Monthly Archives: May 2017

Parshat Bemidbar

[Please note there will be no entry next week due to the Shavuoth holidays.]

Summary: The Book of Numbers, fourth of the Five Books of Moses, spans the 40 years in which Bnei Yisrael wandered in the wilderness.

Bemidbar, the 1st parasha, covers Chapters 1:1 – 4:20 and begins on the 1st day of the 2nd month of the 2nd year from the Exodus; the initial task was a national census, taken tribe-by-tribe, excluding the Levites. Bemidbar then describes how the tribes encamped – with 3 tribes on each side of a square. The total of men age-20 and above was 603,550.

Next we read the appointment of the sons of Levi to serve in the Ohel Mo’ed (Tent of Meeting) in place of the first-born. The total of the three houses – Gershon, Kehat and Merari – was 22,000. The number of first born from the 12 tribes was 22, 273. The surplus 273 first-born each paid a 5 silver Shekel ransom to Aharon and his sons. The Levite encampment was also in the form of an interior square with the Ohel Mo’ed at its centre.

The responsibility for deconstructing the Mishkan was given to Aharon assisted by those from the tribe of Kehat who were between 30-50 years old. The procedure outlined in great detail, ensured their safety – so they wouldn’t see the covering of holy objects and die.

Please look here for an Aliyah-by-Aliyah summary.

Comment:  Anyone who’s attended a Passover Seder and stayed through to the last song, will know the number ‘5’ in Ehad Mi Yode’ah represents Five Books of the Torah. But few are aware of a perplexing piece of Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 116a) which suggests there are actually seven. The source of this discrepancy depends on how we read the Book of Bemidbar.

Were we to describe broadly the plot and drama of the Torah up to this point, we might say that central to Bereshith is G-d’s two-fold promise to Abraham; that his descendants will be chosen as a holy people and that they will eventually inherit the Land of Cana’an.

Shemot and Vayikra demonstrate the fulfilment of that first promise; Bnei Yisrael were redeemed from Egypt, brought to Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments and taught to build a Tabernacle (Mishkan). The priesthood was appointed to maintain spiritual purity in and around the camp and laws of social justice were given, as a prerequisite to living within close proximity of the Divine Presence (Shekhina).

Bemidbar begins a new book in which the focus turns to the fulfilment of G-d’s second covenantal promise, the journey to inherit the Land of Cana’an – bringing us back to our Talmudic dilemma.

The Talmud’s view is that the initial instructions for encampment and movement (Chap 1-10) comprise a book on its own, verses 10:35-36 describing the first steps forward are a separate book, and all the complaining and drama that occurs thereafter marks the third (Chaps 11-36). Bemidbar is therefore the struggle between ideal and reality.

Dr David Elgavish, in the 2005 book Professors on the Parasha, offers an alternate view based on generational change. He sees the second and third parts divided more evenly. The march from Sinai to Kadesh Barnea including the spy’s failure, G-d’s decree against the adult males and the eventual deaths of Miriam & Aharon (Chap 11-20) is followed by the march from Kadesh Barnea to the Plains of Moab and their children’s conquest of the east bank of the Jordan River (Chap 20-36).

This view sees Bemidbar as a transitional narrative – from the generation raised in Egyptian captivity to their offspring, born into freedom. The legacy of Sinai was first conveyed from parent to child via the strength of Moses’s leadership. Subsequent generations would face that challenge anew.

As we prepare for Shavuoth next week, we commemorate G-d’s revelation to mankind! Rashi (France – 1040-1105) explains our ancestors stood ‘as one person with one heart’ at Sinai, realising their utter in-consequence in relation to the words ‘I am the Lord, your G-d.’ Yet, Sinai conveyed to all present the hope that each of us can and must carve out for ourselves a direct, living relationship with the Almighty.

Wishing you Shabbat Shalom & Mo’adim LeSimha,

Thoughts for the Week 25 May

[Please note there will be no entry next week due to the Shavuoth holidays.]

MANCHESTER TERROR ATTACK: This week we stand in compassionate solidarity with the people of Manchester. Statements have been issued by every major organisation decrying the worst terror attack in the UK since 7 July 2005. The explosion, after Monday night’s Ariana Grande music concert, thus far has taken the lives of 22 people and injured more than 60, mostly teenagers and their parents.

