This psalm speaks of the kingship of the House of David, the psalmist lamenting its fall from power for many years, and God's abandonment and spurning of us.
The above Kavenah is a traditional Kavenah to use when saying this Psalm.
The first word is Maskil. Please refer to the introduction in Yearning for Redemption PDF file, starting at page 6, for more information.
There are 53 verses in Psalm 89. The number 53 relates to the Hebrew word Gan = garden.
There are 72 Verses spoken on the 18th day of each Hebrew month. Students of Kabbalah are familiar with the number 72. One connection is to the word / Sefirah of Chesed = loving kindness.
We live in times that are so noisy, yet so many are deafened by the silence. In the midst of all the distractions that make up today's lifestyle, we seem to become unable to hear the voice that speaks to our soul.
Helen Keller, the famous personage who was both blind and deaf, once remarked, "Being blind cuts you off from the world; being deaf cuts you off from humanity." When we become so flooded with loud noises we become inhuman, insensitive of what should be real in our lives.
During the American civil war, commentators pointed out a strange phenomenon. It seems that while major battles were being fought, there were pockets of space where witnesses could not hear a thing. Imagine, they watched as man slaughtered man, huge cannons were set off and hand-to-hand battles were waged; yet they could not hear a thing. These pockets of silence were called acoustic shadows, and they have never really been explained.
It seems that we too live in such shadows. We see the despair and witness the misery, yet for some reason we don't really hear the message.
Truth be said, we know the voice is there, but we become so engulfed by social distractions that our hearts don't pick up what our ears discern.
As Jews, we have a tried and tested way to unclog our hearing. We can go to gutte Yidden, Torah sages, and hear their words. Each generation brings forth its specific leadership, holy Yidden who know what society's noises are all about and how we can overcome their soul pollution. These tzaddikim have the words that can cut through the chaff that clogs our environment. They understand our desperation, and each speaks in a unique manner. We pedestrians need guidance, and Hashem has given us a Torah leadership for each generation. The major difficulty we face is in not allowing ourselves to accept their healing direction.
In these times, when the secular world speaks of democracy and majority rule, it is hard for some to accept that Yiddishkeit is not a democracy nor something cooked up in a committee. Being connected with Hashem flies against everything the secular mind wants, or thinks it wants.
No one is immune from such talk, and it is this that makes us deaf to our real role in life. Yes, we may do mitzvos with regularity; however, all too often we feel them to be a burden, not a joy. This is not always our fault. It's because we stand in an acoustical shadow, witnessing the havoc around us but unable to hear our eternal truths.
There are many worthy and saintly Torah sages in each generation. Hashem has graced us with spiritual giants who live their entire lives for the good of others.
Perhaps one of the greatest tasks of a person who seeks to be an oved Hashem is to find his Torah leader, the one who speaks to his needs, in a language he feels attracted to. It takes humility, truthfulness, and not a small bit of courage, but without it, we will go through life deafened to who we really are.
Hashem has promised us that such leadership will always be there. It is our responsibility to seek it, listen to it, and then activate its guidance into our reality. If we remain standing in the acoustic shadows of this world, then we will have seen all the bitterness and pain without any true hope of real joy.
This kapitel tells of the promise of leadership and its eternal comfort.
Chasdei Hashem olam ashira., "Of the kindness of Hashem, forever I will sing, throughout all generations I will make known Your faithfulness with my mouth." Despite the clouds and mist, we must be aware and speak of the faithfulness that Hashem shows to His children.
Karati bris livechiri., "I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn to David, My servant. 'Forever will I establish your seed, and build up your throne throughout all generations, sela.' "
The greatest son of the House of David is the Torah scholar, for it is in his hands to build up the possibility of our ultimate redemption. Hashem has created a covenant with David that despite the galus, we will not only survive, but bit by bit build up, till David's throne will be reunited with our nation.
Veyodu shamayim pilacha Hashem., "And the heavens will praise Your wonders, Hashem, and Your faithfulness will be praised in the assembly of holy ones."
There will come a time when heaven and earth will once again meet in song. Those who seek to escape the loud silence of the material world will merit the reward of praising Hashem in the kehilla led by His holy ones.
Ata moshel begei'us hayam., "You rule over the majesty of the sea; when it raises its waves, You still them."
When life seems to be a sea of raging hurt, it is Hashem in His love that can still its waves. You feel you will become engulfed by it all, yet if you listen to your connection with Him, you will find safety.
The kapitel goes on to describe the power that is Hashem. We need never lose heart, for He is the Creator that rules over the entire globe. But how do we get through the distractions of this material place we find ourselves in? How does one keep focused on the eternal truths?
Matzasi Dovid avdi., "I have found David, My servant; with My holy oil I have anointed him."
Hashem has chosen David to be that link, that connection. In David we must see all the "Kings of Israel" that have followed. Who are these kings? The Torah scholars who represent the sweet truths that David extolled.
Asher yadi tikon imo., "With whom My Hand will be established, also My Arm will strengthen him."
Hashem is known in this material world through those who hold onto the Torah. With every word of Torah they utter, Hashem's works become more apparent. Our sole source of strength as a people is through His Torah and mitzvos. There is no other nation that has survived so long with so many disabilities. How have we done so? The secret lies in "His arm" - Hashem's mitzvos. Through them we have been strengthened.
The psalm goes through a depiction of our nation's ups and downs - times when we feel close to Hashem and times when we are more distant. All the while David speaks of the centrality of Torah kingship, its role in leading our people forward. He cries out that even when the people are living with daily humiliation, he, and those who follow him as leaders, "bear in my bosom the burdens of all the many peoples."
With this kapitel we end the third book of Tehillim, and we do so on a moving note. "Blessed is Hashem, forever, amen and amen!"
This will always be our heartfelt reality. Blessings come from and are given to the One Force that is eternal. Hashem.
David found this prayer in its present form-receiving a tradition attributing it to MosesThe Midrash attributes the next eleven psalms to Moses (Rashi).-and incorporated it into the Tehillim. It speaks of the brevity of human life, and inspires man to repent and avoid pride in this world.
The above Kavenah is a traditional Kavenah to use when saying this Psalm.
Psalm 90 is one of the 10 Tehllim associated with Rabbi Nachman's Blessing to remove all negativity.
The first word is Tefilah Moshe. Please refer to the introduction in Yearning for Redemption PDF file, starting at page 6, for more information.
There are 17 verses in Psalm 90. The number 17 is the gematria of the Hebrew word Tov which translates as good.
Rav Kook Commentary on Psalm 90
Psalm 90: Teach us to Count Our Days
What value is there to our lives, which “stream by like a dream”? What significance can there be to mortal man, who sprouts like the grass in the morning, only to wither away by nightfall? What consequence can there be to a fleeting life of seventy years, “or with strength, eighty years,” compared to the eternity of God — “From the beginning of the world to its end, You are God” (90:2)?
This psalm — Moses’ prayer — confronts these fundamental questions of life.
Toiling for the Other Side
The psalm’s first eleven verses are indeed discouraging, stressing both the futility of our transient existence, and God’s disappointment and anger at how we waste what little time we have. “For all our days pass away in Your fury; we waste our years like an utterance” (90:9). The word fury (in Hebrew, evrah) comes from the word eiver, meaning “the other side.” This fury reflects a Divine frustration that we expend our efforts on inconsequential matters — toiling on “the other side.“ We work for fleeting goals, the opposite of what our true aspirations should be.
What does it mean that our years are wasted “like an utterance”? When our days are filled with deeds that go against ratzon Hashem, God’s intent for the universe, then the sum total of our years are just a single, incoherent utterance. All our deeds over the years are like a cacophony of noise, the sound of our strivings and labors. But their combination contains no significance, no true meaning. The sounds do not form intelligible words and sentences. All our efforts were squandered in our labors for “the other side.”
We are sadly prone to delusions. “The days of our lives are seventy years... and their pride is toil and deception” (90:10). When compared to eternity, any finite length of time is insignificant. If we know how to direct our ephemeral lives toward eternal goals, then our days may be uplifted and permeated with significance. But when human arrogance succeeds in blinding our vision, we can be misled into thinking that there is ultimate meaning to temporal, superficial life. Such a mistaken view can bring about terrible toil and deception, for there is no limit to human greed when chasing after worthless goals.
