Shiur #05: Psalms 95-100 – Six Psalms of Praise (II)

  • Rav Elchanan Samet

V. A Calculated Act of Editing or the Work of a Single Poet?*

The parallels that we surveyed in the previous sections between the two psalms of each pair of psalms in Tehilim 95-100 indeed indicate that we are dealing with, in the words of Licht cited previously, "a set of psalms in the book of Tehilim, which is… a sort of literary work in its own right. A work that is indeed comprised of independent parts, but nevertheless unites those parts, both in content and in form."

For honesty's sake, it must be noted that in this set of six psalms, we find parallels even between psalms that do not constitute a pair (a point that is not noted in Licht’s article).[1] But these parallels do not undermine the solid structure that has been revealed; on the contrary, they add to the cohesion of the set as a whole.

It must further be noted that there are also striking parallels between psalms belonging to the set of psalms under discussion and psalms outside that set, and this might to a certain extent undermine the argument presented in Licht's article.[2] Nevertheless, the structure that he has proposed is impressive and persuasive.

In my book, Iyyunim Be-Mizmorei Tehilim, I discussed the pair of psalms 111-112. In the introduction to the studies devoted to these psalms, we noted (pp. 295-297) that there are isolated cases in the book of Tehillim where the juxtaposition of certain psalms is not the result of a later editorial decision, but rather part of the author's original intention from the time of the writing of these psalms. This phenomenon can be objectively identified and proven by way of markers that cannot be ignored. I demonstrated there that the same author wrote Psalms 111-112, according to a single plan, and that the two psalms were written from the outset as a pair.[3]

In such cases, it falls upon the commentator to explain the nature of the connection between the adjacent psalms and the implications that this juxtaposition has for the interpretation of each psalm in itself. I fulfilled this task in an appendix to the study of Psalms 111-112 (pp. 324-329).

Is this also the case regarding Psalms 95-100? Is the striking connection between the six psalms and the structure of the set of psalms as a whole evidence that they were written as a set, in accordance with a plan that was prepared in advance? An affirmative answer to this question will require us to expose this plan and to understand the idea that develops over the course of this set of psalms.

Licht was careful in his remarks and did not advance such a claim. His words as a whole indicate that he saw the joining together of these six psalms a calculated act of editing, which brought together six independent psalms that have a common denominator and belong to the same literary genre, in an appropriate order and literary shape.

Even if this is so, there is still room to ask why these independent psalms were arranged precisely in this order, and whether this act of editing points to a process or progress from one psalm to the next.[4]

The full clarification of these questions would take us well beyond the parameters of this study, but totally ignoring them is impossible. We will therefore content ourselves with a brief analysis of Psalm 95, which is Psalm 100's partner, with the goal of understanding the uniqueness of each of these two psalms.

VI. The Psalms That Serve as a Frame for the Entire Set – The Difference Between Psalm 95 and Psalm 100

Who calls out to the others to praise God in Psalm 95, and to whom is his appeal directed?[5]

The appeals in this psalm (both the first appeal in verses 1-2 and the second appeal in verse 6) distinguish themselves from the rest of the appeals in this set of six psalms. In Psalm 95, the appealer includes himself among those to whom his appeal is directed:

The first appeal (vv. 1-2): O come, let us sing to the Lord… let us make a joyful noiselet us come before His presence… let us make a joyful noise…

The second appeal (v. 6): O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker.

In other words, the person issuing the appeal clearly belongs to the group to which his appeal is directed. It is as if with his call he is prodding himself as well to adopt the behavior that he suggests for the others.

In the second praise framework, this call of the psalmist, in which he includes himself, is understandable. Here the rationale is clearly an internal Israelite matter: (7): "For he is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the flock of His hand." Here it is clear that the addressees are the people of Israel, and it is only natural that the psalmist, who is a member of that people, should include himself among them, not only in the rationale for his appeal, but in the appeal itself which he directs at his coreligionists.

It may be concluded, then, that in the first appeal as well the psalmist directs his call to his own people, the people of Israel. Indeed, this follows from the wording of his appeal: "Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving…." For this reason, he includes himself among the addressees of his appeal.