Many are outraged by the barbaric act of a suicide bomber who could turn on the city that raised him and randomly massacre the innocent. Words no longer describe the immense suffering caused by these foreign-trained, delusional, most-often young, men who blow themselves up in the name of idolatry. Some may seek to blame the communities in the UK they come from, but we know that truly faithful Muslims are as eager to prevent this as the rest of us.

So what can we do with our indignation? The immediate cycle of response is always to call for calm, to help the afflicted families and to reach out to build trust and express our love for humanity. In Elstree/ Borehamwood, the Hertsmere Forum of Faith works as a bridge between our different faith communities. Perhaps a first step for some is to engage with HFoF and reach out to those we have less in common with. We believe doing kindness (hesed) is one step forward in counteracting this horrific feeling of pain and grief.

This brief comment is in memory of my late mother (Brainah Leah bat Moshe Aharon) and for all those who read Tehillim for the sake of others. [Note: Quoted verses are taken from the Mechon Mamre website.]

Chapter 43: In writing style and form, Psalm 43 appears to be a continuation of Psalm 42. At only 5 verses and without attribution, it is assumed to be from the sons of Korah. The theme is three-fold; a lament over the injuries caused by one’s enemies, the deep pain of separation and a yearning to be brought back into the Divine Presence, and the hope for G-d’s redemptive salvation. Due to its brevity, we quote the entire chapter below.

שָָׁפְטֵנִי אֱ-לֹהִים, וְרִיבָה רִיבִי– מִגּוֹי לֹא-חָסִיד; מֵאִישׁ מִרְמָה וְעַוְלָה תְפַלְּטֵנִי.

Be my judge, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; Deliver me from deceitful and unjust men. (Psalm 43:1)

R Samson Raphael Hirsch (Germany – 1808-1888) comments on the hypocrisy of nations who profess dedication to the ideals of humanism but fail to show the same to the Jewish people.

כִּי-אַתָּה, אֱ-לֹהֵי מָעוּזִּי– לָמָה זְנַחְתָּנִי: לָמָּה-קֹדֵר אֶתְהַלֵּךְ, בְּלַחַץ אוֹיֵב.

For You are the God of my strength; why have You cast me off? Why go I mourning under the oppression of the enemy? (Psalm 43:2)

שְׁלַח-אוֹרְךָ וַאֲמִתְּךָ, הֵמָּה יַנְחוּנִי; יְבִיאוּנִי אֶל-הַר-קָדְשְׁךָ, וְאֶל-מִשְׁכְּנוֹתֶיךָ.

Send Your light and truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy mountain and to Your dwelling-places. (Psalms 43:3)

Here R Hirsch suggests that as Jews in exile our prayers are for G-d’s enlightenment so we can truthfully understand the correct path set out in the Torah which we’re expected to follow. To that extent, the light of Torah dispels the surrounding darkness and gloom.

וְאָבוֹאָה, אֶל-מִזְבַּח אֱ-לֹהִים– אֶל-אֵ-ל, שִׂמְחַת גִּילִי: וְאוֹדְךָ בְכִנּוֹר– אֱ-לֹהִים אֱ-לֹהָי.

Then will I go to G-d’s altar, unto God, my exceeding joy; and praise You with the harp, O God, my God. (Psalms 43:4)

מַה-תִּשְׁתּוֹחֲחִי, נַפְשִׁי–וּמַה-תֶּהֱמִי עָלָי:הוֹחִילִי לֵא-לֹהִים, כִּי-עוֹד אוֹדֶנּוּ–יְשׁוּעֹת פָּנַי, וֵא-לֹהָי.

Why are you cast down, my soul? Why do you moan within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise, the salvation of my countenance and my God. (Psalms 43:5)

At times it seems our aspirations are out of sync with those of the Divine. The truest fulfilment of our soul’s aspirations is to understand G-d’s plans – and how they are in our best interest.

Those with a careful eye will note that verse 43:5 is exactly the same as verse 42:12 and virtually identical to verse 42:6. Perhaps, musically, this was used as a refrain when the Psalm was sung.

Parashot Behar-Behukotai

Summary: Behar-Behukotai are the 9th & 10th parashot (and last) in the Book of Leviticus comprising Chapters 25:1 – 27:34. When it isn’t a leap year, they are read together.