But how can we know what is God’s purpose for the universe? If our minds could grasp God’s intention as to the goal of life, then we could use our intellect to connect our lives to their inner purpose. But our knowledge and powers of reasoning are limited, while God’s purpose in creating the universe is boundless. We are not even aware of the extent of the disparity between our physical wants and the brilliant light of Divine will by which God governs His world.
How then can we know how to live a meaningful life? As the psalm pleads, “Teach us how to count our days” (90:12). Reveal to us how we can make our days count!
Our actions are the product of limited understanding, and we are constrained by our physical nature. Only the enlightenment of Divine knowledge, the gift of prophecy, can save us. When the light of Godly knowledge shines on all aspects of life, then our actions will have eternal import. Life’s details will take on true significance, and its overall direction will be governed by Divine wisdom.Now we can understand why this psalm is “a prayer of Moses, the man of God.” This psalm is appropriate for a unique personality like Moses, whose overriding ambition was to cleave to the Life of all worlds. Only Moses, who demanded at Sinai, “Please show me Your ways,” truly grasped the connection between human existence and ratzon Hashem. The master prophet understood that living a life of meaning requires prophetic knowledge of God’s will. “Teach us how to count our days, so that we will attain a heart of wisdom” (90:12). The phrase “we will attain” (in Hebrew, navi) could also be translated as ‘prophet': “Teach us how to count our days — as a prophet [with] a heart of wisdom.”
Awareness of Divine Purpose in Our Lives
A superficial take on life is the result of unawareness of the Divine purpose in the universe. We may have difficulty sensing the ultimate purpose, but this meaning will be fully revealed in future generations. Thus we pray, “May Your work be revealed to Your servants,” but it is possible that “Your splendor will be revealed [only] to their children” (90:16) — in future generations.
The psalm concludes with a prayer that our actions should correspond to God’s intent for the universe. Then we will feel a holy joy and pleasantness in our lives.
“May God’s pleasantness be upon us. Let the work of our hands be established for us; the work of our hands, let it be established.” (90:17)
Why is the phrase “the work of our hands” repeated? It is not enough that our actions advance positive and significant goals. We pray that the actions themselves should have a sublime sweetness due to the Divine light infusing them, as we feel their inner significance. Then we will be aware that “God’s pleasantness will be upon us.”
(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. II, pp. 69-74)
There is a hypothesis that says: "use it or lose it." What it refers to is that given any part of ones being, if you don't exercise it, that part will atrophy and wither away. Doctors have now shown that using ones brain by learning new things and stretching the mind in some ways, can help us maintain "brainpower" as we age. They have shown that those who keep their minds fresh with new activity, (such as Daf Hayomi), stand a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and other such afflictions. This only proves what our Torah Sages have long held to be vital for our spiritual well being. One never stops being a student; Torah learning is for all life, and every life. If we stop learning and striving for fresh understanding; then our spiritual mind becomes atrophied, and stagnates, to our ultimate regret.
The Rebbe Reb Bunim of Peshischa narrated the following parable: "A father loaned his son a thousand thalers to establish him in business. When the time for repayment came, he perceived that his son had used the money wisely and successfully, and he therefore made him a gift of the money loaned. On another occasion he lent the same amount to a second son. When the time came for repayment, he found that the youth had used the money unwisely; in order to prevent further losses he withdrew his money and the son was compelled to abandon the business.
"It is the same with us. Hashem loans us the impulse to judge ourselves and to repent of our unworthy deeds. If we use this impulse wisely and increase it through sincere study, pure worship and admirable conduct, Hashem leaves this impulse with us. But if we do nothing and make no use of this impulse ourselves, He takes it back, and we remain unrepentant and sinful."
This is 'use it or lose it' write large, and should be a warning to us all. True, repentance is one of the most difficult things to do. It entails coming to terms with your real inner motives, and having the humility to admit selfish desires. To step away from yourself and see the real you is not always a pretty sight, and change takes courage. Hashem gave us a gift, this impulse of self judgement, unfortunately, it often lies in the ruins of our fearful inner selves, and we never get out of the mire we have created.
There is another adage that comes to mind: "No pain, no gain." You can't expect to grow without some growing pains. Teshuva should be an on going experience, not one set aside just for Yom Kippur. It is the small daily battles that decide who we are, and it is there that we must use our heart and mind to the fullest.
The fourth book of Tehillim starts with eleven consecutive portions composed by Moshe Rebbeinu. Rashi tells us that they correspond to the eleven blessings which he bestowed upon eleven of the Tribes as seen in Devarim. The Medrash Shochar Tov explains that the theme of each of the eleven kapitlach relates to a specific tribe. This Psalm speaks of teshuva and relates to the Tribe of Reuven the first of the Tribes blessed.
What does Reuven have to do with teshuva? We are told how he repented his actions during the episode of the sale of Joseph. Chazal tell us that it was Reuven who first introduced the principle of complete repentance to the world. One could ask a simple question about this statement, was then Reuven the first baal teshuva? Haven't we seen others before him repent of misdeeds? Gutte Yiden were wont to say that this may be so, but Reuven did teshuva over a sin that he committed for an act he thought of as being leshem shamayim! He was convinced he was doing the right thing concerning his brother. For him to do teshuva and have such powerful remorse was a huge achievement.
The hardest teshuva to do is over things we are certain are morally proper. This takes enormous strength, and yes, it needs a lot of practice. You can't overturn a life time of living in one leap; you must build up the ability to seek the truth, like a weight lifter with his different weights.
TEFILLA LEMOSHE. "A prayer of Moshe, the man of G-d: My Master a dwelling place have You been for us in every generation." Moshe starts with the main reality of our existence, that Hashem is our dwelling place in every generation, in all times and at all places.
TASHEV ENOSH AD DAKA. "You reduce man to pulp, and You say, "Return, children of man!"
Man without a connection with Hashem becomes crushed into a moral mess. It is amazing, we are the only beings that are gifted with the ability to think and choose; yet we are capable of the most horrendous acts of wanton beastliness. Without a connection with Hashem we are as ships lost in the sea. However, we are never totally lost, for Hashem is calling out to us, "Return, Return."
KI ELEPH SHANIM BE'EINECHA. "For a thousand years are in Your eyes like the yesterday that had just passed, and like a night watch."
Here we are being told something that touches on the enormity of Hashem. We count days with clocks. Twenty four hours are a day, so many days are a week, on and on times marches. We measure our lives through the speed it takes for the clock hands to get around its face. However, for Hashem this is, so to speak 'all a wink of the eyelid,' for His being is beyond all time. We say this in our prayers; "He was, He is, He always will be," all this in the same moment. Hashem sees us in our future before we ever get there, and so He can reach out to us before we fail. A personal connection with Hashem keeps us away from spiritual downfall. Like a gyroscope, we are kept on the right path.
LIMNOS YAMEINU KEIN HODA. "To count our days, teach us and we will acquire a heart of wisdom."
We are being told that we, living in the material world, need to learn to value the time given us if we are to live wisely.
When we slip from our G-dly moorings, our time becomes consumed by worthless values that cheapen our inner souls. Moshe is telling us to plead with Hashem that we should become sensitive to the gift of the time. This will be the wisdom that true teshuva brings with it. Yidden, there are so many of our brethren who have no idea what any of this is all about, not a clue. We weep for them, but at the same time, we should weep for ourselves for having this sweet knowledge and disregarding it.
This psalm inspires the hearts of the people to seek shelter under the wings of the Divine Presence. It also speaks of the four seasons of the year, and their respective ministering powers, instructing those who safeguard their souls to avoid them.
The above Kavenah is a traditional Kavenah to use when saying this Psalm.
The first word is Yoshaiv. Please refer to the introduction in Yearning for Redemption PDF file, starting at page 6, for more information.
There are 16 verses in Psalm 91. The number 16 is the gematria of the male letters in the Name HaShem. Other words with this gematria are "in hand" - "ayeh = where" - "to be" and many others.