The rationale in this praise framework, however, is a universal one – the rationale for praising God is the fact that He is a great God, the Creator and Lord of the universe. This universal rationale (vv. 3-5) raises a difficulty: These arguments are valid with respect to all of humanity; this being the case the psalmist should have directed his appeal to all the nations, as we saw in other psalms of praise in which similar rationales are sounded (e.g., in the first half of Psalm 100). Why, then, does the psalmist direct his call specifically to the members of his own people, including himself among them?

The beginning of a solution is found in the last component in the psalm, which is not part of either of the two praise frameworks. From the middle of verse 7 until the end of the psalm, there is a short oration of rebuke, which extends over the second half of the psalm:[6]

72              Today even, if you will only hearken to His voice

8                        Do not harden your hearts as in Meriva,

               as in the day of Masa in the wilderness.

What is the connection of this oration to our psalm?

In the second praise framework, the psalmist calls upon his own people to accept God’s yoke upon themselves, seeing that they are the people of His pasture and the flock of His hand. This demand is by its very nature unique to the people of Israel. Raising this demand suggests that the people of Israel need to strengthen their fidelity and subjugation to God. The oration of rebuke in our psalm continues in the direction of the second appeal, to strengthen the people's faithfulness to the word of God.

To this direction of the psalmist we can now add the first appeal to praise God for being a great God and Creator of the universe. This appeal in Psalm 95 is directed to the people of Israel as a universal basis that is acceptable to all, from which it will be possible to continue, in the framework of the second praise framework, to a strengthening of the unique relationship between Israel and their God, and then to move on to the rebuke.

It seems, therefore, that the psalmist is directing his call to his contemporaries (and also to later generations), at a time when there is a need to strengthen the people's relationship with God. In any event, this psalm is not directed to the end of days, and therefore it does not turn to all of humanity. At the time that the psalmist's call is sounded and to which it is directed, the nations of the world will not heed this appeal. Only the people of Israel will, perhaps, be ready to accept it. This is a psalm directed in its entirety exclusively to the people of Israel.

A comparison between Psalm 95 and Psalm 100, while it indicates a general schematic similarity between the two appeals to praise God and between the two rationales for doing so, underscores the fundamental difference between the psalms. In Psalm 95, the psalmist turns to the members of his people in his own generation to praise God and accept His yoke, and to this appeal he appends words of rebuke in order to strengthen and encourage them. In contrast, in Psalm 100 the psalmist (even if he is the very same person) directs his call to the distant future at the end of days, after Israel will be redeemed. There he directs his appeal first to "all the earth" to praise God, and afterwards to his own people to offer thanks to God for having redeemed them. Utterly different circumstances underlie the two psalms, and they reflect two distinct stages of human history.

We have alluded to a clear development in the pair of psalms that constitute the frame of the set of six psalms of praise, Psalms 95-100. Much work remains to be done in the deciphering of the set of psalms as a whole, but it is not exclusively our responsibility to complete the task.

VII. The Difference Bbetween the Expression: "The people of His Pasture and the Flock of His Hand" (95:7) and the Expression: "His People and the Sheep of His Pasture" (100:3)

The primary novelty of our analysis of Psalm 100 in the study devoted to it was our assigning of the words, "His people and the sheep of His pasture," at the end of verse 3 to the call to praise God at the beginning of verse 4. Our removal of these words from the rationale at the beginning of verse 3 and including them at the beginning of the psalm's second appeal as words of address was the basis for additional novel understandings and for our understanding of the structure and uniqueness of the psalm.

At first glance, it would seem that the close connection between Psalm 95 and Psalm 100, which was demonstrated in the previous sections, might undermine our explanation of Psalm 100.

One of the striking connections between Psalm 95 and Psalm 100 is the similarity between the expression, "The people of His pasture and the flock of His hand" (95:7), and the expression, "His people and the sheep of His pasture" (100:3). But in Psalm 95, the expression serves as part of the rationale for the call to praise God: "For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the flock of His hand." The similarity between this expression and the expression found in Psalm 100 would seem to reinforce the conventional understanding of verse 3 in Psalm 100, according to which these words serve as part of the rationale that precedes them (an understanding that we rejected in section III of that study).

