Week of 23 November 2017 – Psalms 57

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.]

Psalm 57 is attributed to David, continuing the pattern of: 1) pleading with the Almighty for protection from his enemies, and 2) praising G-d for his rescue.

This Psalm cites the incident in I Samuel 24:3-7 involving King Saul and David when they inadvertently were together in a cave in the Ein Gedi wilderness. Saul had gathered 3,000 men to chase after David but in a moment of need, entered a cave to relieve himself, unaware that David and his men were hiding close by.

לַמְנַצֵּחַ אַל-תַּשְׁחֵת, לְדָוִד מִכְתָּם– בְּבָרְחוֹ מִפְּנֵי-שָׁאוּל, בַּמְּעָרָה. For the Leader; Al-tashheth. Of David; Mikhtam; when he fled from Saul, in the cave. (Psalms 57:1)

Saul likely suffered from bi-polar depression and convinced himself that David was trying to kill him and/or take over the throne. David had the opportunity to take Saul’s life while he was indisposed, but instead surreptitiously cut off a piece of the King’s inner garment.

יִשְׁלַח מִשָּׁמַיִם, וְיוֹשִׁיעֵנִי– חֵרֵף שֹׁאֲפִי סֶלָה; יִשְׁלַח אֱ-לֹהִים, חַסְדּוֹ וַאֲמִתּוֹ. [G-d] … will send from heaven, and save me, when he who swallows me taunts, Selah; G-d shall send forth mercy and truth. (Psalms 57:4)

Following Saul from the cave, David called out that had he wished to murder the King, the opportunity had just presented itself. As proof he showed the cut cloth. In a moment of mental clarity, Saul saw the truth and acknowledged that David was worthy to be the next King.

רֶשֶׁת, הֵכִינוּ לִפְעָמַי– כָּפַף נַפְשִׁי: כָּרוּ לְפָנַי שִׁיחָה; נָפְלוּ בְתוֹכָהּ סֶלָה. They’ve prepared a net for my steps, my soul is bowed down; they’ve dug a pit before me, they’ve fallen into the midst themselves. Selah (Psalms 57:7)

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch comments that ‘awakening the dawn’ suggests human beings have an ability to take the darkest night of their afflictions and turn it into the dawn of a new day. (Verse 9 was popularised by Rabbi Shlomo Carlbach. Click here for a rendition.)

עוּרָה כְבוֹדִי–עוּרָה, הַנֵּבֶל וְכִנּוֹר; אָעִירָה שָּׁחַר. Awake, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp; I will awaken the dawn. (Psalms 57:9)

This Psalm begins with prayer and complaint and concludes with joyous praise. It teaches that in times of trouble, as in times of joy, we must equally offer our prayers to the Almighty.

רוּמָה עַל-שָׁמַיִם אֱ-לֹהִים; עַל כָּל-הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדֶךָ. Be exalted, O G-d, above the heavens; Your glory be above all the earth. (Psalms 57:12)

NB: Though David was pressed by his men to kill Saul, he chose only to cut a corner of the King’s garment. Yet as soon as his hand completed its task, he knew that he’d done wrong. In his old age, David’s punishment was that clothing wouldn’t provide him any warmth.