Week of 22 March 2018 – Psalm 71 – Parshat Tsav-HaGadol

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 71 is unattributed (beginning without superscription) and largely written in the first person singular. Known as a Prayer in Old Age, it reflects the life of someone who has experienced much suffering and is still threatened by enemies.

At 24 verses, it is longer than average and almost neatly divides into 2 portions. The first half focuses on prayers and supplications to G-d, while the second concerns praises of gratitude to the Almighty.

Psalm 71 contains the following themes: 1) that G-d deliver and save him, not cast him off in old age nor be far away, 2) that his enemies be put to shame and that G-d continue to rescue him, and 3) that G-d be praised as the Rock of his youth, the support of his adult life, and the hope of future generations, to whom he will continue to give everlasting thanks.

בְּךָ-יְ-הוָה חָסִיתִי; אַל-אֵבוֹשָׁה לְעוֹלָם. In You, O LORD, have I taken refuge; let me never be ashamed. (Psalms 71:1)

אֱ-לֹהַי–פַּלְּטֵנִי, מִיַּד רָשָׁע; מִכַּף מְעַוֵּל וְחוֹמֵץ. My G-d, rescue me from the hand of the wicked, out of the grasp of the unrighteous and ruthless man. (Psalms 71:4)

עָלֶיךָ, נִסְמַכְתִּי מִבֶּטֶן–מִמְּעֵי אִמִּי, אַתָּה גוֹזִי; בְּךָ תְהִלָּתִי תָמִיד. Upon You have I relied since birth; You took me out of my mother’s womb; Of You is my praise continuous. (Psalms 71:6)

אַל-תַּשְׁלִיכֵנִי, לְעֵת זִקְנָה; כִּכְלוֹת כֹּחִי, אַל-תַּעַזְבֵנִי. Cast me not off in the time of old age; when my strength fails, forsake me not. (Psalms 71:9)

אֱ-לֹהִים, אַל-תִּרְחַק מִמֶּנִּי; אֱ-לֹהַי, לְעֶזְרָתִי חוּשָׁה. O G-d, be not far from me; My G-d, hasten to help me. (Psalms 71:12)

Many verses in Psalm 71 reflect similar phrasing found in earlier Psalms (I.e. 22:10, 31:3, 35:4-28, 41:8, 51:13 and others). It is suggested that if this Psalm was written by David, it would correspond to the period when Absalom his son usurped the thrown and David was at risk of assassination. An alternative suggestion is that it was written by Jeremiah.

The Artscroll commentary (Sefer Tehillim, p.149-50 footnote) adds ‘One should look forward to old age because it can be a uniquely productive period of life employed in the service of G-d. It furnishes the opportunity to impart to the younger generations the knowledge of G-d accumulated throughout a lifetime of varied trials and experiences’.

The name ‘Holy One of Israel’ (v. 22) only occurs two other times in Psalms. It implies the Holy Covenant entered into between G-d and the Jewish people and the pledge of future redemption. The author describes the great exultation that will arise at the time of the Divine restoration.

וַאֲנִי, תָּמִיד אֲיַחֵל; וְהוֹסַפְתִּי, עַל-כָּל-תְּהִלָּתֶךָ. But as for me, I will hope continually, and will praise You more and more. (Psalms 71:14)

וְגַם עַד-זִקְנָה, וְשֵׂיבָה– אֱ-לֹהִים אַל-תַּעַזְבֵנִי: עַד-אַגִּיד זְרוֹעֲךָ לְדוֹר; לְכָל-יָבוֹא, גְּבוּרָתֶךָ. And even in old age and grey hairs, O G-d, forsake me not; until I’ve declared Your strength unto the next generation, Your might, to everyone who is to come. (Psalms 71:18)

גַּם-אֲנִי, אוֹדְךָ בִכְלִי-נֶבֶל– אֲמִתְּךָ אֱ-לֹהָי: אֲזַמְּרָה לְךָ בְכִנּוֹר– קְדוֹשׁ, יִשְׂרָאֵל. I also will give thanks to You with the psaltery, to Your truth, my G-d; I will sing praises to You with the harp, O Holy One of Israel. (Psalms 71:22)

Finally, we quote from the Artscroll (Ibid, p.148 footnote) about the poignancy of Verse 9 ‘cast me not off in the time of old age’:

‘The Psalmist captures the sense of urgency, almost desperation, with which the elderly tenaciously grasp G-d’s hand. The decline of health and strength exposes the inability of human resources to overcome adversity and to achieve true fulfilment in life. It is only in the shelter of G-d’s love and protection that true happiness can be found. G-d extends shelter to those who seek it regardless of whether they are in the prime of youth or in the lengthening shadows of old age.’


EVENTS THIS WEEK: Congratulations to Joe Arazi who won the 1st Rambam Sephardi 2018 Shesh Besh tournament on Monday night in a lively set of matches. Many thanks as well to Joe and Derek Sheena for helping organise the event, and of course to Nick at Orli for hosting us. The exciting photos can be found here.

Sincere thanks to soon-to-be-Rabbi Aaron Hass who joined us at Rambam Sephardi this past Shabbat. Aaron led Kabbalat Shabbat services beautifully and delivered an informative drasha on Shabbat morning. His talk during Seudah Shilishi at the home of the Wahnon Family included much useful information about preparing for Pesah. Sincere thanks to the Gotlieb & Gasc families for hosting Aaron and to Abe & Annette for a delicious Seudah.

We received a lovely note from Rachel Cohen following her Bon Voyage Shabbat with us. Some excerpts include: ‘Thank you so much for making Shabbat Rosh Hodesh Nisan a wonderful day in my life – a highlight to treasure for years to come PG … Please do thank the community, on my behalf, for making Shabbat a most magical experience and for preparing such a lovely Kiddush. I enjoyed every minute.’

Here are a few other gentle reminders:

From 25 May 2018 a new law will come into effect called the General Data Protection Regulation. It was passed by the European Parliament in 2016 to prevent organisations from collecting and using personal data without a person’s consent.

Anyone subscribing to any website will be receiving an electronic request in coming week’s to verify their consent to remain on that organisation’s mailing list. Undoubtedly, Rambam Sephardi will have to do something similar. Only those who give their consent will be included in the new mailing list.

It seems hard to believe but this is our 248th issue of the Rambam Sephardi Newsletter. We’re looking for some unique content to mark our 250th Issue in a few weeks time. Suggestions can be sent to the Rabbi or to this address.