Moreover, in Psalm 95, this expression appears after the word "we": "For He is our God, and we (anakhnu) are the people of His pasture and the flock of His hand." Similarly, in Psalm 100, these words appear after the word "we": "It is He who made us, and we belong to Him (ve-lo anakhnu): [we are] His people, and the sheep of His pasture." Does not this similarity reinforce the understanding: "And we belong to Him – we are special to Him, so that we called His people and the sheep of His pasture"?[7]

From a methodological perspective, we should rule out the assumption underlying this question: The overall similarity between the two psalms, including the details, and even the hypothesis that both psalms were authored by the same person, do not necessitate conformity in the interpretation of the psalms and in the roles played by similar expressions appearing in both of them. Each psalm is a world unto itself. The phrases that repeat themselves in the two psalms are not fossils that must perform the same function wherever they appear. On the contrary, it is to the psalmist's credit that he can take the same linguistic materials and use them in varied, and at times even surprising ways, in accordance with the purpose of the psalm, which is unique and different from other psalms, even if it is similar to them on the linguistic plane.[8]

If so, the words, "His people and the sheep of His flock," in Psalm 100 do not repeat the expression as it is found in Psalm 95, but rather put it to a different use. Moreover, according to our interpretation, it turns out that the words that conclude the second praise framework in Psalm 95 become the opening words of the parallel second praise framework in Psalm 100. Accordingly, the word order is reversed in chiastic manner (in accordance with the Zeidel principle). This is certainly intentional, and it accords with other reversals that we pointed out in the parallels between the two psalms.[9]

This creates, precisely according to our interpretation of Psalm 100, an overall parallelism between the two psalms. In both of them, there is a similar relationship between the first psalm framework in each psalm, the rationale for which is universal, namely that God created the universe and humanity, and the second praise framework in each psalm, the rationale for which is peculiar to Israel and connected to the relationship between God and His people.[10]

VIII. Psalms 95-100 in Kabbalat Shabbat

Before concluding this study, let us briefly consider the Kabbalat Shabbat service that is prevalent today in most Jewish communities. It is customary practice to recite prior to the Ma'ariv service on Friday night certain psalms from the book of Tehillim, primarily the psalms that were the subject of discussion in this study. This custom originated with the Kabbalists of Safed in the 16th century, and over the coming centuries spread to most Jewish communities across the world.[11]

The Ashkenazi practice with respect to Kabbalat Shabbat is to recite only Psalms 95-99. Thus, there does not appear to be an overlap between the custom and the literary boundaries of the set of psalms of praise dealt with by Licht. It is perhaps for this reason that Licht failed to mention the practice in his article concerning Psalms 95-100. It is doubtful, however, that he would have acted in this manner, had he known what we are to present below.

The first publication of the Kabbalat Shabbat service that includes the recitation of psalms beginning with Psalm 95 is found in a small volume published by R. Moshe Ibn Makhir from Ein Zeitun near Safed, called Seder Ha-Yom. It was published in the author's lifetime in Venice in 5359 (1599). This book does not include Psalm 100 in the Kabbalat Shabbat service.[12]

But lo and behold: In the Sephardi communities that adopted this practice, it was customary to recite all six psalms, 95-100, including Mizmor Le-Toda (Psalm 100).[13] And at the beginning of each of the six psalms it is stated that the particular psalm corresponds to one of the days of the week. Mizmor Le-David corresponds to Friday, whereas Psalm 29, "Ascribe to the Lord, O, you mighty," corresponds to Shabbat.

R. Prof. Daniel Sperber, in his book Minhagei Yisrael ([Jerusalem, 5749], vol. 1, chap. 5, "Mizmor Le-Toda Be-Kabbalat Shabbat," pp. 67-70) writes about this practice (p. 68): "It seems to me that the reason for this addition has not yet been understood." In our opinion, the suggestion that he proposes is far-fetched; see what he writes there.

Sperber assumes that the recitation of Mizmor Le-Toda according to the Sephardi custom is an "addition" that must be explained. It is possible, however, that it is precisely this custom that was the original practice in Safed, even though the earliest documentation of the custom does not include Mizmor Le-Toda. The relatively late Sephardi siddurim preserve an oral tradition. This is not a problematic assumption, as this tradition can be older than the earliest documentation of the practice in print.