Rav Kook Commentary on Psalm 91
Psalm 91 discusses a single theme: God’s protection of the righteous. Their trust in God is like a shield, deflecting all types of dangers.
The chapter, also known as shir shel pega'im (“the song of plagues”), describes the numerous perils in the world. Some are spiritual pitfalls, “snare-traps” to lure us, while others are physical afflictions. Some exist only in our imagination, “the terror of the night”; others are only too real, a “flight of arrows by day”. Some dangers are hidden and unexpected, a “pestilence prowling in the darkness.” And some are in plain sight, but we are helpless to avoid them — “a plague that ravages at midday.”
Those who place their trust in God, however, are shielded from all of these perils. What is the source of this Divine providence and protection? The psalmist writes:
“כִּי אַתָּה ה’ מַחְסִי; עֶלְיוֹן שַׂמְתָּ מְעוֹנֶךָ.”
“For You, God, are my refuge. You placed your dwelling on high.” (Psalm 81:9)
The logical flow in this verse, however, is unclear. If God’s dwelling is “on high” and far away, how does He protect us?
Blessing for Misfortune
A Hasidic story relates that a man, troubled by a difficult question, sought out the great Maggid of Mezeritch. How can one follow, he asked, the Talmudic counsel (Berachot 9:5) to “bless God for the bad that befalls us just as we bless Him for the good”? Is it possible to feel gratitude for our troubles and misery?
The Maggid replied that he should go seek out his disciple, Reb Zusha of Hanipol, and pose the question to him.
The man followed the Maggid’s advice and traveled to Rabbi Zusha. The tzaddik received him warmly and invited him into his home. As soon as the guest entered the house, it became obvious that the family was living in an extreme impoverished state. The furnishings were simple and bare, and there was little food to eat. In addition, the family members were beset with various afflictions and illnesses.
Nevertheless, Rabbi Zusha appeared content and cheerful. The guest was astonished.
The man posed his question. “I asked the Maggid how is it possible to bless God for the bad just as one blesses Him for the good, and the Maggid told me that only you can explain this to me.”
Reb Zusha replied, “This is indeed a very difficult question. But why did our holy master send you to me? How would I know? He should have sent you to someone who has experienced suffering....”
Beyond All Suffering
Righteous individuals who are close to God — tzaddikim who cleave to the Source of light — place their lives, their very being, in the elevated realm of holy life. There, nothing can hurt them. They are beyond life’s pitfalls and troubles. They are beyond even the possibility of lack.
This is how the verse should be read. The beginning of the verse quotes the motto of those who place their trust in God: “You, God, are my refuge.”
The psalmist then speaks, not of God, but of these holy people. Speaking directly to the tzaddikim, he identifies the source of their spiritual fortitude and trust: “You have placed your dwelling on high.”
By virtue of your recognition that God alone is your true refuge, you have “placed your dwelling on high.” All of your dwelling, all of your lives, all of your essence, is “on high.” You have raised yourselves above and beyond all types of suffering and misfortune; and they cannot harm you.
Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. II, p. 76.
chanoch adds: Remember the events in the physical world are beyond your control. They are effects. Yet one can control the reactions to thee events. That creates the Keter of returning light which becomes a cause.
Psalm Ninety One Commentary
I woke up this morning gagging for breath. Don't worry; it's nothing I can't handle. You see I suffer from allergies, and anything floating in the air can become an irritant to my delicate yet prominent nose. Once awake I went and took two little pills and, wonders of wonders, the gagging soon passed and Rubin was back to fighting condition.
Where does this allergy stuff come from? Why is it most can sleep with feather pillows whilst yours truly would become a sneezing, nose running mess at just the thought of such? Most doctors will tell you it's inherited. Something in my gene pool took a disliking to foreign airborne bodies, and for generations, Rubins have been sneezing. I don't fret about all this; I take my pill and thank Hashem for having them. Given that I could have inherited worse stuff, I must count myself lucky. Besides, this inherited business isn't all that bad, after all I have inherited my being a Jew as well. The genes that I carry have in them thousands of years of tradition and loyalty to Hashem, so I guess the odd pill or two is but a small price to pay for the particular package that makes up who I am.
One of life's most intriguing possibilities is our ability to delve into our roots and realize the great potential that is ours. The Bobover Rebbe, zt"l was unique in many ways. One aspect that may not have been noticed by many was his innate ability to understand people in all their complexities. He could immediately tell from whence they came and what their core abilities were. I remember more than once sitting in his presence and hearing hints of this talent. He would say to a bachur, "Why do you imitate your grandfather; you never knew him?" This was intended as a great compliment. He meant that the young boy was actually walking, or talking as his grandfather had. The Rebbe had known the previous generation. He had known that grandfather who tragically was destined to become a kodesh. Here the Rebbe was noting that the following generation actually had the same characteristics.
We are all the product of previous acts and merits of those who came before us. This is called zechus avos, and it explains a lot about why our nation has been able to survive spiritually despite all the horrors we have had to face. We stand on the shoulders of generations of tzadikim, and in our souls are all their hopes and aspirations.
I have often come across young people who have become totally committed to a Torah life despite the fact that they were raised in a non committed family. Often as not, they will be able to tell you about some great grandfather who was frum. They never knew this ancestor, and if he was ever spoken about in the home, it was probably in terms that were not all that complimentary. Yet, here is the young man, a ben Torah, married with a few children, living a Torah life, and giving bountiful nachas to the parents who thought their son had gone mad. Some of these young people can trace their antecedents to great tzadikim, but no matter what, these souls have been brought back to Torah in the merit of special Yidden of some bygone day. We live on the interest owing by past deeds of goodness. Our Bubbas cried for us, our Zeidas prayed.
This kapital was written by Moshe Rebbeinu in honour of the tribe of Levi. It speaks of their particular closeness to Hashem, and the role they must play in Klal Yisrael. Gutte Yidden have said that in our times, after the churban, every Yid is a shtikale Levi, "part of Levi," for each of us carry a portion of that tribe's closeness with Hashem. This is no simple matter, for with such yichus comes responsibility.
YOSHEV BESEISER ELYON., "He who dwells in the shelter of the Supreme One, under the protection of Hashem, he will abide."
The Leviim of old lived in close proximity to Hashem's essence. They worked in the Sanctuary and lived in its holy environment. Those of us today who seek to dwell in Hashem's shelter, His Torah life, will find true protection. Just as the Leviim were sensitized by working in an environment of kedusha, so too are those who bring holiness into their daily lives.
OMAR LAHASHEM, MACHSI UMETZUDASI., "I say of Hashem, He is my refuge and my stronghold, my G-d in whom I trust."
If we are cognizant of all the rivers of tears we carry within ourselves, all the trials that our forefathers weathered, then we will realize that only Hashem can be our stronghold. This inner knowledge gives us the feeling of safety we desire in times of stress. It's rather a wondrous thought; here we are small and inconsequential, but we have this zechus from our ancestors, and with it we can be protected.
BE'EVRASO YASECH LACH., "With His wings He will cover you and beneath His wings, you will find refuge; His truth is a shield, a full shield."
There are many ways of seeking safety. You can run here, you can run there, but in the final analysis, there is but one safety zone and that is Hashem. There is a difference between vaguely accepting this concept, and truly living it.
It is told that when the Rebbe Reb Leibele Eiger came home after visiting the Kotzker Rebbe, his father, Reb Shlomele Eiger asked him why he had run off to study with "those Chassidim." What could they teach him that he didn't have at home?" "In Kotzk I learned that there is a Ribono Shel Olam, and that He runs the world." "What? Everyone knows that there is a G-d; just ask the young girl who cleans the house here." With this the elder Rabbi called in the orphaned girl who helped in the household. "Tell me," he asked, "Who runs the world?" The young child answered immediately, "Hashem of course." The Rabbi looked up to his errant son, "You see even she says so." Reb Lebele smiled, "She says it, I now know it!"
The full shield spoken of in our kapital comes only with a full acceptance of Hashem's Oneness.
