Week of 8 March 2018 – Psalm 69

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 69, attributed to David, is also quite long at 37 verses. It is known as the Prayer of the Persecuted and contains 4 major themes. 1) Complaints of great distress, 2) Seeking relief and deliverance, 3) Calling for Divine wrath against enemies, and 4) Offering prayers of hope and salvation.

The first section epitomises the position of Jews in exile, who, according to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (Germany 1808-88), often were preyed upon by their hosts, in an effort to rob them of dignity and possessions. Even those from the tribes of Ishmael and Edom, relatives by blood, stood by idly. But rather than convert and be accepted, the Jewish people remained steadfast in their faith.

הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי אֱ-לֹהִים– כִּי בָאוּ מַיִם עַד-נָפֶשׁ. Save me, O G-d; for waters have come-in even unto the soul. (Psalms 69:2)

רַבּוּ, מִשַּׂעֲרוֹת רֹאשִׁי– שֹׂנְאַי חִנָּם: עָצְמוּ מַצְמִיתַי, אֹיְבַי שֶׁקֶר– אֲשֶׁר לֹא-גָזַלְתִּי, אָז אָשִׁיב. More than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; many are they who would cut me off, wrongful enemies; shall I return what I took not? (Psalms 69:5)

מוּזָר, הָיִיתִי לְאֶחָי; וְנָכְרִי, לִבְנֵי אִמִּי. A stranger I’ve become to my brothers, and an alien to my mother’s children. (Psalms 69:9)

Employing a technique learned from Moshe, the Psalmist pleads for G-d’s mercy, for the sake of all believers. For when a righteous person appears to needlessly suffer, it causes doubt in the minds of all others as to whether there is a G-d of justice. (Verse 14 appears in the Shabbat minha service before taking out the Torah.)

וַאֲנִי תְפִלָּתִי-לְךָ יְ-הוָה, עֵת רָצוֹן– אֱ-לֹהִים בְּרָב-חַסְדֶּךָ; עֲנֵנִי, בֶּאֱמֶת יִשְׁעֶךָ. As for me, let my prayer be to You, O LORD, in an acceptable time; O G-d in your abundant mercy, answer me with the truth of Your salvation. (Psalms 69:14)

עֲנֵנִי יְ-הוָה, כִּי-טוֹב חַסְדֶּךָ; כְּרֹב רַחֲמֶיךָ, פְּנֵה אֵלָי. Answer me, O LORD, for Your mercy is good; in Your abundant compassion turn to me. (Psalms 69:17)

חֶרְפָּה, שָׁבְרָה לִבִּי– וָאָנוּשָׁה: וָאֲקַוֶּה לָנוּד וָאַיִן; וְלַמְנַחֲמִים, וְלֹא מָצָאתִי. Reproach broke my heart; I was sore sick; and I looked for compassion, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. (Psalms 69:21)

Though acknowledging his punishment is from G-d, the penitent is indignant over unauthorised attacks by his enemies. According to Rashi, those who persecuted the Jews throughout history, often did so ‘far more than necessary and with savage delight.’

Alone and oppressed, the author cries out for evildoers to be erased from the Divine Book of Life, denied the opportunity to themselves repent. (Hints of this are still found at the end of the Pesah Seder.)

שְׁפָךְ-עֲלֵיהֶם זַעְמֶךָ; וַחֲרוֹן אַפְּךָ, יַשִּׂיגֵם. Pour out Your indignation upon them, and let Your fierce anger overtake them. (Psalms 69:25)

יִמָּחוּ, מִסֵּפֶר חַיִּים; וְעִם צַדִּיקִים, אַל-יִכָּתֵבוּ. Let them be blotted out of the Book of Life, and not be written with the righteous. (Psalms 69:29)

In a world where good and evil clash openly, Psalm 69 concludes with a passionate hope for the return to Zion of the exiled Jewish nation. Rav Hirsch adds that the loyalty to G-d’s will during troubling times is more highly regarded than pledges of devotion during safer, more prosperous periods.

אֲהַלְלָה שֵׁם-אֱ-לֹהִים בְּשִׁיר; וַאֲגַדְּלֶנּוּ בְתוֹדָה. I will praise the name of G-d with a song, and magnify it with thanksgiving. (Psalms 69:31)

כִּי אֱ-לֹהִים, יוֹשִׁיעַ צִיּוֹן, וְיִבְנֶה, עָרֵי יְהוּדָה; וְיָשְׁבוּ שָׁם, וִירֵשׁוּהָ. For G-d will save Zion, and build the cities of Judah; and they will abide there, and have it in possession. (Psalms 69:36)

Some modern Biblical scholars, based on the Midrash, suggest that this Psalm was written not by David but by the Prophet Jeremiah because of what appear to be references to the Babylonian captivity.

Understandably, due to its many ‘persecution’ references, this Psalm is also very popular to those of a different faith.


THIS WEEK IN DETAIL We begin this week’s Newsletter with comments on International Women’s Day, with an article on the reawakening of interest in America for Sephardi tradition, and with thanks locally to those who joined us for Purim.

Separate, but importantly, we request you to read about the We Believe in Israel petition circulated by Luke Akehurst. The latter leads us directly into the exciting announcement about our special guest this Shabbat.

We are excited to inform members that this coming Shabbat there will be a senior diplomat special guest speaker from the Israel Embassy in our community. Please join us for services and a special Kiddush afterwards.

‘International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.’

For more than a 100 years various movements have promoted the equality of women. That in the 21st century gender discrimination continues to exist is deplorable. Areas like science & technology need more women. (For more information visit the IWD website.)

In America next weekend, the Sephardic Education Centre is planning a 3-day conference to highlight a Jewish way of life inspired by Maimonides’ teachings, known as the Classical Sephardic Worldview. ‘The SEC is focused on building a new generation of spiritual and community leaders … modern, progressive and inclusive, but who still follow halakhah (Jewish law).’ For an insight-filled article on the reawakened interest in Sephardi traditions that is gathering momentum in the United States, please click here.

A rousing round of applause to all of our Rambam players, to the Seudah chefs and to both of our Megillah readers – Charles Darwish & Raphi Lavi. Despite the snowy weather, it was a fantastic celebration this year!

Special thanks to David Hadley for the wonderful photos (click here). David generously covered this event free of charge. In appreciation, we include a link to David’s website. Thanks also to Adrian Kelaty for use of his video equipment. The film’s full version can be seen here. There are so many others to thank, we’ll direct you to the Purim programme instead.