What leads us to this conclusion is the manifest uniformity of the set of Psalms 95-100, that which we discussed in this study. It is reasonable to assume that the anonymous founders of this custom in 16th century Safed understood that this set of six psalms constitutes a unique set of "psalms of praise" in the book of Tehillim. We suggest that their line of thinking went as follows: Chazal instituted the recitation of "Hallel every day" – the six psalms of praise that close the book of Tehillim, i.e., Pesukei De-Zimra (Psalms 145-150); and they also instituted the recitation of Hallel on Festivals and on Chanuka – the six psalms of praise that are called "the Egyptian Hallel" (Psalms 113-118). Is not Shabbat deserving of a special set of psalms of praise? Surely we find in the book of Tehillim another set of six psalms of praise (which in several ways is even more uniform in character than the other two sets of psalms). Why not adopt these six chapters of praise for Shabbat?[14]

If our theory is correct, the real question is just the opposite: Why was Psalm 100 – Mizmor Le-Toda – omitted in R. Moshe Ibn Makhir's Seder Ha-Yom, and why was it not recited in the Ashkenazi communities that adopted this practice?

We dealt with a similar question in the appendix to our study of Psalm 100 ("The Psalm's Heading and Its Place in the Liturgy"). There we discussed the reason that Mizmor Le-Toda was omitted from the Shabbat Pesukei De-Zimra. The reason for this is already recorded in the Ashkenazi siddurim compiled in the Middle Ages, beginning in the 12th century, after having been first proposed in the batei midrash of the Rishonim of France and Germany: Mizmor Le-Toda is not recited on Shabbat (in Pesukei De-Zimra) because a thanksgiving offering is not brought on Shabbat. This argument, which led to the removal of Mizmor Le-Toda from the additions to Pesukei De-Zimra on Shabbat in the earlier period, led once again to the removal of Mizmor Le-Toda from the "Shabbat Hallel" introduced by the Safed Kabbalists centuries later.[15]


(Translated by David Strauss)


* As stated at the beginning of the first part of this study, this study, and primarily this part, serves also as an appendix to our study of Psalm 100.

[1] Here are several examples:

Psalms 95 and 96 are similar with regard to the first call to praise God in each of them:

Psalm 95

Psalm 96

(3) For the Lord is a great God,

and a great king above all gods.

(4) For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.

(5) The sea is His, and He made it; and His hands formed the dry land.

(5) … but the Lord made the heavens.


Psalms 96 and 97 also share several phrases and motifs:

Psalm 96

Psalm 97

(10) Say among the nations that the Lord reigns.

(11) Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad.

(1) The Lord reigns;


let the earth rejoice.


(13) He shall judge the world in righteousness.

(2) Righteousness and judgment are the foundation of His throne.


We can bring additional examples from psalms that are not adjacent to each other, but also do not constitute a pair, e.g., "Make a joyful noise, all the earth," which appears in Psalm 98 (v. 4) and in Psalm 100 (v. 1).

[2] An example of this is the appeal to praise God at the beginning of Psalm 29:

(1) Ascribe to the Lord, O you mighty/ ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

(2) Give to the Lord the glory due to His name/ worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

This call is strikingly similar to the second appeal to praise God in Psalm 96:

(7) Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples/ ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

(8-9) Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to His name…/ worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

Another example of a psalm that is similar to the set of psalms under discussion is a nearby psalm, Psalm 93, which also opens with the words, "The Lord reigns," like the pair of psalms 97 and 99. The words, "The world also is established, that it cannot be moved," which appear in verse 1 of that psalm, appears in 96:10. "The floods have lifted up their voice… mightier than the noise of many waters" in verses 3-4 bring to mind what is stated in 98:7-8: "Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof… let the rivers clap their hands," even though the context in the two places is different.

Some scholars have indeed expanded the borders of the set from Psalm 93 to Psalm 100, but Psalm 94 does not at all belong to this type of psalms of praise.

[3] In note 3 on p. 295, I questioned whether or not the pair of Psalms 103-104 fits this definition. We also noted there that with respect to Psalms 105-106 (and to this may be added also Psalm 107), it can be demonstrated that a common plan underlies them and that they were written as one.

