Week of 8 February 2018 – Psalm 66

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 66 is not attributed, though the opening looks very similar to those with David’s name. At 20 verses it is on the long side.

It is a Song of Praise & Deliverance that can be divided into 3 main themes: 1) general praise of the Almighty’s sovereignty, 2) praise for G-d’s benevolence to the Jewish people and 3) a specific thanksgiving for hearing the petitioner’s prayers.

Though there’s no recognisable event connected to this Psalm, the reference to ‘turning the sea into dry land’ reminds one of the miraculous splitting of the Reed Sea during the Exodus; and going ‘through the river on foot,’ to the crossing of the Jordan River in Joshua’s time.

לַמְנַצֵּחַ, שִׁיר מִזְמוֹר: הָרִיעוּ לֵא-לֹהִים, כָּל-הָאָרֶץ. For the Leader. A Song, a Psalm. Shout unto G-d, all the earth! (Psalms 66:1)

אִמְרוּ לֵא-לֹהִים, מַה-נּוֹרָא מַעֲשֶׂיךָ; בְּרֹב עֻזְּךָ, יְכַחֲשׁוּ לְךָ אֹיְבֶיךָ. Say to G-d: ‘How tremendous is Your work! Through Your great power Your enemies will dwindle away before You.’ (Psalms 66:3)

הָפַךְ יָם, לְיַבָּשָׁה–בַּנָּהָר, יַעַבְרוּ בְרָגֶל; שָׁם, נִשְׂמְחָה-בּוֹ. Turning the sea into dry land; they went through the river on foot; there let us rejoice [in the Almighty]! (Psalms 66:6)

G-d who made miracles in far-off days continues to oversea the Creation today and into the future. Rev A Cohen, in his work The Psalms published by Soncino Press, sees in these next verses references to the victorious battles of Gideon, Yiptah and Samson during the period of Judges. Often persecuted and harmed, the suffering of Bnei Yisrael cleansed them of impurity, preparing them for their mission to be a light unto the nations of the world.

בָּרְכוּ עַמִּים אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ; וְהַשְׁמִיעוּ, קוֹל תְּהִלָּתוֹ. O people, bless our G-d, and make the voice of praise heard; (Psalms 66:8)

כִּי-בְחַנְתָּנוּ אֱ-לֹהִים; צְרַפְתָּנוּ, כִּצְרָף-כָּסֶף. For You, O G-d, have tried us; You’ve refined us, as silver is refined. (Psalms 66:10)

הִרְכַּבְתָּ אֱנוֹשׁ, לְרֹאשֵׁנוּ: בָּאנוּ-בָאֵשׁ וּבַמַּיִם; וַתּוֹצִיאֵנוּ, לָרְוָיָה. You’ve caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and water; but You brought us out into abundance. (Psalms 66:12)

When attacked without reason, one might demand G-d’s justice and protection. But here the author chooses the word ‘hesed’ (unearned kindness and mercy) in offering thanks to the Almighty for answering his prayers.

לְכוּ-שִׁמְעוּ וַאֲסַפְּרָה, כָּל-יִרְאֵי אֱ-לֹהִים: אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לְנַפְשִׁי. Come and listen, all who fear G-d, and I’ll declare what was done for my soul. (Psalms 66:16)

אָכֵן, שָׁמַע אֱ-לֹהִים; הִקְשִׁיב, בְּקוֹל תְּפִלָּתִי. Surely G-d has heard; has attended to the voice of my prayer. (Psalms 66:19)

בָּרוּךְ אֱ-לֹהִים– אֲשֶׁר לֹא-הֵסִיר תְּפִלָּתִי וְחַסְדּוֹ, מֵאִתִּי. Blessed be G-d, who’s not turned away my petition, nor kindness from me. (Psalms 66:20)

There is a subtle notion that this Psalm is a continuation of Psalm 65 and if so, it may be acknowledging the defeat of Sennacherib and the Assyrian army (II Kings Chap. 18-19).

Verse 9 is familiar to those who pray daily. It can be found in the Emet VeEmunah paragraph following Shema in the Arbit evening service.


WINTER HOMELESSNESS: The subject of homelessness is on many peoples minds these days. In the cold of winter, it should arouse deep compassion to know there are human beings without permanent shelter – whether nearby in our own community or in places like Calais, Bangladesh, Ukraine or Syria. They are barely subsisting. All that they now possess has been provided by aid organisations. World Jewish Relief is a Jewish charity attending to these dire situations.

Among Sephardi communities of the Diaspora there was a rupture nearly 70 years ago that led to the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab lands. Lyn Julius’s new book Uprooted addresses this refugee issue.

A slightly more complicated topic to be addressed by Rabbi Ariel Abel, our Scholar-in-Residence this Shabbat, is the status of Anusim (those living in hostile countries who were forced to convert to Christianity or Islam but continued to practice Judaism privately).

The term Anusim (also known as Crypto-Jews) appeared in the Ashkenaz community during the time of Rashi, but it took on much wider implications during the period of the Spanish Inquisition. The number of crypto-Jewish communities today is surprising. Their desire to return openly to Judaism is potentially greater than the Exodus. Please join us this week for a fascinating talk and to explore this subject in more detail.