Tehillim תְהִלִּים (Praises)
Psalm (Tehillah) 30
This Psalm is reserved for the occasions of innovation; be it the new first-fruit, or newly dedicated Temple. It is both a prayer for success, ‘To You, YHWH, I called and to my Lord I appealed’ (v. 9) and a confident declaration of eternal thanksgiving, ‘YHWH, my Elohim, I will offer You thanks forever (v. 13).
This psalm, once used to inaugurate the Temple, is used today to inaugurate our daily prayers at the outset of Psukei D’Zimra – Verses of Praise; for the synagogue is a ‘miniature Temple’ and our prayers take the place of the sacrifices. While the Temple stood, this psalm was recited during the ceremonies which took place when the Temple courtyard was expanded. This song of thanksgiving was accompanied by musical instruments at every corner and on every great rock in Jerusalem, and they sang, ‘I will exalt You on High, YHWH’ (Shavuos 15b).
Also, the Mishnah (Biccurim 3:4) relates that when the multitudes of Israel carried their baskets of ‘first-fruits’ to Jerusalem for the festival of Shavout, they were greeted at the Temple courtyard by the choir of Levites who sang this psalm. Maseches Sofrim 18:2 designates this as the ‘Song of the Day’ for Chanukah.
“A song with musical accompaniment for the inauguration of the Temple…” Two terms describing song are used here because the Temple was built and inaugurated twice – once in the days of Solomon and again in the days of Ezra. ‘song’ refers to the first Temple and ‘musical’ refers to the second.
How does each of these words pertain to the respective Temples? The answer is that the dedication of Solomon’s Temple was an experience of total joy. Not only were there inspired words of song, but there was also exalted, melodious musical accompaniment.
The scene in Ezra’s dedication, however, was dramatically altered. Some priests attempted to play with trumpets and cymbals, but they were drowned out by the wailing of old Jews who still remembered the splendour of the first Temple and were grief-stricken when they saw the small impoverished Second.
So the verse can read more accurately as, ‘A song of total joy for the First Temple and wailing accompanied by music for the Second.’
“…by David.” Since, it was Solomon, not David who built the Temple, why is the inauguration ascribed to David? Rashi explains: David composed the song to be sung later, in Solomon’s days, the inauguration.
“I will exalt You, YHWH…” I will extol Your virtues with the highest of praise.
“…You have raised…” is derived from ‘to draw up’ as in drawing water from a deep well.
“…You have raised me up from the depths…” David’s reputation sank low when his enemies claimed he had no portion in the World to Come. But when Solomon dedicated the Temple and the gates did not open until David’s name was invoked, his honour was lifted out of disgrace (Rashi). Psalm 24:7; “Raise up your heads, O gates, and be uplifted, you everlasting entrances, so that the King of Glory may enter.”
I sought a cure for my ills only from You and not from any physician. I realised that the source of my misfortunes was spiritual, not physical in nature (Ibn Ezra; Malbim).
[When the soul is profaned and deprived of its sanctity, the body which houses it becomes sick. Therefore, the word ‘sick’ is related to ‘profane.’]
Normally a cry can specify a specific location of were the help is needed, but David’s cry lacked an intelligible message, rather it was a cry for complete help.
The ‘Lower World’ describes Gehinnom, as does the word ‘pit’ (Radak).
Harav Yerucham Levovitz asks: David was still alive when he uttered these words – how could he speak as if he had already descended to Gehinnom which is a place of punishment for sinners after death? From here we learn that one can suffer in Gehinnom even while alive! As the Talmud (Nedarim 22a) teaches, ‘Whoever flares up in anger is subjected to all types of Gehinnom.’ The flames of frustration, anguish, and melancholy which smoulder within the heart of the depressed man are equivalent of the fires of Gehinnom. Throughout the Book of Psalms, most references to ‘falling into the Lower World’ refer to this type of inferno.
David thanks Elohim for lifting up his spirits from the raging Gehinnom, and for instilling in his heart joy, the equivalent of Paradise (Daas Chochma u’Mussar Vol. III pp. 20; 252).
Upon witnessing my salvation, all men devoted to Elohim should rejoice over the power of repentance and the magnitude of His mercy which redeems the righteous repenter, despite the seriousness of his transgression (Radak).
“…give thanks to His holy Name.” This refers to His Name, for the titles which we bestow upon Elohim are merely a means of remembering Him. There is no name which truly describes Elohim, for His essence is beyond our comprehension (Radak).