LO SIRA MIPACHAD LAIYLA., "You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day."
In the night of our galus, our only hope has been in Hashem. Even when we thought all was well, there have always been slings and arrows shot at us. This has been our lot. But think for a moment; all those times of stress have been weathered, and the merit imbedded in us. I was raised in a community of Holocaust survivors; every Rebbe in our Yeshiva had a number burnt into his arm. Yet, they were all sweet and special Jews. How? How could this be possible? Where did they get the strength, the ability to overcome such pain?
KI VI CHASHAK VAAFALTEIHU., "Because he clings to Me with desire, I will save him; I will strengthen him, for he knows My name."
There are times that Jews have to look into history to understand how Jews have survived. We need just look at our parents, our Rebbes, to comprehend this mystery. The Jewish soul clings with an all encompassing desire, this is our strength, and it is ours forever, imbedded in our very essence.
Yidden have so much in them, so very much.
Sung every Shabbat by the Levites in the Holy Temple, this psalm speaks of the World to Come, and comforts the hearts of those crushed by suffering.
The above Kavenah is a traditional Kavenah to use when saying this Psalm.
The first word is Mizmor Shir Please refer to the introduction in Yearning for Redemption PDF file, starting at page 6, for more information.
There are 19 verses in Psalm 92. The number 19 is the gematria of the Name Chava = Mother of Life. It also represents the unity of Male and Female due to the individual lack of Malchut within the Male.
Rav Kook Comments On Psalm 92
What is the role of faith? What is the relationship between faith and intellectual understanding?
On the Sabbath, the Levites sang in the Temple:
chanoch adds: Also on the other days as well.
“To tell of Your kindness in the morning; and in the nights — Your faith.” (Ps. 92:3)
The verse contrasts two pairs of opposites. The first pair is the morning and the night, while the second is our recognition of God’s kindness, and our faith in Him. The daily prayers also reflect this dichotomy. In the morning we recite the prayer, “Emet Veyatziv” ("True and Certain"), while in the evening we say, “Emet VaEmunah” ("Truth and Faith").
In what way does knowledge of God’s nature correspond to the morning, while faith belongs to the night? Also, why does the verse mention morning first, when the (Jewish) day starts in the evening?
Night is a time of preparation. We sleep at night to regain strength for our daytime activities. The value of night is in its preparatory nature; the actual goal is the activities of the day.
Like the night, faith serves to prepare us. The final goal, spiritual perfection, lies in clear awareness of the nature of God. But without faith, one would not perform mitzvot nor refine character traits, both of which ultimately lead to true enlightenment. Faith serves as a necessary prerequisite for intellectual insight.
In his introduction to the “Guide for the Perplexed,” Maimonides used the metaphor of lightning to describe divine enlightenment. It is not a constant phenomenon, but rather it shines its brilliant truth in pulses. The frequency of these lightning bolts of truth is a function of one’s spiritual level. For a great prophet like Moses, the lightning flashes are so rapid that they appear to be a single continuous light. For others, the light appears and vanishes, like “the flame of the rotating sword” (Gen. 3:24).
Here lies the second role of faith. When the intellect is well illuminated, we can recognize the truth of the Torah by its light. But faith is needed for those times when the light of the intellect does not shine, during the hours of night when spiritual darkness reigns.
The verse mentions day before night to indicate this second aspect of faith. After the light of day, which intermittently enlightens the intellect, faith serves as a reserve source of illumination during periods of darkness.
chanoch adds: Since faith precedes intellect, faith is a cause of intellectual understanding. Learn this well,
adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, p. 65, on Berachot 12
Tehillim Ninety Two Community
I was privileged to have met a Yid who described himself as the last Yid alive in the world, and I consider myself blessed. He is a life-time inspiration.
Obviously the fellow was mistaken. Baruch Hashem he was not the last Yid, but at the time of his story he rightfully thought he was.
It was after the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto, when a minute number of Yidden who had somehow managed to secrete themselves in hidden quarters remained there for some time longer. One of these Yidden was Reb Leibel, who was then a young man. He had holed himself up in a small crevice that had somehow been overlooked by the Nazis, and by sheer determination he survived. During daylight hours he would remain in his small hole, venturing out at night to scavenge about for food. He became part and parcel of the deep shadows, knowing all too well what being discovered would entail. He lived out the rest of the war in this manner, never speaking, contacting or touching another human being.
In his matter-of-fact description of this hellish period of time, Reb Leibel told me, “I was sure that I was the last Yid alive in the whole world.” And who could blame him for thinking so?
But there is yet a greater measure to this man’s heroism, one he stated just as simply. “Not once, never, did I lose faith in Hashem.” Even though he was sure there were no more Yidden alive, he remained steadfast in his faith. He still looked to Hashem as a child of Yaakov, and even if he was the last such child, he would not lose his allegiance to his soul’s roots.
I have often thought of Reb Leibel's words. Do I truly grasp their depth of meaning? And from where did this simple chassidishe Yid find such strength? I only hope their import has given me a part of his remarkable intensity.
It is an incredible fact of history that the Jewish people have remained faithful to their Creator regardless of the vicious mayhem that has marked their lives. From whence does this come? And how do we relate to it in our lives today?
In kapitel ninety-two of Tehillim we find some insight. “To relate Your loving-kindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness in the nights.” The usual explanation of this verse is that “morning” symbolizes the times when things are bright and the sun shines upon Klal Yisrael as a nation. Then it is easy and only proper that we publicly relate Hashem's many kindnesses. At “night,” when the world turns dark and we feel only pain, then we must live on our faith.
In the midst of the churban of the Warsaw ghetto, the saintly Alexander Rebbe, zt”l, delivered to his chassidim another inspiring message.
“The verse says emunascha, ‘Your faithfulness,’ rather than emunasi, ‘my belief in You.’ It’s not a Yid’s belief in Hashem that gives him life at night. It’s the way Hashem believes in us that gives us life. When the night is so dark and endless, what keeps us alive is remembering how much Hashem believes in us. Hashem believes that we will bring the coming day.”
I must admit that when I first saw these words, my heart gave a leap. Here was a saintly tzaddik in the midst of a yawning abyss, crying out for Yidden to remain strong because Hashem has faith in us! What strength, what emotional power!
Yidden have so much within themselves. Each one of us carries an unbelievable amount of potential, but our failing is that we have no faith. I don't mean faith in Hashem - I mean faith in ourselves. As a gutte Yid once told me, to have faith in Hashem one must first have faith in oneself.
Reb Leibel showed that kind of faith. He proved that Hashem's faith in us has never been misplaced.
The concept that Hashem has faith in His children and that the new day will arrive through our perseverance is so beautiful and so powerful, that it enables us to actually turn the darkness into light. The kapitel goes on to describe how we can live by this faith. The secret is to see Hashem's greatness beyond what seems apparent at any one time.
“How great are Your works, Hashem; how infinitely profound are Your thoughts.” The Seforno explains that Hashem's “works” are what is visible, while His “thoughts” are the Divine purpose behind each creation. “An empty-headed man cannot know, nor does a fool understand this.” Those who are uneducated in the realm of spirituality cannot possibly conceive all the wonders that Hashem has created.
Notice that the passage speaks of two levels of ignorance. The empty-headed person refers to one who is ignorant due to simple lack of knowledge. This can be remedied by study with Torah sages. The fool, on the other hand, is one whose limited experience does not wish to allow room for Torah truths. Such a fellow is frightened that the truth will cause him to question or change his whole lifestyle.
“When the wicked bloom like grass and all the evildoers blossom, it is so that they may be destroyed forever.” The ultimate test of faith is when one witnesses how evil seems to thrive and find success. This is where we must muster the strength of faith.
Although superficially the wicked ones seem to be winning, the kapitel tells us succinctly that their end will be destruction.
This psalm was designated to be sung on Shabbos, for only on Shabbos does one have the quiet space and peace of mind needed to delve into these difficult truths and absorb them. The Maharal brings a Midrash that tells us that Shavous has a close connection with Shabbos, since the very first kabbalas haTorah took place on Shabbos. He goes on to explain that Shabbos is a spiritual day, not connected to the physical world. Therefore, even though creative work is prohibited on Shabbos, creative spiritual work is permitted. It is thus fitting that Torah, the ultimate metaphysical entity, was given on Shabbos.
