Week of 30 November 2017 – Psalms 58

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 58 is also a Tashhet psalm – a plea to be spared from destruction. It continues the theme of Psalm 57 where, to save his own life, David had opportunity to kill his pursuer King Saul but desisted. Instead he used the occasion to prove his loyalty and to quell any hatred in the hearts of the King’s men.

The prosaic imagery and complex Hebrew in this Psalm led several Jewish commentators to attempt to offer figurative explanations.

הַאֻמְנָם–אֵלֶם צֶדֶק, תְּדַבֵּרוּן; מֵישָׁרִים תִּשְׁפְּטוּ, בְּנֵי אָדָם. Do you indeed speak as a righteous company? Do you judge with equity the sons of men? (Psalms 58:2)

This Psalm more subtly decries the hypocrisy of those claiming to be children of G-d but who act immorally. Their inclination for evil seems inborn; impervious to reason or rebuke.

זֹרוּ רְשָׁעִים מֵרָחֶם; תָּעוּ מִבֶּטֶן, דֹּבְרֵי כָזָב. The wicked are estranged from the womb; speakers of lies go astray as soon as they’re born. (Psalms 58:4)

חֲמַת-לָמוֹ, כִּדְמוּת חֲמַת-נָחָשׁ; כְּמוֹ-פֶתֶן חֵרֵשׁ, יַאְטֵם אָזְנוֹ. Their venom is like the venom of a serpent; they’re like a deaf asp that won’t hear. (Psalms 58:5)

Finally, David prays for his enemies to be disabled and foretells of their ruin.

אֱ-לֹהִים–הֲרָס שִׁנֵּימוֹ בְּפִימוֹ; מַלְתְּעוֹת כְּפִירִים, נְתֹץ יְ-הוָה. Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth; break the cheek-teeth of the young lions, O Lord. (Psalms 58:7)

יִשְׂמַח צַדִּיק, כִּי-חָזָה נָקָם; פְּעָמָיו יִרְחַץ, בְּדַם הָרָשָׁע. The righteous rejoice when seeing vengeance; he’ll wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. (Psalms 58:11)

וְיֹאמַר אָדָם, אַךְ-פְּרִי לַצַּדִּיק; אַךְ יֵשׁ-אֱ-לֹהִים, שֹׁפְטִים בָּאָרֶץ. And men will say: ‘There is reward for the righteous; there’s a God that judges the earth.’ (Psalms 58:12)

Deeply ingrained in the human condition is a sense of justice and righteousness. It’s a core part of our spiritual values that the wicked must be punished and good deeds go rewarded.

But, many of us know this isn’t the case. We see those who benefit from other’s suffering and many being oppressed by a few. Living finite lives it may seem there’s no justice. Nor can we comprehend the calculations that may span the centuries.

Most of us also have the tendency to see ourselves as innocent. But, to some degree or another we’re all at risk of being complicit in the suffering of others. Take those who may manufacture items that are known to cause harm to human beings. Or those of us turning a blind eye when we could be of assistance to a neighbour or friend.

Some historic calamities can only be answered by referring to the higher workings of the Almighty. But when bad things happen to us, the rabbis of the Talmud recommend to first reflect upon our own actions and find ways for improvement.

One of Rambam Sephardi’s initiatives this year is to provide workshops on managing household budgets. No doubt the hype around Black Friday & Cyber Monday will have tempted some of us to spend more than we can afford. The lure will only get stronger until the year-end. Prudent advise is to resist overspending!

The term Black Friday originated in Philadelphia in 1961 and was associated with ‘heavy and disruptive vehicle and pedestrian traffic’ occurring the day after Thanksgiving. In 2005 it’s reference was changed to mean ‘the busiest retail sales day in the calendar’. Soon after, Cyber Monday was introduced as a way for online-retailers to benefit from the same worldwide spending urge.

By contrast, in 2012, in response to this unabashed consumerism, the 92nd Street Y and United Nations led a call to introduce Giving Tuesday – a day of worldwide philanthropy,

Estimated Black Friday sales in 2017 in the USA were the equivalent of £510 billion (up 4%) and in the UK £2.5 billion. In 2016, Giving Tuesday saw worldwide donations of £130 million.

MAZAL TOB: Finally, we wish Mazal Tob to HRH Prince Henry of Wales (familiarly known as Prince Harry) and his fiancee Meghan Markle who this week announced their engagement. May the young couple enjoy a long & happy marriage together.