Behar focuses on the laws of Shemitah (Sabbatical Year), Yovel (Juilee) and limits on debt servitude. Behukotai includes a section on blessings for obeying G-d’s laws, curses for disobedience, and personal vows and their values.

Please look here for an Aliyah-by-Aliyah summary.

Comment: The Book of Leviticus comes to its penultimate end with a list of horrific curses awaiting those who failed to observe the Shemitah year. Often when looking at punishments in the Torah or Talmud we’re tempted to ask if they’re justified.

An example comes from Lag LaOmer where we’re told that 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students died in a plague for not properly showing honour to each other. The astute mind will question, where does the Torah specify that one who fails to show honour deserves the death penalty?

Likewise, in Behukotai we understand that letting the land lay fallow and leaving its produce for the poor is an act of extreme faithfulness and loving kindness. For in the days of an agricultural society, what would one eat if the land wasn’t ploughed? But why should violating Shemitah laws result in such cruelty?

A possible explanation is that G-d created our world and is willing to bless us to the extent we seek to be in relationship with the Almighty. But, choosing to ignore G-d’s directive is tantamount to breaking off the relationship. In a world without G-dliness, the result usually leads to narcissism, rule of the most powerful, abandonment of ethical norms, disenfranchising the weak and vulnerable and finally to self-extinction.

The curses of Behukotai are couched in the language of anger and indifference. The anger perhaps to frighten us and get our attention, as a parent tries to scare a child away from doing something harmful to itself. The indifference perhaps is a warning that as we conduct our lives, so will the world around us respond.

Anyone with a garden knows how easy it is for indolence to set-in, weeds to grow and chaos to prevail. Shemitah laws remind us that we’re all creatures of the Divine and each of us is part of a much larger whole. Ignoring the suffering of others is against the Jewish view and lends support to a world of chaos.

In an age of enlightened thinking and global connection, we have within our ability to avoid and overcome the curses of Behukotai. We simply need the Will to do so.

Thoughts for the Week 18 May

It was very good to see so many of you last Shabbat at synagogue services and last Sunday at the Well End Scout Activity Centre.

Many thanks to the indefatigable Rivka Azair and her many assistants for a splendid Lag LaOmer celebration. To the Food Team and the Fire Team and all those who helped in any way, our sincere appreciation. Some of the many photos can be seen via our Rambam Sephardi website.

Our thanks as well to Rafi Lavi, Asher Moses and Gary Somers for conducting last week’s Shabbat services. We thank Michelle & Jonathan Bahar for sponsoring Kiddush in memory of Jonathan’s late father Emmanuel Bahar.

A planning application for Yavneh Primary has been submitted recently. It goes without saying how important it is to have a new primary school in our area. Please support the application (17/0767/FUL) by clicking here.

Our member Annette Henley (Wahnon) has been shortlisted for a Rising Stars Award 2017, an annual award scheme for women sponsored by Times Newspapers and other prestigious organisations. The aim of the awards is to promote gender equality by recognising talented women in a range of fields.

Annette was nominated for her work on mental health and wellbeing at the Home Office. The award process includes an element of public voting. We heartily endorse Annette for this well-deserved award. Unless you know any of the other candidates, please go to the website and vote for Annette in the Public Sector vote category.

RECITING PSALMS Introduction: This brief comment is in memory of my late mother (Brainah Leah bat Moshe Aharon) and for all those who read Tehillim for the sake of others. [Note: Quoted verses are taken from the Mechon Mamre website.]

Chapter 42: Psalm 42 opens the new section of the Book of Psalms and is attributed to the Sons of Korah. It is one of 13 chapters dedicated to the Maskil (Chief Musician). The central theme is the deep pain of Exile and a yearning to be brought back into the Divine Presence. It ends with the hope of happier times, recalling memories of when G-d was close by.

Human aspirations aren’t truly satisfied unless we’re in direct relationship with our Creator. Nothing is worse than being distant and disconnected from the Almighty. Sin cuts us off from our true selves, and causes our soul to cry-out for better.