Where do we find the strength of a Reb Leibel? Perhaps by sitting down in the creative quiet of a Shabbos or a Yom Tov and expressing the truths of this kapitel in our own lives. We often gobble up our davening without hardly a thought, missing so much along the way. Shabbos and Yom Tov excite the soul and give us the ability to enthuse our prayers with individual meaning.
Following along with the Maharal, we find another facet of understanding. He explains that tradition tells us that every number has symbolic meaning. The number one represents unity and wholeness, as expressed by the ultimate Oneness of Hashem. The number two represents separation, disunity and multiplicity. The number three is the connection between these two disparate entities; a common theme that unites the two. Thus the number three expresses the concept of connection and unification of disparate entities.
This concept is the key to explaining why the Torah was given in the third month of Sivan. The Oneness of Hashem and the diversity of Creation can find a bridge through the giving of the Torah.
This span of understanding is from where we find faith. Torah is the unique gift that makes everything possible.
The kapitel goes on to say, “The righteous will blossom like a palm tree, like a cedar in Lebanon he will grow tall. Planted in the House of Hashem, in the courtyards of our G-d they will blossom.” The faith we need, as well as the faith that Hashem has in us, will find nourishment through the Torah and the Torah-righteous. There we will blossom and there we can grow tall.
Yes, I had met the last Yid alive, and he had not lost his faith in Hashem nor turned his back on the loving-faith that Hashem has in us. Instead he chose to “declare that Hashem is upright; He is my stronghold in whom there is no injustice.” Yom Tov and Shabbos are both G-d-given opportunities to bring all the strands together and balance our hearts with true understanding. The third month is a time of bridging our realities and finally discovering the gift of true faith.
This psalm speaks of the Messianic era, when God will don grandeur-allowing no room for man to boast before Him as did Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh, and Sennacherib.
The above Kavenah is a traditional Kavenah to use when saying this Psalm.
The first word is Adonai - HaShem Malach. Please refer to the introduction in Yearning for Redemption PDF file, starting at page 6, for more information.
There are 5 verses in Psalm 93. The number 5 is a number that connects with the 5 Worlds. Also the gematria of the letter Hai which reprersents the Lord or Adonai.
Tehillim Ninety Three Commentary
I’m sure you have all been there, you know, that place where you get all tied up. Every morning, without fail mind you, I run down the stairs feeling as if my hat is on fire. I’m late once again, and this time I thought I would make it. I rush to my shoes, feeling that if I can only get through this last challenge without mishap, then maybe the minyan won’t notice that the Rav is a few minutes late. Grabbing the shoe, I schlep the laces apart, and, no, not again? Yes, again as always, the laces are entangled in a knot that seems fashioned by some mad genius.
I sigh; it is going to be one of those mornings. The knot doesn’t give, the more I pull, the worse it seems. Tears are now forming in my eyes, please knot, give me a break. I am now using the point of my pen to open one of the loops; dark thoughts enter my mind, thoughts of grabbing a knife and cutting the whole mess apart. Then I remember I don’t even have a spare pair of shoe laces to replace them with. The more I schlep, the worse it gets. My glasses are now perched on my far head, and I am looking at the small yet evil knot with all the scrutiny of a diamond dealer looking at a new gem.
I say to myself, ‘Rubin, calm down…think…it is only a shoe lace.’ I take deep breaths, and look outside at my forlorn car. ‘Stop beating yourself up Rubin,’ comes the voice of experience, ‘take it easy, one step at a time.’ Sure, I know all that, BUT I’M LATE! Finally after another schlep and an added pull, the lace gives in. I am now free to go, and of course, be late once again. Oh well I sigh, its bashert, it was destined to happen, so relax.
The last time I had this tug of war with my shoe laces, it got me to thinking about how much like life this all was. You start off with a rather simple task. Get from point A, i.e. your birth, to your end, without tying yourself up in a knot. Simple, but beyond the scope of our abilities. No, we schlep and pull the ends of our lives, and create impossible knots that seem impenetrable. Where does one go from here? How do you get free from the entanglement of daily life?
Like knotted shoe laces, the tangled lives we live are the product of our own haste and forgetfulness. We rush about without thinking of what our true destiny is. The knots get thicker and denser until we forget our holly mission. The Jewish destiny is the our redemption and ultimately that of the entire world. We should not find ourselves so preoccupied that we forget that we await the Moshiach coming and the light that such a time will bring.
You may ask, “How can I remember about the ultimate redemption when I can’t get out the front door?” But this is just the point sweet Yidden; the knot in our lives will not become undone until we create an ambience of patience. Then we can undo the cords that bind our souls with a serenity that such knowledge brings.
This kapital tells us how to integrate this soft serenity into our daily lives. It is said on Friday mornings and again on Friday night at kabalas haShabbos. Its main theme tells us that the Moshiach will appear, and that we must never lose faith in this. When you know that there is an end, a moment when it will be light, then you can focus on the daily strife with another new awareness. Friday, holy Friday with all its hustle and bustle can seem like a time of chaos, but no, it is the doorway to Shabbos, the time that may’ein olam haba, “like the world to come”. If you are connected with your ultimate goal, then the knots seem easier to undo.
HASHEM MALACH GEI’US LAVESH… “Hashem will have reigned, He will have donned grandeur; Hashem will have donned might and girded Himself; even firmed the world that it should not falter.”
When the Moshiach comes, the entire world will realize Hashem’s grandeur. In truth Hashem does not have attire, for His essence has no form. However, humans need physical handles for aspects that go beyond our comprehension. Therefore Hashem will “don” and “gird Himself” so that the entire world will realize His truth.
NACHON KISACHA MEI’AZ… “Your throne was established from old, eternal are You.”
Our ancestors knew of Hashem’s oneness. For the Jew, Hashem has always been the sole truth.
NAS’U NEHAROS… “Like rivers they raised, O Hashem, like rivers they raised their voice; like rivers they shall raise their destructiveness.”
The enemies that surround us are like rivers, they flow fast and cold, with little regard to any borders or boundaries. The knots in our soul are pinched together because the bitterness of these cold rivers freezes our hearts. We cannot even feel the pain, so rushed are these destructive forces.
MIKOLOS MAYIM RABIM… “More than the rivers of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, You are mighty on high, Hashem.” But if we are connected to Hashem, if we know in our hearts that one day there will be an awareness of His greatness, then we can undo the constricting ropes that keep us bound. Hashem’s will is greater than all the rivers, all the seas, for He is creator of every thing, of every moment.
EIDOSECHA NEEMNU MEOD… “Your testimonies are exceedingly trustworthy, about Your House, the Sacred Dwelling, O Hashem, may it be for lengthy days.”
This realization of Hashem’s totality can be muffled by the strains of the here and now. However when He will re-establish His Sanctuary, then His presence will be felt throughout the world. There will be such enormous spiritual energy that it will be apparent to all that Hashem lives in every living creation, from the blade of grass to the greatest of waves.
Come with me to any shul, daven a Friday night tefilla, and say these words with other Yidden. Tell me, doesn’t it make it easier; don’t the knots become smaller? Yes, we enter Shabbos, a Moshiachdike day when we shed the knots that bind us in anger.
This psalm speaks of the Messianic era, when God will don grandeur-allowing no room for man to boast before Him as did Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh, and Sennacherib.
The above Kavenah is a traditional Kavenah to use when saying this Psalm.
The first word is El Nikamot. Please refer to the introduction in Yearning for Redemption PDF file, starting at page 6, for more information.
There are 23 verses in Psalm 94. The number 23 is a number that connects to Hebrew words that translate as "and live" - "the life" - "your coming" and many other words.
Rav Kook Commentary on Psalm 94
“אַשְׁרֵי הַגֶּבֶר אֲשֶׁר-תְּיַסְּרֶנּוּ יָּ-הּ, וּמִתּוֹרָתְךָ תְלַמְּדֶנּוּ. תהילים צ"ד:י"ב
“Fortunate is the one whom You, God, afflict. You teach him from Your Torah.” (Psalms 94:12)
What a peculiar statement! Why did King David think that troubles and afflictions are so wonderful?
