Introduction: This 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. [To see the full Mechon Mamre text, please click here.]
Chapter 50: Psalm 50 is attributed to Asaph (the Gatherer) offering a prophetic rebuke of Israel and the nations of the world in the End of Days. It emphasizes that G-d expects more than external adherence to commandments; but the pure spirit which these laws and statutes are designed to implant and engender within.
Psalm 50 is divided into four parts; an introduction calling upon the Heavens and Earth to judge mankind (verses 1-6), two separate rebuffs against behaviour unbefitting the pious – one decrying abundant sacrifices and the other rebuking hypocrisy (verses 7-15 & 16-21). The conclusion, at first stark then somewhat uplifting, promises everlasting salvation to the Righteous (verses 22-23).
מִזְמוֹר, לְאָסָף: אֵ-ל, אֱ-לֹהִים ה– דִּבֶּר וַיִּקְרָא-אָרֶץ; מִמִּזְרַח-שֶׁמֶשׁ, עַד-מְבֹאוֹ. A Psalm of Asaph. G-d Almighty, the LORD, has spoken, and called the earth, from the rising of the sun until it goes down. (Psalms 50:1)
יִקְרָא אֶל-הַשָּׁמַיִם מֵעָל; וְאֶל-הָאָרֶץ, לָדִין עַמּוֹ. G-d calls to the Heavens above, and to the Earth, that the people may be judged: (Psalms 50:4)
וַיַּגִּידוּ שָׁמַיִם צִדְקוֹ: כִּי-אֱ-לֹהִים, שֹׁפֵט הוּא סֶלָה. And the Heavens declare their righteousness; for God is judge. Selah. (Psalms 50:6)
This is a disquieting Psalm that suggests first, G-d will show the nations of the world how the covenant with Israel was upheld throughout the perilous centuries. It then focuses on the need to worship the Divine beyond facile ritual, by engaging in relationship and thanksgiving.
שִׁמְעָה עַמִּי, וַאֲדַבֵּרָה– יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָעִידָה בָּךְ: אֱ-לֹהִים אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ אָנֹכִי. Hear, My people, and I will speak; Israel, and I will testify against you: God, your God, am I. (Psalms 50:7)
אִם-אֶרְעַב, לֹא-אֹמַר לָךְ: כִּי-לִי תֵבֵל, וּמְלֹאָהּ. If I were hungry, I wouldn’t tell you; for the world is Mine, and the fullness thereof. (Psalms 50:12)
זְבַח לֵא-לֹהִים תּוֹדָה; וְשַׁלֵּם לְעֶלְיוֹן נְדָרֶיךָ. Offer God the sacrifice of thanksgiving; and pay your vows to the Most High (Psalms 50:14)
Psalm 50 asserts that insincerity concealed within an abundance of sacrifices and false piety is abhorrent to G-d and distant from Divine worship.
וְלָרָשָׁע, אָמַר אֱ-לֹהִים, מַה-לְּךָ, לְסַפֵּר חֻקָּי; וַתִּשָּׂא בְרִיתִי עֲלֵי-פִיךָ. But to the wicked God says: ‘Why do you declare My statutes, yet take My covenant in vain? (Psalms 50:16)
פִּיךָ, שָׁלַחְתָּ בְרָעָה; וּלְשׁוֹנְךָ, תַּצְמִיד מִרְמָה. You let loose your mouth for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. (Psalms 50:19)
אֵלֶּה עָשִׂיתָ, וְהֶחֱרַשְׁתִּי– דִּמִּיתָ, הֱיוֹת-אֶהְיֶה כָמוֹךָ; אוֹכִיחֲךָ וְאֶעֶרְכָה לְעֵינֶיךָ. You’ve done these things, should I keep silent? You thought I was like you; but I will reprove you, and set the case before your eyes. (Psalms 50:21)
The end of Psalm 50 contains a Messianic message that those who choose a righteous path instead of living haphazardly will receive eternal reward.
זֹבֵחַ תּוֹדָה, יְכַבְּדָנְנִי: וְשָׂם דֶּרֶךְ–אַרְאֶנּוּ, בְּיֵשַׁע אֱלֹהִים. Whoever offers thanksgiving honours Me; and to those who order their path, I will show the salvation of God. (Psalms 50:23)
There is a debate when this Psalm might have been written. The metaphor of a Divine tribunal also appears in Isiah and Micah. Thus a prevailing view is that it came from the 8th century BCE. In Ashkenaz tradition it’s recited on the 4th day of Sukkot.
UK DECISION: There’s relief this week in the UK after the release of statements both from the Office of the Chief Rabbi and of the Spanish & Portuguese community with regard to the controversy that erupted more than 3 months ago. Unexpectedly ignited by a weekly talk given by head of the community, Rabbi Joseph Dweck, the ensuing attacks went well beyond scholarly discourse and debate. In response, outcries came from Israel, America and the United Kingdom.
An affair that at points seemed more personal / political than professional, it risked rupturing the fragile seams of Orthodox Judaism. In the words of the Chief Rabbi’s statement, ‘Mindful that we are in the Three Weeks between Shiva Asar b’Tammuz and Tisha b’Av, we call on all concerned and who care for our community to now focus on promoting unity within our kehilla.’
GREEN SPEECH CAMPAIGN During the 21 days from 17th Tammuz to 9 Av, a time in the Jewish calendar which commemorates the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, a group of influential organisations has put forward Campaign Green Speech to help us improve our sense of unity as a people.
The many calamities that befell our people in part were attributed to the callous way Jews treated each other. Attached are the links to the 1st seven days of lessons. It takes only a few minutes to skim through each message. But, the hope is it will make enough of an impression that it can have a slow, gradual impact on how we communicate with each other.
Those interested can subscribe for the remaining days. But even if you have no interest in further messages, please take a moment to at least glance at one of the green highlighted portions in the links above. It could make a difference in your life.
Nothing could be more harmful and detrimental to the Jewish people than in-fighting and disrespecting each other. In recent days this has become all too clear. Equally, we’ve seen immense harm caused via social media as well. Please help us take steps in reversing this downward trend.
For more information on the Green Speech campaign, please click here.