationality.” In other words, one does not have to be Jewish in order to experience the loving closeness of Hashem.
One of the ways in which David helps us to get closer to Hashem is through revealing the struggles, the prolonged illness, and other forms of suffering that he experienced in his own life. When we read the psalms, we learn how David maintained his faith and hope in Hashem even during the most difficult trials. In addition, he did not allow his mistakes and weaknesses to cause him to despair; instead, he would honestly admit his errors and begin a process of “teshuvah” – return to Hashem.
David was able to turn all his life experiences into songs of faith, hope, and enlightenment. He wrote these songs not just for himself, but for all of us, for his loving heart desired that others should learn from his own challenging life experiences. He therefore said:
“I will educate you and enlighten you in the way in which you are to go: I will advise you from my own experience.” (Psalm 32:8)
David is therefore both a teacher and a friend to each of us.
The new month of Shvat has begun. May we be blessed with a Chodesh Tov – A Good Month!
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
I highly recommend the following three works on “Sefer Tehillim” – the Book of Psalms. These works also include inspiring insights regarding the universal vision of the Torah for our people, all peoples, and all creation:
1. “The Psalms – Translation and Commentary” by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (Feldheim Publications: www.feldheim.com )
2. “Tehillim” – The Psalms with a translation and commentary anthologized from Talmudic, Midrashic, and Rabbinic Sources – commentary prepared by Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer (The publisher is Artscroll: http://www.artscroll.com/linker/hazon/home . )
3. Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer, a noted contemporary Torah educator, is the author of another ArtScroll work on the Psalms, “Tehillim Treasury.” It discusses basic themes found in the Book of Psalms such as solace, serenity, sustenance, healing, success, faith, trust, prayer, teshuvah, parents, reverence of Heaven, and Torah study.