And what connection is there between the two parts of the verse, between suffering and Torah study?
The Talmudic sages discussed at length the meaning of suffering in the world. While they wrestled with the theological challenges of this subject, they were equally concerned with the more practical question of how we should respond to adversity and suffering.
“If you find that you are subject to afflictions, you should examine your conduct.... If you have examined your actions and found no wrongdoing, then you should attribute your suffering to neglect of Torah study (bitul Torah). As it says, “Fortunate is the person whom You, God, afflict; You teach him from Your Torah.”
And if you find that you are not guilty of neglecting Torah study, then these afflictions must be “Afflictions of Love.” As it says, כי את אשר יאהב ה’ יוכיח — “God rebukes those whom He loves” (Proverbs 3:12).” (Berachot 5a)
In other words, the Talmud interprets the verse in Psalms as associating afflictions with, not Torah study, but rather its neglect. Still, one may ask: of all the numerous human faults and foibles in the world, why should bitul Torah be a likely cause for heavenly-ordained suffering?
While bitul Torah is a serious transgression, there is no expectation that the entire nation will be constantly immersed in Torah study. Scholars should be diligent and devote themselves to Torah study; but the average person is not required to maintain such levels of dedication. It is understood that people will spend most of their time earning a livelihood, and even acquire possessions beyond their bare necessities. Such activities are not considered bitul Torah.
What does bitul Torah mean for the average person?
We all have character flaws which we are expected to correct. Ideally, we should refine our personality traits through Torah. As we engage in Torah study, we are exposed to its values and ideals. If we succeed in internalizing its teachings, we will strengthen positive traits such as integrity, sensitivity, and compassion.
The nature and degree of Torah study that is expected from each of us is a function of the flaws that we need to correct. This is the meaning of bitul Torah for non-scholars. Those who fail to invest the necessary time and effort to refine themselves through Torah study are guilty of neglecting Torah.
Now we can better understand the connection between afflictions and bitul Torah. Suffering refines and humbles. It heightens sensitivity to the needs of others, and increases awareness of one’s own limitations. Those who fail to correct their personality traits through Torah study may very well find themselves undergoing the less pleasant form of refinement that comes from suffering.
The Sages recognized that there are no pat formulas to explain all examples of suffering in this world. There may be completely righteous individuals who are innocent of all misconduct — including bitul Torah — and still they endure troubles and suffering. Therefore, the Sages introduced an additional factor called “Afflictions of Love.” These afflictions are not a form of punishment, nor do they come to correct some flaw on the part of sufferer. Rather, they are an expression of Divine love. But what kind of love is this?
There are some aspects of character refinement that cannot be attained by any other means. Not by individual effort, not by good deeds, not even by Torah study. The only means to ennoble the spirit and attain a higher ethical sensitivity is through “Afflictions of Love” — a gift granted by God that enables a person to attain a spiritual level beyond his natural capabilities.
It is this concept of “Afflictions of Love” that sheds light on the psalmist’s assertion: “Fortunate is the person whom You, God, afflict.”
chanoch adds: Do not think your afflictions come as HaShem's Love. To do so brings you away from the the character trait of humbleness.
Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, pp. 15-16
Tehillim Chapter Ninety-Four Commentary
In every home lurk little bits of broken equipment that you know you should fix but never get around to doing. In the Rubin home there is the famous plug hole, or for my American friends, the drain. It is upstairs in the bathroom and the “thingy” that closes it is missing. Hence there is a constant danger that at any given moment something will swim down that open hole whilst the water is running. Now the real problem is that unlike water, any such object could – no, if I know anything from experience I can safely say, will - become lodged somewhere in the labyrinth that is your domestic plumbing. It will sit there forgotten and unmourned, allowing all kinds of ugly rubbish to build up around it. Then one fine day, all will explode! The water won’t go down, in fact it will rise up in righteous indignation, you will not be able to shift it, and the plumber will have to dissect your entire bathroom. He will then show you a long lost toothpaste top and tell you that you should have had the plug hole fixed years ago.
Any reader with even a minimal sense of intuition will have guessed by now that these words are being written with more than a mere academic interest in plug holes. Well I’ll own up. Today I lost a toothpaste cap down that hole, and try as I might, it went beyond my reach within seconds. It is now ensconced in the intricate twists of my plumbing, and the only question is, ‘when do I call the plumber?’ I can let the problem slide into the murky backburner of my mind; forgetting it, vaguely hoping that ‘far from eye, far from heart,’ will prove to be true and that I will never have to give it another thought. But in my heart of hearts I know it is there, gathering together all kinds of muck, just waiting for the moment to explode back into my life. The dilemma is simple, fix it now, or pay the consequences later.
In the realm of spirituality we have a similar situation. We have all kinds of safeguards that are meant to keep us safe and sound. Unfortunately, there are any number of holes in our defence system, and every once in a while something really bad slips in.
Torah observance is a perfect protective shield, but when we have small lapses, then the rot sets up a breeding ground. The bad bit need not seem all that terrible; perhaps it was a particular juicy bit of lashon hara or a momentary feeling of anger and jealousy, nothing major mind, but corrosive all the same. It gets stuck in your heart, and becomes a magnet for all the rubbish that floats about in our minds. Gradually the mire builds up, the anger redoubles, and then one fine day, Bam! It all blows up in our face. At such a time repairing the soul will need major work, whereas if the minor irritant had been expelled right away, nothing untoward would have happened.
The trouble is we really don’t like to admit that the bad stuff has in fact entered. We prefer to talk it away, thinking it is just some minor irritant that will flow away in the course of our lives. Being truthful to oneself is a difficult thing, but if we allow ourselves to be kidded by our own ego, then we must expect the backlash. It is astounding how often we speak ill of others, or harbour jealous thoughts, yet, we are adamant that there is nothing untoward, that all is well. “Who me? I never thought that, nor said this, and if I did I didn’t mean anything by it.” Sure, and I did not allow the toothpaste top to fall into the drain, right, so it will all be okay. Actually no it will not be; and it must be fixed before it is too late. There are many who become so embittered because they hold onto these little specks of wrong in their hearts. They destroy their entire outlook in life, poisoned by stuff they could have gotten rid of long ago.
This kapital speaks of the ultimate time of reckoning when the evil done in this world by those who despise Hashem will be punished. Perhaps it can also be seen as a message about our personal battle with malevolence. We too should accept that if we allow maliciousness to dwell in our souls, we face terrible consequences. There is no such thing as a spiritual vacuum; the space in our soul is filled with what we allow to enter.
KEL NEKAMOS HASHEM …“Almighty of vengeance Hashem, Almighty of vengeance, reveal Yourself.”
I have noted before, gutte Yidden were wont to say; Der velt iz nisht hefker, “The world is not unaccountable!” There are consequences that we must realize. Hashem is a Loving Father, but then, a loving parent must set borders for his young, or else they can come to ruin. When we absorb some awful traits we must realize that Hashem’s vengeance can be swift. I have seen situations where hate and anger have spawned horrendous results, things that could never be explained away as mere accidents of fate. If we pollute our hearts we cannot expect purity. Hashem’s “vengeance” is not what we mere humans understand the expression as meaning. Its core does not come from the normal human sense of anger or retribution. Rather, Hashem’s rule over this world stems from His complete love for all His creation, and His “vengeance” is to rectify spiritual inconsistencies that we have caused.
YABI’U YEDABRU ASAK … “They express, they speak with arrogance; all the evil doers are boastful.”
The inner site of our wrongdoing is the direct result to our clogging up our hearts with arrogance and boasting. We do not like admitting our failures, rather than accept that we have allowed wrong to become ingrained in our being; we talk ourselves into believing that in fact we are righteous and all is well.
VAYOMRU LO YIREH … “And they say, “G-d does not see, and the G-d of Jacob is not concerned.”