כְּאַיָּל, תַּעֲרֹג עַל-אֲפִיקֵי-מָיִם– כֵּן נַפְשִׁי תַעֲרֹג אֵלֶיךָ אֱ-לֹהִים. As the hart yearns after the water brook, so yearns my soul after You, O God. (Psalms 42:2)

מַה-תִּשְׁתּוֹחֲחִי, נַפְשִׁי– וַתֶּהֱמִי עָלָי: הוֹחִלִי לֵא-לֹהִים, כִּי-עוֹד אוֹדֶנּוּ– יְשׁוּעוֹת פָּנָיו. Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why moan within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise the salvation of [G-d’s] countenance. (Psalms 42:6)

Despite the psalmist’s overwhelming sorrow, hope is found in remembering G-d’s mercies. One’s worst fears can be overcome by realising the Almighty finds no joy in punishing the wicked but rather in their return to righteousness. Psalm 42 is useful in quelling one’s fears and doubts and instead focusing us on faithfulness.

יוֹמָם, יְצַוֶּה ה חַסְדּוֹ, וּבַלַּיְלָה, שִׁירֹה עִמִּי–תְּפִלָּה, לְאֵל חַיָּי. By day the LORD commands loving kindness, and at night, song shall be with me; a prayer unto the God of my life. (Psalms 42:9)

בְּרֶצַח, בְּעַצְמוֹתַי– חֵרְפוּנִי צוֹרְרָי; בְּאָמְרָם אֵלַי כָּל-הַיּוֹם, אַיֵּה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ. As with a crushing in my bones, my adversaries taunt me; saying unto me all day: ‘Where is your God?’ (Psalms 42:11)

Others interpret this psalm as a longingly heartfelt call to G-d, while remembering past joys of visiting the Temple during the three Pilgrimage Festivals. The sound of running waters serves a two-fold purpose, one to remind ourselves how – like a nearby brook – the Almighty is close though still beyond our reach, the other to recall the tumultuous torrents that washed us away from our homeland.

This Psalm concludes on an up-note (verse 12 is a near exact repetition of verse 6) – that the Almighty’s plans are for our benefit and that we must always ‘hope in G-d’ for our salvation. In the Spanish & Portuguese Jews’ liturgical tradition, this chapter is evocatively chanted during evening services on the 2nd night of Sukkot.

Thoughts for the Week 11 May

Thankfully, North Korea seems to have taken a step back from its aggressive, belligerent rhetoric over the past 7 days. And to the relief of many, the election result in France didn’t result in any surprises.

Late last week Buckingham Palace announced the retirement of Prince Phillip Duke of Edinburgh at the age of 95 – having served in his duties for nearly 70 years. Asked what he would do in his spare time, Prince Philip replied with the type of witty remark he is well-known for.

Of course, the royal family lives a level of privilege that might appeal to most of us. But who’s prepared to work for 30 years beyond statutory retirement! We wish H.E. the Duke of Edinburgh a well-earned rest.

RECITING PSALMS Introduction: This brief comment is in memory of my late mother (Brainah Leah bat Moshe Aharon) and for all those who read Tehillim for the sake of others. [Note: Quoted verses are taken from the Mechon Mamre website.]

Chapter 41: Psalm 41 is attributed to King David during a period of severe illness. While lamenting the maliciousness of his enemies, David declares his faith in G-d’s closeness even at the worst moments in his life. This Psalm completes the first major section of the Book of Psalms, ending with praises for the Almighty and the words Amen veAmen.

In the introductory verses David describes the merits accruing to those who help the poor. Even in their distress they won’t be abandoned by the Almighty.

ה–יִסְעָדֶנּוּ, עַל-עֶרֶשׂ דְּוָי; כָּל-מִשְׁכָּבוֹ, הָפַכְתָּ בְחָלְיוֹ. LORD, support him upon the couch of illness; You turn all his lying down into sickness. (Psalms 41:4)

Then he moves from 3rd person to 1st person to echo a sense of bitter frustration in which even those who were trusted seem to have betrayed him.

אוֹיְבַי–יֹאמְרוּ רַע לִי;    מָתַי יָמוּת, וְאָבַד שְׁמוֹ. My enemies speak evil of me: ‘When shall he die, and his name perish?’ (Psalms 41:6)

גַּם-אִישׁ שְׁלוֹמִי, אֲשֶׁר-בָּטַחְתִּי בוֹ– אוֹכֵל לַחְמִי; הִגְדִּיל עָלַי עָקֵב. Yea, my own familiar friend whom I trusted, ate my bread and lifted his heel against me. (Psalms 41:10)

Convinced of his righteousness, though, David is willing to rely on G-d’s protection in thwarting the threats of his enemies.