[4] Indeed, Licht in his article tried to describe a course of development in Psalms 96-99 (which he calls "the body of the group") and a different course in the group's frame, Psalms 95 and 99. At the end of his article, he suggests a role for the six psalms in the Temple ritual. We disagree with most of what he has to say on these matters.

[5] These are the first two of the seven questions that we raised in section I of our study of Psalm 100. As stated there, the commentator must raise these questions with repect to every psalm of praise containing a "praise framework," in order to understand the uniqueness of the psalm in comparison to other psalms of praise of the same type. Later in that study, we analyzed Psalm 100, answering the questions raised in section I. A similar analysis must be conducted for Psalms 95, 96, and 98, all of which belong to this class of psalms of praise, but here we will content ourselves with an analysis of Psalm 95.

[6] In this context, we cannot discuss this oration of rebuke in itself, its connection to the psalm of praise that precedes it, or the precise structure of the psalm. We will merely note that this oration of rebuke clearly begins at the end of verse 7. It is difficult to connect this clause, "Today even, if you will only hearken to His voice," to what is stated earlier in verse 7. At the same time, it is well connected to what follows in verse 8. The second praise framework in the psalm (vv. 6-71), as we will explain it below, serves as the psalm's central axis, and it serves as a transition from the first half of the psalm to the second half – the half of rebuke.

[7] The expression under discussion appears in one other place in the book of Tehillim (79:12), and to our great surprise there too it appears after the word "we": "So we Your people and the sheep of Your pasture will give You thanks for ever: we will relate Your praise to all generations."

[8] Nevertheless, it may be surmised that the similarity between "We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture," and "And we are the people of His pasture, and the flock of His hand," brought whoever it was who divided up the verses to see the two expressions as serving a single role, and to divide up verses 3-4 in Psalm 100 accordingly.

[9] See note 21 in the first part of our study with respect to this verse, as well as notes 15, 16, and 18 with respect to this phenomenon in other verses.

[10] Were we to assign the words "His people and the sheep of His pasture" to the rationale for the first call to praise God in Psalm 100, this similarity between the psalms would diminish. The first rationale in Psalm 95 would remain universal, "The sea is His, and He made it; and His hands formed the dry land," while the first rationale in Psalm 100 would relate only to Israel: The words, "It is He who made us, and we belong to Him," would be explained as referring exclusively to the people of Israel, in correspondence to the continuation: "His people and the sheep of His pasture (see section III of our study of Psalm 100). According to our proposal, however, the words, "His people and the sheep of His pasture," like the words, "The nation of His pasture, and the flock of His hand," belong to the second praise framework in each psalm – the one that relates solely to Israel.

[11] A comprehensive survey of the sources of the custom and the way it spread across the Jewish world was conducted by Yitzchak Yosef Cohen, in his book, Mekorot ve-Korot (Jerusalem 5742), pp. 74-106, in the chapter, "Seder Kabbalat Shabbat U-Pizmon Lekha Dodi." It should be noted that the recitation of this order of psalms beginning with Psalm 95 is not practiced even today in all Jewish communities. In some Sefardi communities (e.g., the Jerusalem Sefardim), Kabbalat Shabbat opens with Psalm 29, in accordance with the practice of the Ari and his disciples in Safed. Two old communities in Germany – Worms and Frankfurt am Main – did not accept the custom of Kabbalat Shabbat at all until relatively recently (at least in the central synagogues of each community).

