Tehillim תְהִלִּים (Praises)
Psalm (Tehillah) 26
The essence of David’s life aspirations is condensed into this brief psalm. Perfect innocence, purity, clarity of vision, truth, separation from evil, cleanliness and zeal – all of these find expression in this composition. David yearned for these traits so that he would be deemed worthy of constructing the shrine of human perfection, the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple). “YHWH, I love the house in which You dwell, and the place in which Your glory resides” (v. 8).
Late in his career, after a lifetime of arduous preparation, David thought that he attained the perfection of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He asked Elohim to let him prove his worth by testing him.
Elohim acquiesced by tempting David with Bath Sheba, a test that showed that David had not yet achieved flawlessness.
Psalm 26 was composed after David’s failure and he uses its verses to convey a double message. On the one hand, David requests a test and explains why he feels ready for it. On the other hand, he expresses his feelings of repentance and remorse after his failure.
According to Midrash Shocker Tov, these are the opening words of David’s lengthy request for a divine test.
David purposely brought himself into trying situations, Abraham did not. The patriarch waited for Elohim to initiate the test. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 107a) cautions against David’s approach because of its inherent danger. How can a man presume to claim that he can withstand temptation?
Rashi points out that elsewhere David makes a contradictory request: “Do not bring Your servant to judgement for no one living can emerge from before You all righteous” (Psalms 143:2). Therefore, we must explain David’s request here as follows: “YHWH, judge me only after You judge the wicked, because compared to them I appear to be righteous. But when You judge the righteous, “Do not bring Your servant to judgement.” [I.e David now admits that he cannot compare himself to the virtuous Patriarchs.]
The Midrash also adds another perspective. Judge me before the final sentence is passed [when Your full anger is not yet kindled and there is still room for compromise (Zayis Raanan) but not after the final sentence. Judge me in the world [where You can exercise ‘the Attribute of Mercy,’ and You are prepared to consider charity and good conduct to soften the sentence (Eretz HaChaim) but not in the World to Come [where all are judged according to the strict letter of the law…]
Malbim draws a clear distinction between an ‘examination’ and a ‘test.’ As an illustration, he draws upon the analysis of a specimen of gold. If the metal is being examined to discover whether and to what degree it has the properties commonly associated with gold, the analysis is called an ‘examination.’ However if you are making innovative experiments with gold to ascertain unknown facts, this entry into the realm of the unknown is a termed a ‘test.’
Utilising Malbim’s definitions we may paraphrase David’s request here in the following manner: ‘YHWH examine me to see if I have the purity of heart You can expect from n\any man. Then proceed to test me in order to discover new and unique spiritual abilities which may lie dormant deep inside me. Bring these to the surface so that I can use these new-found talents and strengths to better serve You.’
“Refine my intellect and my heart.” [i.e. purge; (eradicate all that is gross, vulgar, or merely common)] my intellect and my heart.
David’s desire for refinement was motivated by an ambition to be like Abraham who is described (in the Midrash) as follows: “His two ‘kidneys’ (sources of intellect) were overflowing with wisdom and taught Torah.” David sought a similar refinement of his own intellect (Eretz HaChaim).
Radak explains that this statement was uttered in the time of David’s repentance: David says: Upon examination You will find my thoughts as pure as refined silver. [lit. ‘my kidneys’] refers to the intellect, the source of advice and planning. ‘My heart’ refers to thoughts and desires.
David asks: Judge me according to my heart and mind for they are always upright even though my actions don’t always conform to my intellectual values and innermost desires. In regard to his actions, not his thoughts, David once requested ‘Do not bring Your servant to judgement’ (143:2).
The reason why my heart has never strayed from You is because I always train my eyes to observe Your kindness and to serve You out of a sense of appreciation. Therefore, I always tread the straight path of Your truth (Radak/Malbim).
[Once again we hear a reference to Abraham, who exemplified the trait of ‘kindness’ in all of his ways. Therefore, Elohim always reciprocated by treating him with kindness. The ultimate divine kindness was the series of ten tests through which Abraham was put. A person can appreciate tests and hope to grow with their aid only if he sees them as a kind opportunity offered to him by a loving Elohim, as apposed to a cruel, capricious Creator. David feels ready to ask for the tests because he feels that he is prepared for them due to the fact that he recognises Elohim’s mercy before his eyes constantly.
Furthermore, man’s very first sin was a direct result of Adam’s failure to constantly remember YHWH’s boundless generosity to him. The Talmud criticises him as ‘one who fails to appreciate kindness,’ because when Elohim accused him of eating the forbidden fruit he replied, ‘The woman that You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I did eat’ (Genesis 3:12).
Adam blames Elohim for giving him a faulty mate. If Adam had not lost sight of the fact that in truth Elohim had generously given him a wonderful mate, he never would have lost sight of the command not to eat of the fruit.]
The word ‘false’ refers to the men or people, as in ‘few in number of people (Genesis 34:30) (Metzudat Zion). Targum and Ibn Ezra render as ‘falsehood.’ I have not sat with such men to learn their bad ways (Radak).