בְּזֹאת יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי-חָפַצְתָּ בִּי: כִּי לֹא-יָרִיעַ אֹיְבִי עָלָי. By this I know You delight in me, that my enemy doesn’t triumph over me. (Psalms 41:12)

בָּרוּךְ ה, אֱ-לֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל–מֵהָעוֹלָם, וְעַד הָעוֹלָם:  אָמֵן וְאָמֵן. Blessed be the LORD, God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen, and Amen. (Psalms 41:14)

We live in a busy and distracting world. Often, not until we experience illness does one take opportunity to draw closer to G-d. This Psalm reminds those who suffer that their efforts are not wasted, and that prayer can bring deeper spiritual understanding at such times.

Parshat Emor

Summary: Emor is the 8th parasha in the Book of Leviticus comprising Chapters 21:1 – 24:23, the middle part which is also read on each of the 3 festivals – Pesah, Shavuoth and Sukkot.

Emor begins with a description of laws relating to Kohanim; whom they can marry and for whom they must mourn. It includes an explanation of physical defects in a Kohen which  proscribe their service in the Mishkan, the prohibition of serving while spiritually impure (Ta’mei) or even partaking of any sanctified gifts that belong to the Kohanim when Ta’mei.

Emor then lists laws pertaining to offerings brought to the Mishkan, the need for them to be unblemished, of a certain age and to be consumed within a limited time.

Shabbat and the 5 major festivals (Pesah, Shavuoth, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur & Sukkot) are spelled out. Then the Torah describes the daily Menorah lighting and weekly Showbread Table (Shulhan) perpetual services conducted in the Mishkan.

Emor concludes with the incident of the blasphemer who was incarcerated; and after G-d’s warning of the punishments for various harmful acts, was stoned to death.

Please look here for an Aliyah-by-Aliyah summary.

Comment: At a superficial level the chronology of the parasha seems difficult to reconcile. After explaining laws related to Kohanim serving in the Mishkan, the Torah describe the Jewish festivals (Mikra’ei Kodesh) before returning to the perpetual service of the Menorah & Shulhan.

It would appear that the Festivals, which apply to all members of the Jewish people, are a digression from the type of work that only pertains to Kohanim.

One alternative in looking at Emor is to understand it within the wider context of the Book of Vayikra. The last 4 parashot (Tazria, Metsorah, Aharei Mot & Kedoshim) concentrated on spiritual purity and being sanctified (Kadosh) via our relationships. They applied to Kohen and non-Kohen alike.

Emor begins to show the distinction between Kohanim and the people. Whereas Bnei Yisrael had an option to come before G-d in the Mishkan on specific occasions, the Kohanim had a perpetual obligation to keep themselves in a state of readiness to serve.

The festival laws remind us that despite the mundane activities characterising our lives, through the use of calendrical time we are given special opportunities to be in G-d’s presence. While the Menorah & Shulhan service in the Mishkan, help us to recognise that G-d’s presence is never absent in the world. It simply depends upon us to tune in on a daily basis.


Post-Script: The Book of Leviticus spans the 4-6 weeks in which Bnei Yisrael were encamped at the base of Mt Sinai learning from Moshe that which G-d commanded him atop the mountain. It was a time for inaugurating the Mishkan and inducting the Kohanim before the nation began its journey toward Canaan.

The third of the 5 Books of Moses, Leviticus, is also known as Torat Kohanim (Law of the Priests) because it contains a detailed explanation of the daily, weekly and annual Mishkan ritual cycle. It also contains well-known codes for Jewish behaviour still relevant today – Kashrut, Family Relationships, Shabbat and Festivals. Many of these mitsvot enabled Bnei Yisrael to remain in a state of ritual purity and become a Sanctified Nation. Ultimately, beyond the laws governing submission to the Divine, there were social justice laws intended for interacting with a wider world.

Parashot Aharei Mot – Kedoshim

Parashot Aharei Mot-Kedoshim are the 6th & 7th in the Book of Leviticus comprising Chapters 16:1 – 20:27. Chronologically, it returns to Parshat Shemini, the deaths of Aharon’s eldest sons, Nadav & Avihu, after the subsequent digression to the laws of kosher animals, Tazria & Metsorah.

