A New Look at Tehillim 144
Contributed by Doron Beckerman
לְדָוִד בָּרוּךְ ה’ צוּרִי הַמְלַמֵּד יָדַי לַקְרָב אֶצְבְּעוֹתַי לַמִּלְחָמָה:
(1) To David. Blessed is Hashem, my Rock, Who trains my hand for battle, my fingers for war.
[Every victory I accomplish in war does not come from the strength of my hand, for Hashem is He who trains my hand in war (Metzudos). May this strength and prowess be dedicated to the fulfillment of His will. It is solely for this purpose, and not out of vain lust for fame, that I cultivate these skills (Hirsch).]
חַסְדִּי וּמְצוּדָתִי מִשְׂגַּבִּי וּמְפַלְטִי לִי מָגִנִּי וּבוֹ חָסִיתִי הָרוֹדֵד עַמִּי תַחְתָּי:
(2) My loving-kindness [whatever skill and achievement I can call my own is all a generous gift of His loving-kindness (Hirsch)] and my fortress; my tower and my deliverer. My shield, and in Him do I take shelter; He who flattens nations beneath me (Radak).
ה’ מָה אָדָם וַתֵּדָעֵהוּ בֶּן אֱנוֹשׁ וַתְּחַשְּׁבֵהוּ:
אָדָם לַהֶבֶל דָּמָה יָמָיו כְּצֵל עוֹבֵר:
ה’ הַט שָׁמֶיךָ וְתֵרֵד גַּע בֶּהָרִים וְיֶעֱשָׁנוּ:
בְּרוֹק בָּרָק וּתְפִיצֵם שְׁלַח חִצֶּיךָ וּתְהֻמֵּם:
שְׁלַח יָדֶיךָ מִמָּרוֹם פְּצֵנִי וְהַצִּילֵנִי מִמַּיִם רַבִּים מִיַּד בְּנֵי נֵכָר:
אֲשֶׁר פִּיהֶם דִּבֶּר שָׁוְא וִימִינָם יְמִין שָׁקֶר:
(3-7) Hashem! What is man that You should know him? A son of mankind that You should grant him significance? Man is like vapor! His days are as a passing shadow! Hashem, bend Your heavens and descend. Touch the mountains and let them smoke! Flash lightning and scatter them! Send your arrows and stun them! Stretch forth Your hands from on high. Deliver me and save me from many waters, from the hand of alien peoples. Whose mouth utters falsehood, and their right hand is a right hand of mendacity.
[Please Hashem! Do not save us through hidden miracles, such that it gives the impression that man fights in the manner of war and is saved by fortress and shield. Save us with no intermediaries, so that everyone will recognize that the hand of Hashem has wrought this! Why should this vapor deny You? … They deny your hashgachah and say it is all happenstance (Malbim).
In view of the basically degenerate character of the enemy nations, however, their defeat by human hands, even though they were the hands of David, protected and strengthened by Hashem, is still not sufficient to bring more than temporary peace. Please grant us Your direct Divine intervention… for the enemy is perfidious, and only his utter destruction can bring about a state of peace that is truly permanent… It is impossible to make a dependable treaty of peace, for their word is deception and their handclasp is falsehood (Hirsch).]
אֱלֹקים שִׁיר חָדָשׁ אָשִׁירָה לָּךְ בְּנֵבֶל עָשׂוֹר אֲזַמְּרָה לָּךְ:
הַנּוֹתֵן תְּשׁוּעָה לַמְּלָכִים הַפּוֹצֶה אֶת דָּוִד עַבְדּוֹ מֵחֶרֶב רָעָה:
פְּצֵנִי וְהַצִּילֵנִי מִיַּד בְּנֵי נֵכָר אֲשֶׁר פִּיהֶם דִּבֶּר שָׁוְא וִימִינָם יְמִין שָׁקֶר:
(8-11) Hashem, I will sing to You a new song, I will sing to You with a ten-stringed lyre. He Who grants salvation to kings, Who delivers His servant, David, from the evil sword. Deliver me and save me from alien nations, whose mouth speaks falsehood and whose right hand is a right of mendacity.
[I wish to sing to You in my lifetime of universal perfection: “He has relieved me of the necessity to wield the sword, that evil in the history of nations.” I gladly forego the blood-stained laurels of military victory, and all my prayer is, “Deliver me!” Without such intervention, I am compelled to be ready at all times to wield the sword and to practice the skills of warfare, for the neighboring nations are perfidious foes (Hirsch).
Who delivers His servant from the evil sword of Goliath, which was solely for evil, with no political benefit. Deliver me, so that my enemies should not arise and rebel after they surrender. Their mouth speaks falsehood when they accept taxation and subjugation, and their right hand, as they sign the terms of subjugation, is mendacity (Sforno).]
אֲשֶׁר בָּנֵינוּ כִּנְטִעִים מְגֻדָּלִים בִּנְעוּרֵיהֶם בְּנוֹתֵינוּ כְזָוִיֹּת מְחֻטָּבוֹת תַּבְנִית הֵיכָל:
מְזָוֵינוּ מְלֵאִים מְפִיקִים מִזַּן אֶל זַן צֹאונֵנוּ מַאֲלִיפוֹת מְרֻבָּבוֹת בְּחוּצוֹתֵינוּ:
אַלּוּפֵינוּ מְסֻבָּלִים אֵין פֶּרֶץ וְאֵין יוֹצֵאת וְאֵין צְוָחָה בִּרְחֹבֹתֵינוּ:
אַשְׁרֵי הָעָם שֶׁכָּכָה לּוֹ אַשְׁרֵי הָעָם שֶׁה’ אֱלֹקיו:
(12-15) For our sons are as saplings, grown in their youth. Our daughters are as corners, chiseled in the form of the Sanctuary. Our pantries are full, giving forth all species. Our sheep multiplies by thousands and tens of thousands in our open areas. Our oxen are laden. There is no breach, none who go out, and there is no outcry in our streets. Praised is the nation who has it so! Praised is the nation whose God is Hashem!
[We are worthy of salvation because our sons are free of sin, since they are raised to fear sin from their youth. Our daughters have no shade of immodesty. We are therefore worthy of all this bounty and tranquility (Metzudos).
We give of our crops to the poor. No one breaches the words of the Torah. No one harms the other. No one shouts at the other, for all submit to the law. Praised is the nation whose deeds are such, who recognizes its Creator and prays to Him (Sforno).
Our primary praise is that Hashem is our God, for all this comes by virtue of Hashem’s presence in our midst, and He is our God and we are His flock (Malbim).]
Interpreting Tanach can suffer from a desire to maintain a singular hashkafic position. What can be missed are the multiple viewpoints that need to be acknowledged and (possibly) harmonized. A good example, one clearly articulated during Neilah, is the juxtaposition of “..umosar min hadam ayin….” with “Atah hivdaltah enosh…” Similarly, the passuk in this perek of tehillim – “Adam lehevel damo, yamov kitzail ovair” – stands in philosophical and linguistic contrast to a passuk at the beginning of berashit – “Vayivrah et haadam betzalmo, betzelem demut tavnito.“
Absolutely! The early mefarshim often layer their words with subtle modifiers due to ostensible counter sources.
[The duality of man’s relative greatness/lowliness is addressed by Chazal in numerous places, such as בשבילי נברא העולם vs. יתוש קדמך, or זכה רודה לא זכה ירוד, et al. Experience educates us as to man’s unsurpassed potential for greatness and, simultaneously, depravity.]