[12] The earliest source for the custom of reciting these psalms (95-99) in Kabbalat Shabbat is not clear. R. Yaakov Emden in his siddur (Beit Ya'akov) attributes this practice to the Safed Kabbalist R. Moshe Cordevero (whereas the custom of the Ari was to begin Kabbalat Shabbat with Psalm 29). There is, however, no literary documentation to support this. On the contrary, the existing documentation indicates otherwise. See R. Kimmelman, Lekha Dodi Ve-Kabbalat Shabbat (Jerusalem, 5763), pp. 19-20, and p. 23.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the custom of beginning Kabbalat Shabbat with Psalm 95 and its spread beyond Safed preceded its first publication in Seder Ha-Yom by at least a generation. In a book authored by the Kabbalist R. Moshe Elbaz, Heikhal Ha-Kodesh (Amsterdam, 3413 [1653]), we find: “And there are some who are accustomed to recite (before the Ma’ariv service on Friday night) Lekhu neranana, Psalms 95, 96, 97, and 98, and ‘Ascribe to the Lord, O you mighty.’” The author lived in southern Morocco in the last third of the sixteenth century, and according to Gershom Scholem, he wrote this book in 5335 (1575). The fact that he fails to mention Psalm 99 (and also Psalm 100 – see below) does not necessarily prove that they were not included in this custom; he may simply not have listed them all.

[13] Y. Y. Cohen (see note 11) hardly mentions this in his comprehensive article. In note 18 in his article (p. 77), he writes: "In recent times, many prayer books following the Sephardi rite include the psalms, Lekhu neranena…. Without a doubt this is influenced by the Ashkenazi customs. See Siddur Otzar Ha-Tefilot (in the section, Iyyun Tefila on Lekhu neranena) that there are also different customs among the Sephardim, e.g., to recite Lekhu neranena, and add also Mizmor le-toda." The wording of this note is unclear. Siddur Otzar Ha-Tefilot states: "Our order (to recite Psalms 95-99) was accepted in Ashkenazi and Yemenite communities. And in Sephardi communities, there are those who recite the five psalms from 95 to 99, and Mizmor le-toda. So it is written in Siddur Tefilat Ha-Chadash and many other prayer books. And there are those who recite only Psalm 29…." It is clear, then, that among the Sephardim, all those who are accustiomed to start with Lekhu neranena recite the six psalms including Mizmor Le-Toda, and not as implied in Cohen's note.

[14] This is the simplest and most reasonable explanation of this practice. The explanation that connects it to the six days of the week, one psalm for each day, postdates the institution of the practice by several generations; see Cohen's article (note 11), p. 76 and note 11. An explanation close to the one that we have proposed is found in R. Moshe Elbaz's book, Heikhal Ha-Kodesh (see note 12). He writes: "All these psalms point to the acceptance of Shabbat and the kingdom of Heaven, which spreads on Friday night throughout the world. This is explicit in Psalm 99, 'The Lord reigns; le the peoples tremble,' for with these psalms we assist the side of holiness to crown the Shekhina as king over the entire universe."

[15] It would appear, however, that this argument, which originated in France and Germany, was not strong enough to remove Mizmor Le-Toda from the set of psalms recited in Kabbalat Shabbat according to the original Sephardic custom, which developed among the Safed Kabbalists in the second half of the 16th century. It should be remembered that according to the Sehardi custom, Mizmor Le-Toda was recited as part of the Shabbat Pesukei De-Zimra at least until the middle of the 14th century, and perhaps until much later than that (see the appendix mentioned above). It is difficult to determine precisely when the Sephardi siddurim "surrendered" to the Ashkenazi custom and removed Mizmor Le-Toda from the Shabbat liturgy. And even after they "surrendered," the surrender was not complete, and so in some communities Mizmor Le-Toda continued to be recited on Chol Ha-Mo'ed Pesach and on Erev Yom Kippur – days on which a thanksgiving offering was not brought (and so is the custom until this very day), and there were even those who recited it on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur themselves (see the aforementioned appendix, note 22). It is not impossible, then, that those who instituted Kabbalat Shabbat in 16th century Safed still recited Mizmor Le-Toda in the Shabbat Pesukei De-Zimra, and thus this psalm would have been included in their Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday night. R. Moshe Ibn Makhir, who at the end of the 16th century already refrained from reciting Mizmor Le-Toda in the Pesukei de-zimra of Shabbat, removed it also from the Kabbalat Shabbat that he published in his book, Seder ha-Yom.

In any event, the different customs for Kabbalat Shabbat, regarding whether to include Mizmor Le-Toda or refrain from reciting it, are an expression of the question of which is given precedence: The content of Psalm 100, which is a psalm of praise, or its heading, which designates the psalm for a thanksgiving-offering. See what we wrote about this in the aforementioned appendix, at the end of section II.