Aharei Mot begins with a warning to Aharon about the danger of randomly entering the Holy of Holies. Instead it details the elaborate Yom Kippur ritual service, with incense offering and scapegoat, to be performed in the Mishkan by Aharon the High Priest. The parasha includes further laws prohibiting animal offerings outside the Mishkan as well as commandments not to consume their blood. It ends with a series of laws on illicit sexual relationships.

Kedoshim contains the command to emulate G-d and become a holy nation. It includes variations of the 10 Commandments plus laws on social justice such as leaving over grain for the less privileged during the harvest, or not showing judicial favour to the rich over the poor. It also has many laws that appear to lack rationality such as Kilayim, not cross-breeding species nor wearing garments made from a mixture of wool and linen.

Included in Parshat Kedoshim are laws regarding waiting until the 5th year’s harvest to consume the fruit of new trees, maintaining an honest set of weights & measures, not giving over one’s children to the pagan infanticide practise of Molekh, and not committing incest.

Kedoshim concludes with the general prohibition against following the perverse ways of other nations who preceded Bnei Yisrael in Cana’an, the land they were to inherit. It emphasizes the need to separate from that which would lead to impurity; instead to live a sanctified life in G-d’s presence.

Please look here for an Aliyah-by-Aliyah summary.

COMMENT: The overarching theme of Aharei Mot & Kedoshim is about achieving Kedusha – a level of holiness associated with being in G-d’s presence.

Though the juxtaposition of Aharei Mot (about the death of Aharon’s sons and the annual Yom Kippur service) to Tazria-Metsorah (which concerned those who contracted spiritual impurity from their Tsara’at or bodily discharges) seems inexplicable, one possible link is the connection between Kedusha & spiritual purity.

When the Mishkan (or the 1st Temple) was in existence, our sages say that Bnei Yisrael could sense the Divine Presence in their midst. Whether it was through overt miracles – like the Clouds of Glory, or through a heightened sensitivity to their environment, they presumably felt an elevated spirituality and temperament.

We sometimes experience that today in rare gifted moments, when overwhelmed by the enormity of the natural world or after considerable selfless effort toward a noble cause. That feeling of Awe, that everything is far greater than our selves but that we are also an unending part of it, may be a glimpse of what Kedusha is about.

Tazria-Metsorah explained processes that bring us in contact with our mortality; birth and post-partum, ejaculation and menstruation. Because of taboos in most societies, they’re not often spoken about. Yet they touch the core of our physicality and are the basis for far more decisions than we’re willing to admit.

Through sexuality, humans attempt to overcome death – by creating a new generation to follow on. When conducted with a sacred intention, we’re brought closer to the Divine than through any other act. Misused, we are drawn farther away.

Tahara (spiritual purity) in the Book of Leviticus is a status one must doggedly pursue to enable proximity to the Almighty. Those who are Ta’mei (spiritually impure) find their path to the Divine obstructed.

Aharei Mot & Kedoshim teach us the ways to unblock and remove those obstructions. Uniquely, not aestheticism, prayer and fasting but through controlling our normal behaviour and through the performance of mitsvot, do we meet G-d.

No coincidence that much of these two parashot were chosen to be read on Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the year. Not just because they effect atonement but because they teach the necessary behaviour – Kedusha – enabling us to draw closer to G-d.

Thoughts for the Week 4 May

Concerns are growing that a war could break out between North Korea and its neighbours, prompted by pressures from the US military who oppose North Korea’s nuclear testing.

While it may seem the distance between Asia and England is far enough to discount any impact here in London, and that perhaps we should be more concerned about next month’s elections in France and the UK, one can’t help but feel anxious watching the growing antagonism in a country ruled by a ruthless and unpredictable dictator. All the more reason to recite a few Psalms in search of spiritual redemption.

RECITING PSALMS Introduction: This brief comment is in memory of my late mother (Brainah Leah bat Moshe Aharon) and for all those who read Tehillim for the sake of others. [Note: Quoted verses are taken from the Mechon Mamre website.]

Chapter 40: Psalm 40 is attributed to King David. Divided into 2 sections, the first 11 verses follow the pattern of Personal Thanksgiving while the last 7 verses appeal to G-d’s Mercy & Forgiveness.

