SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, Omer 1 - April 23, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            The first chapter of the Hallel text, which is the 113rd chapter of Tehillim, concludes by describing how God “lifts the destitute person from the dust; he raises the impoverished person from the trash heaps; to have him sit among the noblemen…”  At first glance, the reference to “dust” and “trash heaps” is intended to illustrate the dire straits of the individuals who are then assisted and rehabilitated by God.  Even if a person sinks to the lowest depths of destitution, God is still capable of lifting him from the “dust” and “trash heaps” to which he has fallen, and catapulting him to the greatest heights of wealth and prestige.

            Another possibility, however, emerges from Abarbanel’s reading of this chapter, which he presents in his commentary to Sefer Malachi (1:11).  In the third verse, the Psalmist proclaims that God’s Name is praised “mi-mizrach shemesh at mevo’o” – from East to West, meaning, among all people in the world.  Abarbanel explains that God’s existence and might are practically universally recognized, and not only among Am Yisrael.  The difference, however, lies in the next verse: “The Lord is high above the nations; His glory is in the heavens.”  The pagan nations viewed God as “high above,” and “in the heavens,” and thus dissociated from our lowly world.  They recognized God, but presumed that He is too powerful and exalted to concern Himself with the affairs on Earth.  The Psalmist then proceeds to note the distinction between this perception and that of Am Yisrael: “Who is like the Lord our God, who resides up high, but who lowers Himself to see, in the heavens and Earth.”  We see no contradiction whatsoever between God’s loftiness and His interest and direct governance of our world.  Despite His transcendence, and His being infinitely greater than anything in our universe, He nevertheless mercifully “lowers Himself” to manage and control all the affairs of our world.  Abarbanel adds that the next chapter of Tehillim – “Be-tzeit Yisrael mi-Mitzrayim” – appears here because it speaks of the Exodus, the clearest example of God’s Providence over the world’s affairs.

            Accordingly, we might suggest that the Psalmist depicts the poor wallowing in the “dust” and “trash heaps” not just to emphasize the depths of their misery, but to note the extent to which the Almighty will lower Himself, as it were, for the sake of assisting the needy.  The starkest illustration of the contrast that is (according to Abarbanel) the theme of this Psalm is the image of God coming to the aid of a pauper rummaging through the trash in search of food.  Despite the fact that “al ha-shamayim kevodo,” that His glory spans the entire expanse of the universe, and beyond, there is nowhere too low or too unseemly for Him to go when His assistance is needed.  He will descend anywhere in our lowly world, including the “dust” and the “trash heaps,” in order to assist a poverty-stricken individual.

            The lesson, of course, is that we, like the Almighty, must not allow our pride or our perceived stature to get in the way of assisting those in need.  We should never see ourselves as too important or distinguished to go to the “trash heaps,’ to do whatever is needed to help our fellow.  Just as God descends to our lowly world to help us, we, too, must “descend” from whatever stature we assign to ourselves in order to lend assistance to those who need it.