The devoted ones should sing YHWH’s praises for His anger, although thoroughly justified, lasts only a brief moment. For example, all of the ‘thirteen attributes of Elohim’s Mercy,’ depict His kindness. Following them there is only one attribute that is threatening: ‘He remembers the sins of the fathers to their children,’ and even this goes no further than ‘the third generation.’ However, Elohim’s kindness is ‘for two thousand generations’ (Radak).
Elohim is wrathful everyday, a wrath the Talmud describes as enduring no more than the minutest fraction of a minute.
“…life results from his pleasure.” I.e. by pleasing Elohim and gaining His good will, one assures long life (Rashi). Even during that brief flash of anger, Elohim intends the punishment to make the sinner worthy of eternal life (Shaloh)
Isaiah 54:7-8; “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you," says YHWH your Redeemer.”
But I was mistaken because continued serenity is not in my hands, only in the hands of Elohim, Who, can ‘support my greatness with might’ or ‘conceal His face’ (v. 8) i.e., withdraw His support from me, as He wishes (Rashi).
James 4:15-16; “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
When I experienced a period of serenity I was mistaken to assume that it was in my own hands to perpetuate that ideal, tranquil state. Now I fully realise that only You have the ability to assure my continued success (Radak).
You strengthened my intellect, which is my greatness; my highest attribute, to be mighty against the wily persuasions of the Evil Inclination which sought to deceive me into sin (Radak).
“You but conceal Your face, I would be terrified.” There were moments when You concealed Your truth from my intellect, either because I boasted of my righteousness and You sought to test me, or in order to punish me for my sins. At those times my mind became confused and overcome with fright, and my better judgement was overwhelmed by my Evil Inclination (Radak).
[This describes David’s misjudgement which brought about the misery of the plague. ‘And HaSatan Arose against Israel and he persuaded David to count Israel (2 Chronicles 21:1) Radak explains that HaSatan is the evil impulse in the heart of man which first confuses him and tricks him into sin and then is transformed into the Angel of Death who kills the sinner with his lethal sword in punishment for the sin. (Cf. Bava Basra 16a)]
When sin overcame me, what did I do? I called out only to You, fully realising that I could not be healed without Your assistance. I understood that I deserved death and suffering in Gehinnom but I appealed to You saying, ‘Of what value would my death be?’ (v. 10) (Radak).
Alishich notes that David’s manner of approaching Elohim with the request following the halachically prescribed procedure of prayer [cf. Berachos 34a]. One begins with Elohim’s praises in the first three benedictions of Shemoneh Esrei. Then he continues with the middle benedictions which appeals for heavenly assistance i.e. first calling, then appealing.
“What gain is there in my death…” [lit. ‘what profit would be gained from my blood?’]
The word ‘blood,’ refers to the soul. Because the purpose of physical existence is to become worthy of the life of the soul in the World to Come. David asks, ‘Of what value was my experience on this earth if I am destined to fall into Gehinnom?’ Life in this world is of no value if it does not prepare man for the World to Come. For after death nothing at all remains of the sinners, as it says, ‘And the dust returns to the ground as it was’ (Ecclesiastes 12:7) (Radak).
David appealed to ‘YHWH,’ THE Divine attribute of Mercy’ and asked for an undeserved favour and not strict judgement (Alshich).
I was mourning over the spectre of my soul perishing because of my sins, but You gladdened me by sending the Prophet Nathan with good tidings, ‘YHWH has also forgiven your sins, and [you] shall not die’ (2 Samuel 12:13).
The translation follows Radak and Metzudas Zion who explain that the soul is called ‘glory’ because it is the most glorious part of a human being. Thus: ‘My soul will sing to You forever if You will not drag me down to the dust’ (a reference to ‘will the dust acknowledge you’ v. 10).
The soul emanates from Elohim’s throne of Glory. Harav Yerucham Levovitz explains that the soul is called, glory, because its only function is to give ‘honour and glory’ to Elohim, it’s Maker. Just as a king appoints courtiers whose sole responsibility is to praise his royal majesty, so has Elohim endowed man with a divine soul in order that it sanctify His name (Daas Chochmah u’Mussar Vol. II pg. 38).
Rabbi Israel of Rizhin explained this verse: Some people complain when Elohim afflicts them. Others accept pain more graciously and make no utterance. However, inwardly they seethe with anger and resentment. A much higher level of resignation to Elohim was achieved by A’aron the High Priest whose reaction to the death of his two sons, Nadav and Avihu, was ‘and A’aron was completely still’ (Leviticus 10:3). This means he accepted YHWH’s decree with complete external and internal calm.
David was even greater; he did not merely accept punishment. He welcomed it, for he saw with clarity the tremendous benefits reaped by his soul as a result of YHWH’s criticism and rebuke.