Incongruity between the first and second part of Psalm 40 has given non-Jewish Biblical scholars reason to suspect this may once have been 2 separate Psalms.

Jewish scholars instead see this Psalm referring to earlier periods in Jewish history; the Exodus & Splitting of the Reed Sea. I.e. the new song in verse 4 could refer to Az Yashir, the Song of the Sea; and the declaration of faithfulness in verse 11 might refer to Bnei Yisrael accepting the 10 Commandments at Sinai.

וַיַּעֲלֵנִי, מִבּוֹר שָׁאוֹן– מִטִּיט הַיָּוֵן: וַיָּקֶם עַל-סֶלַע רַגְלַי; כּוֹנֵן אֲשֻׁרָי. [G-d] brought me up out of the tumultuous pit, out of the miry clay; setting my feet upon a rock, establishing my goings. (Psalms 40:3)

וַיִּתֵּן בְּפִי, שִׁיר חָדָשׁ– תְּהִלָּה לֵא-לֹהֵינוּ: יִרְאוּ רַבִּים וְיִירָאוּ; וְיִבְטְחוּ, בַּ-ה. And [G-d] put a new song in my mouth, praise unto our God; many will see and fear, and will trust in the LORD. (Psalms 40:4)

Though the Torah lists at length the sacrificial offerings brought in the Mishkan, David suggests the value of these is found not in G-d’s need for burnt meat but in Bnei Yisrael fulfilling the Divine Will.

רַבּוֹת עָשִׂיתָ, אַתָּה ה אֱ-לֹהַי–נִפְלְאֹתֶיךָ וּמַחְשְׁבֹתֶיךָ, אֵלֵינוּ: אֵין, עֲרֹךְ אֵלֶיךָ–אַגִּידָה וַאֲדַבֵּרָה; עָצְמוּ, מִסַּפֵּר. Many things have You done, O LORD my God; Your wonderful works and thoughts toward us; there’s none to compare to You! Should I declare and speak, they’re more than can be told. (Psalms 40:6)

לַעֲשׂוֹת-רְצוֹנְךָ אֱ-לֹהַי חָפָצְתִּי; וְתוֹרָתְךָ, בְּתוֹךְ מֵעָי. I delight to do Your will, my God; Your law is in my innermost parts. (Psalms 40:9)

Few of us live with a view of the devastation caused by sin. The righteous recognise a need for G-d’s support in refraining from transgression. Verse 12 appears in the weekday supplicatory prayers known as Tahanun and in the zemirot section of Shaharit.

אַתָּה ה– לֹא-תִכְלָא רַחֲמֶיךָ מִמֶּנִּי; חַסְדְּךָ וַאֲמִתְּךָ, תָּמִיד יִצְּרוּנִי. O LORD, do not withhold Your compassion from me; let Your mercy and truth continually preserve me. (Psalms 40:12)

Doubt in G-d and mortal fear have been with mankind since the beginning of history. David insists God will help the weak and all who trust in him. He advises waiting patiently; urging us to continue to believe, hope and pray for Redemption.

יֵבֹשׁוּ וְיַחְפְּרוּ, יַחַד– מְבַקְשֵׁי נַפְשִׁי, לִסְפּוֹתָהּ: יִסֹּגוּ אָחוֹר, וְיִכָּלְמוּ– חֲפֵצֵי, רָעָתִי. Let be ashamed and abashed, together, those who seek to sweep away my soul; let be turned backward and brought to confusion those who delight in my harm. (Psalms 40:15)

וַאֲנִי, עָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן– אֲ-דֹנָי יַחֲשָׁב-לִי: עֶזְרָתִי וּמְפַלְטִי אַתָּה; אֱ-לֹהַי, אַל-תְּאַחַר. For me, poor and needy, the Lord will take an account; my help and deliverer; O God, do not delay. (Psalms 40:18)

In Psalm 40, David expresses eternal gratitude to G-d for the wondrous salvations he received. He affirms an allegiance to G-d’s Torah and proclaims G-d’s wonders to the world. Yet it isn’t enough to fulfil the Torah; one must – like Abraham – express publicly the goodness we receive from the Almighty, spreading an awareness of G-d in the world.

Psalm 40 was popularised by the music group U2 in 1983 in their album War. Click here to see them perform in concert.