[Once again David looks to Abraham for inspiration. Midrash Tanchumah describes how Abraham exemplified the person who never sat with ‘men of untruth.’ When the people went to build the great ‘tower’ to challenge Elohim (Genesis 11:4), they invited Abraham to join in their rebellion and he flatly refused. David assures YHWH that in his quest for perfection he can walk in truth, imitating Abraham, and stay away from the influence of men of untruth.
“…Hypocrites…” [lit. ‘the concealed.’] Men who take care to commit their crimes under cover of darkness (Rashi).
Some trace the root of this word to ‘youth’ meaning someone who, like young people, enjoys laughter and mockery, common traits of untrustworthy people (Ibn Ezra).
“I have not associated [lit. ‘I have not come’] Not only have I not committed concealed crimes, I have not even come together with such criminals in their hidden places (Radak).
Rather I make my permanent place, the House of Elohim, which I visit constantly (Radak).
David is careful of where he walks (only ‘in Your truth’), with whom he associates (not with ‘secret sinners’), and where he resides (‘And with the wicked I would not sit’) (Ibn Ezra).
I make no offerings to Elohim until I first cleanse myself from all sin (Radak).
In all of the mitzvoth that I fulfil I make sure that there is no shred of ill-gotten gain which would invalidate them as we find, for instance, that a stolen lulav is unfit for performing the mitzvah of waving on Succot (Rashi).
David claims some people wash themselves with penitence only when they see the filth of undiluted sin on their hands. ‘Not I,’ says David! ‘I wash my hands in cleanliness.’ Even when they seem clean I never cease my penitence, but purify myself more and more.
[lit. ‘making thanks with a loud voice’]
My main purpose in circling the altar is to proclaim loudly before the entire holy congregation assembled there, my thanks to You for Your wonders You performed when rescuing me in times of distress (Radak).
Circling the altar is usually done on Succot and therefore the Midrash says that Hallel was recited everyday of Succot when they encircled the Temple altar with the lulavim in hand. Hallel is a recitation of Psalms 113 to 118 and is made up largely of thanksgiving and praise for all the miracles YHWH has performed.
This refers to the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple) where the Ark of the Covenant is at rest and where the Priests and the Levites serve YHWH (Radak).
‘I have not sat with men of untruth’ (v. 4) but I do sit in the house where You dwell, for there the truly righteous congregate to serve You (Ibn Ezra).
[The pinnacle of Abraham’s success in trial was when he merited to serve YHWH by binding Isaac his son to the altar on the holiest spot on earth, Mount Moriah, the location of the Beit HaMikdash. David’s most cherished dream was also bound up with the construction of the Beit HaMikdash. Here David expresses the hope that the test will elevate him enough to be worthy of fulfilling his ambition to build a dwelling place for YHWH.]
Nowadays (when the Temple is not here) Elohim dwells in the Houses of Prayer and the Houses of Study. Abaye would study in one place and pray in another. However, after he completed the verse: ‘YHWH, I love the House in which You dwell, he was inspired to combine both loves together and he studied Torah and prayed in the same place (Megillah 29a).
‘Gather,’ is the word used to describe death (Metzudat Zion), [as in ‘and he was gathered unto his nation’ (Genesis 25:8).
[David is aware of the pitfalls inherent in a trial. There is much to gain, but, in the event of failure, much to lose. Therefore, he asks that even if he stumbles and errs, he should not be considered equally with common sinners whose sins are a result of their ongoing spiralling downward state.]
“…conspiracy…” [lit. plots, schemes’] When this word is used in Scripture it refers to ‘schemes’ sometimes good ones and sometimes bad (Rashi).
[Here it refers to evil thoughts which breed crimes, ‘in their hands.’]
The crime here is murder or assault with which they bloody their hands [and become ‘men of bloodshed’ (v. 9)]. Or it is bribery with which they fill their hands (Radak).
[Now David expresses his hopes in the future.] I will engage in no falsehood or trickery, whether in thought or deed (Radak).
These words were on the lips of Abraham as he went to the Akeida, the altar where he was to offer Isaac (Sanhedrin 86b). HaSatan made a herculean effort to persuade him to turn back: ‘How do you slaughter your own son, the precious gift for which you waited 100 years?’ (Maharsha ibid.) But Abraham turned a deaf ear to all of HaSatan’s arguments, saying in simplicity, ‘As for me, I will walk in my perfect innocence.
[The true, ‘straight or upright ones’ are the Patriarchs. The entire Book of Genesis is dedicated to them and is called ‘The Book of Uprightness.; David thought that his way of divine service was perfect (v. 1), but his failure proved otherwise. In the preceding verse he rededicated himself to the future quest of perfection, echoing the words of Abraham. Now he repeats his commitment to abandon his previous concept of righteousness and to follow only the example of the Forefathers.]
Psalm 119:59; “I planned my ways, yet I returned my feet to Your testimonies.”