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Tehillim - Session 3 (Part 3 of a 4 Part Introduction to the Psalms)

Tehillim (Psalms) Session 3
Part 3 of a 4 Part Introduction

Tehillim – A Translation with commentary anthologized from Talmudic, Midrashic and Rabbinic Sources - ArtScroll Tanach Series Published by Mesorah Publication Ltd.

The Heart of the Nation

In the movie, Braveheart, Mel Gibson’s character, William Wallace turns and addresses key members of the Scottish council, which had descended into bickering, and declares, “There's a difference between us. You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom. And I go to make sure that they have it.”

In the time in which the movie is set, the Scots were under severe oppression from the English and its tattered clans were additionally plagued by a long running internal feud over who would be king. If all the Scottish clans had only united, they would have achieved victory of there common enemy.

The role of a King is not to be served, but to serve. A king must set values and standards by ruling, governing, protecting and nurturing his people. A king can only do this if he becomes the heart of his subjects. In other words he should embody within himself their goals and aspirations. As a consequence a king’s slightest actions can send shock-waves rippling through the ranks. If the king ascends, all ascend, if the king falls, all fall.

King David knew how influential his most basic actions were. Eicha Rabasi 2:27 relates, “A harp was suspended over King David’s bed. At midnight, a north wind would blow through it causing it to play. When David heard the music he would arise and engage in Torah study. When the people of Israel heard David’s voice studying Torah, they said, ‘If David, the busy king of Israel is studying Torah, certainly we, too, must do so.’ Immediately, they engaged themselves in Torah.”

At the very dawn of history, Adam, according to Jewish writings, was permitted to see (and bless in various ways) the lives of his descendants. When he saw David, he infused within him a unique power to bring his sinful heirs back to perfection. This was done with the infusion of two gifts - sovereignty and songs of praise.

Sovereignty is the authority to wield the scepter with which to control the conduct of great masses of men. With this gift King David possessed the unique ability to influence the innermost feelings of his people. In the process he became the collective heart of his people. This is the motive of the Torah’s concern that the king’s heart not be turned astray. Deuteronomy 17:17; “So that his heart shall not be turned away.”

Therefore, the Torah exhorts the king over all others to concentrate his heart on Torah study all the days of his life. It was this sense of obligation that motivated King David to seek the Path of the Upright.

King David knew that if he could make is own heart upright, he could do the same for the masses. This is evident in his intolerant attitude for the slightest flaw in his own character.

He did this by choosing to model himself after the righteous Patriarchs. The Path of the Upright is contained in the Book of the Upright, which comprises the Book of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the Book of Genesis). The Patriarch’s constantly strove to follow YHWH without distraction or interruption.

King David also sought this level of uninterrupted concentration on serving Elohim.

Psalms 16:8; “I have set YHWH before me always, because He is my right hand, I shall not falter.” In other words he is saying, “I do not turn my thoughts away from Elohim; He is like my right hand which I do not forget even for a moment on account of the ease of its motions. Therefore, I shall not be moved, I shall not fall.” (The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob [Guide 3:51])

The Test

“Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: A person should never ask to be put to the test for David, king of Israel put himself to the test – and failed. He asked: ‘Sovereign of the Universe, why do people say, ‘The Elohim of Abraham, the Elohim of Isaac, the Elohim of Jacob,’ but they do not say, ‘The Elohim of David?’ Elohim replied, ‘They were tested but you were not.’ David responded, ‘Examine me, YHWH, and put me to the test, refine my intellect and my heart. For Your kindness is before my eyes, and I have walked in Your truth (Psalms 26:2-3).' Elohim said, ‘I will grant your request.’ Furthermore, I will do for you what I never did for the Patriarch’s. I never warned them of the nature of their trial, but I inform you that your test will be in the realm of carnal desire [but even this warning will be to no avail for you are as yet unprepared for the test].”

David’s greatness was “…that he possessed beautiful eyes” (I Samuel 16:12) – and it was his mission to maintain clarity of vision no matter what the temptation. Now he demanded a test. His eyes would be tested – by being confronted with a sight that would draw them from the purity of heaven to the desires of the earth. “Immediately, he walked on the roof of the king’s palace and from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was of exceedingly beautiful appearance” (2 Samuel 11:2)

The moment his eyes glimpsed Bath Sheba, they were distracted from Elohim. The test was over then and there. David had failed to imitate the Patriarch’s.

The ensuing events demonstrate the serious damage which had been inflicted on David’s beautiful eyes.

Now with his hands, David took an unmarried woman, a woman who had received a bill of divorce from her husband before he went out to war [for it was customary in David’s army for soldier’s to divorce their wives conditionally to avoid the tragedy of women unable to remarry in the event their husbands were missing in action]. She was a virtuous woman who was perfectly suited to be the queen of a righteous king. David’s sin, at this point, was in his heart. As the great sage, Rambam stresses: “The Torah was concerned lest the king’s heart be distracted…For the heart of the king is the collective heart of Israel…”

The death of Bath Sheba’s temporarily divorced husband, Uriah was brought about by the command of David to cover his tracks. The Talmud cites that King David, was obligated to execute Uriah for rebellion, after failing to lay with his wife on a direct order. Failure to fulfil a direct order from the king meant execution without a normal judicial procedure according to Sanhedrin law. This was no-doubt due to the chaos of a wartime climate. Similar laws exist within most armies today. This is why officers are usually issued a sidearm - to quickly execute insubordinates. Therefore, it can actually be argued that King David broke no laws, however he did sin, but he sinned against YHWH alone. Psalms 51:4; “Against you alone have I sinned.”

