Psalm (Tehillah) 27
With this Psalm, Jews all over the world (and some Israelites) usher in the spirit of the, ‘Day of Awe.’ It is recited at the conclusion of services throughout the month of Elul and during the Ten Days of Repentance. Many (mainly Jews) continue to recite it throughout the Festival of Succot.
At first glance it would seem that Psalm 51 would be more appropriate for creating a mood of repentance. It is that psalm which records, with unsurpassed eloquence, David’s broken-hearted confession of sin and his profound remorse over his guilt.
This psalm says nothing of repentance. Nevertheless, it combats sin by teaching how to prevent it at its source.
David declares that the mind which is fully engrossed in single-minded dedication to Elohim’s service, has no room for sin – and he exhorts us not to be distracted from concentration on this one goal.
[As a Torah giant once had this to say about the phenomenal Goan of Rogatchov: ‘I testify that he never so much as had one impure thought in all his life. He is so totally engrossed in his study of Torah and service to Elohim that he has no time to spare for anything else!’]
Since distress is like darkness, David describes salvation as light (Radak).
Although Elohim is the ultimate source of all illumination, the psalm refers to spiritual light, as David says, ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path’ (Psalm 119:105)
Midrash Shocher Tov comments: David said, ‘When I began to study Torah I grasped only a small amount, but gradually the wellspring of understanding starts to flow (like the light of a lamp which is limited by its size and intensity). However, when I reached the level of total immersion in learning, many great gateways open wide before me (and I perceive endless light for my path).’ [Elohim provides light in direct proportion to a person’s desire and striving for it.]
[lit. When evil doers ‘come close to me.’] “Approach” can also be rendered ‘when evildoers come to do battle.
The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 21:2) refers to Goliath of whom it is written, ‘And the Philistine approached [the Israelite camp] early in the morning and in the evening, so he stood firm for forty days’ (1 Samuel 17:16).
“…to devour my flesh…” ‘And the Philistine said to David, “Come to me and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the field”’ (1 Samuel 17:4; Midrash ibid.).
Now that I have witnessed Elohim’s miraculous assistance against Goliath, I know that I need not fear anything, not even an army (Midrash ibid., Radak).
David said: Man’s desires are in a constant state of flux and change. Each moment breeds new whims and fresh requests. I am not so. Past experience has proven that I always limited myself to one request (Malbim).
“…that shall I seek…” Malbim continues: What I requested in the past is what I still want and will continue to desire in the future, because this one request embodies all of my desires!
Some people ask one thing with their lips and desire another with their heart. I ask only that for which my heart yearns. [Similarly Queen Esther said to Ahasuerus, ‘My verbal request which is indeed my heart’s true desire’ (Esther 5:7)]
“That I dwell in the House of YHWH all the days of my life.” Radak emphasized that David had no interest in the temporal powers and privileges of monarchy. Although Elohim made him victorious in all military campaigns (v. 3), he nevertheless yearned to abandon the worries and cares of war in order to devote himself exclusively to serving Elohim in the Temple where the Holy Ark rests, in the company of pious priests and holy prophets.
[In Scripture the concept of concealment is never used in connection with something that is trivial. It is used only to denote the storage of something very precious, especially a spiritual treasure. David is confident that YHWH will safeguard him carefully as befits a spiritual treasure.]
David says: Now all this will come to pass at the moment when my fondest dreams are realised. That will be when I build the Temple and merit to have Elohim’s presence dwell there.
Only kings of the House of David may sit down in the Temple courtyard alone (Sotah 40b). At that time or at that special moment when Israel’s head will be raised high up above its enemies, all of its dictators will shrink in shame (Alshich).
In this verse David seems to have lost the tremendous confidence which he displayed in the preceding lines. The reason is that previously David declared the wars waged against the armies of flesh and blood. In those battles David is confident of divine salvation. Now David turns his attention to the most difficult struggle of all, the conflict against the Evil Inclination – and he requires unprecedented assistance (Otzar Nechmad).
David directs his plea to YHWH’s ‘Attribute of Mercy.’ David realises that if he is judged strictly he will not deserve to be pardoned. He cannot verbally express himself in order to plead his case. His thoughts are in disarray and he cannot recognise them. All he can do is scream out wordlessly with his ‘voice’ and plead for help (Tehillos HaShem; Yosef Tehillot).
Although David’s one great request is lofty and praiseworthy (v.4), he takes no credit for it; he attributes all to YHWH. David declares that it was Elohim Himself who implanted in his heart this noble aspiration and it was as if his heart spoke to him as Elohim’s emissary (Rashi; Radak).
King David would assemble his subjects in the same way other kings would to have their subjects pay homage to them, but once in his presence David would teach them to seek out the Presence of Elohim (Meiri).
My heart yearns for You Presence, but there are two ways in which my hopes can be dashed. The first way is that You will conceal Yourself from me (Malbim).
Sometimes Elohim is angry with the sinful person and wishes to deny him a share in the Hereafter. For this reason, He rewards him for his good deeds in This World. The recipient sees that Elohim is showing him a benign and friendly face and imagines that he enjoys Elohim’s favour. The truth, however, is the reverse – Elohim is concealing his anger behind this friendly appearance. David requested that Elohim’s feelings should be revealed to him; that Elohim’s true Presence never be hidden from him (Panim Yofos).
After youth and adolescence they sent me out on my own (Sforno).
Continuing his request to come before the presence of Elohim (v. 8 & 9), David now asks that YHWH show him the way. However, the routes leading to YHWH are many. Some are direct, some indirect. Some have obstacles and dangerous pitfalls, some don’t. Therefore David asks, ‘In my pursuit of Your Presence, lead me on the straight path’ (Akeida).
Do not let them realise their hearts desire which is to engage me in battle so that I am prevented from concentrating on perfection of the soul (Radak).
If not for my faith, these false witnesses would have destroyed me long ago. I never stopped believing that I too am worthy of a portion in the World to Come, and so I ignored them and continued to serve Elohim with devotion (Rashi; Radak).
However, the Talmud (Berachot 4a) relates that although David did not take the slanderous, fake accusations of his enemies to heart, he never doubted that he was, indeed, guilty of some wrongdoing and this did, indeed, shake his confidence.
Because of my bondless faith in YHWH I hope for His aid at all times and pay no heed to my enemies (Radak).
“…strengthen yourself and He will give you courage…” If you make every effort to strengthen yourself in YHWH’s service, He will reciprocate by instilling courage in your heart so that your enemies will not weaken your resolve (Alshich).