We are told: Shivisi Hashem Lenegdi tamid, “Keep Hashem before you always;” but that is no simple matter. The Ropshitzer Rav zy”a was known for his quips, quips that were packed with enormous holiness. He once walked over to someone after the fellow finished his private shemone esrei and said, “Shalom Aleichem and welcome back.” The surprised fellow looked at the Rebbe in dismay. The Rebbe continued, “I can tell that during your shemone esrei your mind was a million miles away, so I thought it only right to welcome you back.”
It is difficult to keep Hashem in our minds even when praying, how much more so when we go about our daily business. We don’t have to think Hashem isn’t looking; our problem is we do not even think of Him at all.
HASHEM YODEI’A MACHSHEVOS ADAM … “Hashem knows the thoughts of men, that they are vanity. Fortunate is the man whom You chastise Hashem, and whom You instruct from Your Torah.”
This is no academic exercise; Hashem does know our thoughts and our vanity. He offers us signs throughout our lives, reminders of where our focus should be. We can turn our backs on these Holy messages or we can hear the Torah lessons and unplug that which blocks our hearts. This is our choice in life - either call the plumber today, or face the flood tomorrow …
This psalm speaks of the future, when man will say to his fellow, "Come, let us sing and offer praise to God for the miracles He has performed for us!"
The above Kavenah is a traditional Kavenah to use when saying this Psalm.
This Psalm is sung as part of the Kabbalah Shabbat service each Friday Night.
The first word is Lechu Nerannanah. Please refer to the introduction in Yearning for Redemption PDF file, starting at page 6, for more information.
There are 11 verses in Psalm 95. The number 11 is a number that connects to the Ketoret - Incense. It also connects to all vessel energy in Creation from the 10 Sefirot plus the negative system.
Rav Kook Commentary on Psalm 95
“בֹּאוּ, נִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה וְנִכְרָעָה; נִבְרְכָה לִפְנֵי-ה’ עֹשֵׂנוּ.”
“Come, let us prostrate ourselves, kneel and bend our knees before the Eternal our Maker.” (Psalms 95:6)
The psalmist mentions three methods of bowing before God:
Prostration on the ground, with hands and feet spread out. This is השתחוי-ה.
Kneeling on one’s knees. This is called כריעה.
Bending the knees. This is בריכה, from the word ברך (knee). See Mishneh Torah, Laws of Prayer 5:13.
The order in the verse, however, is the opposite of the usual pattern.
Ordinarily, people develop over the years, growing in piety and dedication to lofty goals. We start with a certain degree of reverence. Over time, the light grows stronger and breaks forth; it surges and occasionally overwhelms us with its brilliance.
The usual progression thus begins with the formal act of bowing. We then proceed to a more heartfelt expression of reverence by kneeling. And finally, we express total acceptance and submission to God by prostrating in a prone position on the ground.
There is, however, a less common path. When Moses gazed at the burning bush, the entire direction of his life immediately changed. When Saul came across a band of prophets, he unexpectedly experienced prophetic spirit and “became a different person.” When Elijah cast his mantle over Elisha, the encounter swiftly transformed Elisha from wealthy farmer to master prophet.
The psalmist is referring to cases like these, when the sudden appearance of brilliant illumination overwhelms an individual, who responds with absolute submission and acceptance. Cf. Orot HaTeshuvah chapter 2, where Rav Kook describes two paths of teshuvah: the first is through gradual advance, and the second is sudden and radical.
Due to his stunned wonder, he cannot handle even a regular mode of prayer. He is unable to continue with life as if nothing happened.
Such a person needs to modulate his emotions to accommodate this powerful experience of holiness. At first, when overwhelmed by the staggering revelation of Godly influence, his response is complete submission. He lies prone on the ground. He demonstrates self-effacement before the brilliant revelation of God’s spirit.
Subsequently, he is able to resort to כריעה, kneeling. His entire body lowers before God, but it is only the knees that actually bend and submit to God.
Finally, he limits his sense of wonder and devotion to בריכה, bending the knees. This form of bowing utilizes the knees without affecting other parts of the body.
Why is it important to gradually pull back from complete submission?
As the psalmist stresses, we are bowing down “before the Eternal, our Maker (עושנו).” God placed us in a world of deeds and actions (עשיה). God wants us to live a life of goodness and integrity, to conduct ourselves according to the path of Torah and mitzvot.
But when the soul’s emotions burst out without limits, they distort the realm of action.
In order to establish a level of ethical living that is not crippled by overwhelming spiritual revelations, we need to acquire a degree of distance from God. It is necessary to forgo lofty solitude and regain a regular state of social interaction. This allows us to set the foundations for proper conduct in practical life.
The soul that experienced profound illuminations learns to restrict its spirit and aspirations. In this way, one may attain the highest level that can be realized in a world of deed and action.
(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, pp. 44-45)
Tehillim Chapter Ninety-Five Commentary
The week has been just so difficult. You have been thrown from pillar to post, not knowing what the next telephone call will bring. The bank is on your head, and those bills continue to lie on the table looking more and more ferocious. The children are so sweet, yet they constantly seem to be getting into scrapes. The Rebbe in yeshiva wants to know why Mendy isn’t doing his homework. And on and on it goes, with woe after woe piling up on you.
You feel as if you are in a vortex that is spinning you out of control. You can’t find the energy to cope. Husband and wife seek strength in each other, yet find themselves too tired to really give of themselves. You feel ground down and worn out. The doctor has warned you about your blood pressure, and your weight – well, don’t ask. Sound familiar? Welcome to the world of the here and now.
Wait! The clock tells you that it’s almost Shabbos, and somehow you find the will to persevere. You grab a lungful of air, drink a strong coffee, chase the kids into their showers, yell about shoes being shined (if they can be found), and help sift through tumble-dried piles of clothing. The clock marches on, tick-tocking its way toward the magic moment. You find some few moments to care for your own needs and rush down the stairs.
“Fine! Gut Shabbos, Mommy. Come on boys, let’s get to shul.” You walk quickly towards your beis medrash and see all the other hassled fathers schlepping their own gang of children. You enter, walk into the main sanctuary – and whoosh, life turns, and everything becomes so sweet and different.
The baal tefilla goes to the amud, raises his voice, and you enter a different realm; a world of such light and hope that you lose all remembrance of the chaos that preceded it. Lechu neranena laHashem…, “Come, let us sing to Hashem; let us sound the shofar to the Rock of our deliverance.” This particular expression of singing indicates an enthusiastic call. We reach out to each other, waking up the embers of kedusha that have become smothered by weekday toil. “Sing to Hashem!” The simple act of raising one’s voice brings deliverance. The awakening shofar sound can be found within each heart, and with it, one’s revival.
Nekadma panav besoda…, “Let us greet His presence with thanksgiving, with hymns let us raise our voices unto Him.” Yes life can seem a muddle, but we are Yidden, alive and burning with a love for Hashem. True, we tend to forget momentarily, but comes Shabbos, comes that special moment, and we greet the world’s creation with song. Our voices raise our inner hearts to higher levels. Everything seems better now, everything is bearable. When we are laden with life’s woes we cannot really feel Hashem’s presence, for our pain creates a barrier. Greeting Hashem’s presence is accomplished when we heighten our joy and become filled with thanksgiving.
Ki Kel gadol Elokim…, “For a great Alm-ghty is Hashem, and a great King over all gods.” The whole week we allow earthly matters to become idols, worshipping them with fear and trepidation. What will become of this? How will I cope with that? There is no shortage of worries, each one amply able to become yet another idol of fear. Shabbos is the clearing in the mist, the place where we can actually feel Hashem’s greatness.
The greatest gift that is Shabbos is its renewal. The Ruzhiner Rebbe used to explain that the reason the Gemara tells us to give thanks to Hashem for each breath we take is because life depends on breathing, and therefore each breath becomes a renewal of one’s life. The Rebbe continued, “Therefore a person has a right to consider himself newly created with every new breath. Since this is the case, a person need not see events of the past as a burden that keeps him from coming closer to Hashem. Even though the person of the past may well have been woefully inadequate, full of the idols of worry, one can assume that that person has gone with his last breath, and with his next a new persona has come to the fore.”
