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.