While the Midrash speaks of King David’s violent disposition, it also speaks on how he channelled it. “Samuel said: ‘(David) is an Esau-like ruddy killer!’ But the Holy One, Blessed be He said: ‘This one is different from Esau. He is with beautiful eyes. David slays his foes only upon the advice and guidance of the Sanhedrin!’”

King David’s ruddiness overwhelmed his beautiful eyes. Passion had blurred his vision. When requesting to be tested, King David claimed, “Your kindness is before my eyes” (Psalms 26:3) and he also added “I place Elohim straight before me always” (Psalms 16:8). But after he had failed the test he lamented, “My sin is before me always” (Psalms 51:5).

To correct his error King David turned to Adam’s second gift, the gift of song.

The Sweet Singer of Israel

“No other art form is as ethereal and intangible as music (which creates no object of substance and body, only sound waves travelling in the air, which swiftly fade away).” – Ramban, Shaar haGemul 9

A song alludes to unique properties that purify the soul. The root word for “music” in Hebrew is related to the word “pruning.” A tree cannot flourish if its vitality is sapped by dead bark and diseased branches. Cutting away the undesirable portions assures a continued growth of a thriving tree. Without regular pruning a tree will fail to produce fruit. “Early in the morning, as (Yahshua) was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, "May you never bear fruit again!" Immediately the tree withered.” (Matthew 21:18)

The same concept of pruning a plant to increase growth also applies to spiritual development. A course character and low morals rot the soul. Lust and greed squander the precious energies of the spirit. These undesirable traits can be pruned with the aid of songs.

A song expresses the inner harmony of the singer and of creation. When King David sang, all creation did as well. When this harmony is created, the sway of evil is pruned away to wither and disintegrate. When David’s profound words are expressed with the accompaniment of song (and they are heard and contemplated) a twofold effect of purification occurs within the listener’s inner being.

Psalms 19:15; “May the expressions of my mouth find favour.” When King David completed the Book of Psalms he requested of Elohim; “Let these Psalms be studied and contemplated like (the complex and weighty tractates of) ritual cleanliness.”

David requested that the laws of ritual cleanliness to be comparable to Psalms because they represent purity. He begged that Psalms should not remain a form of sacred poetry, but that they have a purifying effect on the human soul.

David possessed the unique ability to play divine music which filled the emptiness of the soul, driving away its sin-bred melancholy. Samuel anointed him to be king, because David was, “the anointed of the Elohim of Jacob – therefore he became “The sweet singer of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:1)

The Psalms literally cry out, “Extol virtue! Sing of kindness1 Praise Elohim and serve Him! Denounce evil! Condemn the wicked! Pray for protection against the Evil Inclination! Set values straight with the aid of the pruning quality of songs and you will be on the unhindered path to purity.”

Tehillim – Song of Repentance

As his seventy years of song drew to a close, David uttered his last exalted words. Beginning: “The spirit of YHWH spoke through me and His Word was on my lips” (2 Samuel 23:2). For all his failings and all his faults, King David had indeed spent his entire lifetime as a speaker and singer of YHWH’s most exalted Word. King David’s repentance set the benchmark for the most heart felt method of approaching repentance. Think on the name and nature of Blues music, a distant relative to the concept of Psalms. Even the most notorious rappers tackle the same subjects as David, but they fail to have any component of contending with YHWH and thus become Psalms to the Devil.

2 Samuel 23:3; “…The Elohim of Israel said, ‘the rock of Israel has spoken to me – (become a) ruler over men; a righteous one, who rules through the fear of Elohim.’” The rock alludes to the raising up of repentance. King David was the first to repent with such profound strength that it paved the way for all future penitents.

David was a trailblazer on the path of repentance. The only individual to have repented as bitterly as King David was Adam. But not even Adam’s repentance was as established David’s, because his return was primarily concerned with himself. King David’s repentance was on behalf of all Israel. Adam foreknew this when he saw the soul of David, which prompted him to add seventy years of his own life to David’s, which, according to the Midrash, had only been ordained to last several hours. Thus David alone had the unprecedented opportunity to bring mankind back to the very roots of existence, to the level of Adam before the sin.

King David’s other strength in repentance was his ability to not admit his mistake begrudgingly at the moment of accusation. He readily accepted the harshest critique and rebuke. He never hesitated to admit his sin and willingly accepted the punishment he deserved. Not so with King Saul, though he was of finer character than David. Nowhere in Scripture do we find him confessing his guilt or accepting affliction. Therefore he was rejected, even though he never committed acts as grievous as David. Adam too, failed to acknowledge his sin immediately. Genesis 3:12; “The woman You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I ate.”

Adam attributed his failure to his wife. Thus by implication he blamed YHWH, who in His mercy provided him with a mate. He failed to acknowledge his own guilt and immediately repent. When Nathan accused David of his sin with Bath Sheba, he slank off his throne and said only these words, “I have sinned.” (2 Samuel 12:13)

(Source: This materiel has been largely lifted directly from Artscroll Tanak Series - Tehillim)

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