Shabbos brings us a new creation. Who we were before is gone. Now we can cry out in song to Hashem with a new sense of being.
Ki beyadav mechkerei aretz…, “For in His Hands are the depths of the earth, and the heights of the mountains are His; for the seas are His, and He made it, and the dry land, His Hands formed.” It is such a wondrous thing. If we internalize the knowledge that Hashem creates everything, our own scuffles pale into nothingness. Find yourself smothered in the depths of pain? Hashem created every level of existence, and He can carry you out of the deepest cavern. Feel as if the troubles are about to flood you? Fear not, for every ocean is bound by dry land. All is in Hashem’s power; we can free ourselves from the torment of the mundane.
Bo’u nishtachaveh venichre’ah…, “Come, let us prostrate ourselves and bow, let us kneel before Hashem, our Maker.” The psalmist bids us to throw ourselves entirely upon the trust of Hashem. With such totality one can find recourse from life’s stresses.
Ki hu Elokeinu vaanachnu am mariso…, “For He is our G-d and we are the people of His pasture and the flock of His Hand, even today if you will heed His voice.” We tend to think of only the past generations as being holy. Certainly the spiritual giants of yesteryear are beyond our understanding. However, no matter what our time and place, Hashem always sees us as His flock, His people. Shabbos gives us the breathing space to remind ourselves of this truth.
Reb Nachman of Breslov used to say, “A man must not delay his start in the right direction until the next day. Do not say, ‘Tomorrow I will commence to serve Hashem properly.’ A man has only the day and hour in which he stands, and the morrow is a different world into which he enters. Thus we read this in this passage, ‘Even today if you will heed His voice.’ ”
This world is a hard place, and sometimes we wonder how we can survive. This kapitel’s words are used throughout the world to usher in the Shabbos. Its message is but a preamble of what the Shabbos offers us. have been blessed in seeing young people enjoying the sanctity of Shabbos for the first time. Again and again I have realized that its healing powers are astounding. We can actually turn away from our tribulations and difficulties and hand them over to Hashem with song. We need but observe its trueness and believe in its worth.
The time will yet come when man will say to his fellow: "Come, let us sing to God!"
The above Kavenah is a traditional Kavenah to use when saying this Psalm.
This Psalm is sung as part of the Kabbalah Shabbat service each Friday Night.
The first word is Shiru Ladonai. Please refer to the introduction in Yearning for Redemption PDF file, starting at page 6, for more information.
There are 13 verses in Psalm 96. The number 13 is a number that connects to the the energy of Unity - Love - and caring. Hebrew words are Echad - Deakah - Ahavah.
On the nineteenth day of each Hebrew month we say 101 verses. This connects to the energy of Chesed since it is the gematria of the Name Michael.
Tehillim Chapter 96 Commentary
The shul is packed; it is Ne’ila. The sun is setting and there is an atmosphere of spirituality that has been building up the entire day. The Rav ascends to the amud, clears his throat, and with a tearful moan, starts to recite the final stanzas of Avinu Malkeinu. Everyone begins to daven louder; any listener will be able to discern the passionate yearning. The Rav’s cries tear open the hearts, and soon all are caught up with this last minute appeal for mercy. On and on it goes; each stanza becomes its own book of need. Finally the Rav comes to the last stanza, the sobs are uncontrollable; words are no longer available, so, almost in a whisper, he starts to sing a niggun. Soon the entire congregation is singing with him, the tears and moans becoming background chorus to this new and vivid mosaic.
The reader will think that we speak here of a community of devote heimeshe Yidden who are dressed in their white kittelach and are steeped in kedusha and Torah throughout the year. But no, the congregation we have depicted here is a mixed bunch. Many are not yet Shabbos observant, others first learning the basic rudiments of a Torah lifestyle. Some have come to shul for the first time in a year, yes a mixed crowd indeed. Yet, they have become galvanized by the cries of our ancient tefillos, and even more, by the haunting tune they have heard. A few will sing it for the first time, others are old hands, but for this defining moment all are one, Klal Yisrael lives within them all.
You cannot understand it until you have lived it, and even then it is impossible to explain. You can take any group of Yidden, put them together, and if you start a real niggun, you can bring them to the highest points of spirituality. They need not know how to learn, in fact, they may be totally non observant, but give them the right song, and you can break down all the walls of separation. I defy anyone to explain how this all works, it has to do with the neshama and therefore is beyond mere words. Music has the power to make you aware of your most inner needs, and at the same time bonds you with others who are singing the same tune.
This dynamic is not new to me, but every time I witness it I become even more inspired. The realm of niggun is well beyond human understanding. Chazal tell us that it can be found neighboring the realm of teshuva. Why? Because more than anything else, the spirituality that a niggun contains, can move one closer to true repentance.
In these dark times it could well be that it will take a special new niggun to lift us above and beyond the pain we see about us. Today, despite all the affluence we share, there are many who are full of anger and hurt. They feel the walls closing in on themselves, with no place for light or safety. Such neshamos crave a new song, a fresh niggun that will inspire them towards personal hope. On the wider scale, when each day carries with it real fears for Jewish safety, where our enemies are indiscriminate in their hateful acts, perhaps a niggun or two will give our brethren the wherewithal to face what must be faced with new bravery.
Words lose their meaning, for they are spoken so often that they become tired and blasé. However, songs, they are fresh every time they are sung, each rendition complete with a new sense of meaning. You can krechtz each time, emphasizing a different phrase, thus changing the whole thrust of what you are feeling. Songs are the stuff of your soul, and speak to it as only they can.
This kapital tells of songs, songs for the future and songs for now. It was written by Moshe Rabbeinu, and Chazal discuss who it was dedicated to. Interestingly, we understand that no matter to whom Moshe dedicated this to, David Hamelech used it for his own circumstances. We are told that David sang it upon bringing the Holy Ark from the house of Oved Edom. From this we can see that these words touch on the hopes of all future redemptions, both private and as a people. Yes, perhaps because its theme is song, its dedication must remain enveloped in mystery, as is its subject matter.
SHIRU LAHASHEM SHIR CHADASH … “Sing to Hashem a new song, sing to Hashem all the inhabitants of earth.”
When you sing a niggun to Hashem, it is always new, always full with the current needs that you carry with you. When the final redemption comes, every human will become aware of Hashem, and His Greatness, then all will sing, and that will surely be a new song. However, as we await that great day, we should never stop singing, filling our hearts with Hashem’s love.
SHIRU LAHASHEM BARCHU SHEMO … “Sing to Hashem, bless His name, proclaim His deliverance from day to day.”
Reb Yosef Friedenson, editor of Dos Yiddishe Vort, tells the story of how he and a group of friends were in a metal shop in that slave labor camp named, the Herman Goering works. The day was Shemini Atzeres and though they were living in constant fear for their lives, they still sought to celebrate the day in some way. Before they received their daily orders from the overseer, a man named Pape, they found a few moments free, and so, they broke out with the spirited holiday song, Ein adir kaHashem, ein baruch keben Amram “There is none as powerful as Hashem, nor blessed as Moshe, the son of Amram. ” Pape was shocked. Despite the torture, the humiliation, and the endless sense of loss that was their daily existence, these Jews were singing!
“Why do you sing?” he asked in bewilderment, “Do you have it so good that you can sing?”
The group explained the words of the song, going through each stanza, including those that read, “There are no wise men like the scholars of the Torah, and there is no redeemer like Hashem.” Pape was astonished. “After all the torture that you have been through, do you still believe this?” Immediately one of the younger members of the group jumped up and cried out, “Yes!” This particular lad wasn’t particularly known for his religiosity, yet his voice was emphatic. Immediately others joined him with their endorsement. Pape was astonished; he shook his head and was heard to say, “I don’t know how the Fuhrer will ever get rid of you!”
Yidden are holy, they sing, and their song comes from the heart!
KI GADOL HASHEM … “For Hashem is great and most extolled; He is awesome above all gods.”
When we sing to Hashem and of His greatness, then nothing, nothing in this entire world can come between our hearts and His essence.
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