Shiur #30: "Indeed, For Your Sake We Are Being Killed All The Day" - Psalm 44 (Part III)

  • Rav Elchanan Samet

 

SEFER TEHILLIM

 

 

Lecture 30:

"indeed, for your sake we are being killed all the day"

Psalm 44 (part IIi)

 

Rav Elchanan Samet

 

 

              (1)                 To the director of music, for the sons of Korach,

                        a maskil.

1            (2)     O God, we have heard with our ears,

                        our fathers have told us,

                        of the deed You did in their days, in days of old.

              (3)                 You with Your hand drove out the nations, and

                        planted them.

                        You broke the peoples and cast them out.

              (4)                 For they did not take possession of the land by

                        their own sword,

                        and their own arm did not save them,

                        but your right hand and Your right arm, and the

                        light of Your countenance, for you blessed them.

2            (5)     You alone are my king, O God,

                        Command salvations for Yaakov.

              (6) Through You we have smitten our enemies.

                        Through Your name we have trampled on those who rose

                        up against us.

              (7) For I did not trust in my bow,

                        and my sword did not save me.

3            (8)     When You saved us from our enemies,

                        and You put to shame those who hate us.

              (9) We praised God all the day,

                        and we thanked Your name forever.

                        Sela.

4            (10)   Even when You abandoned us and put us to shame,

                        and You did not go out with our armies,

              (11)   When You made us turn back from our enemy,

                        and those who hate us plundered us for themselves.

              (12)   When You gave us like sheep to be eaten,

                        and You scattered us among the nations.

              (13)   When You sold Your people for no sum,

                        and You did not set their prices high.

              (14)   When You made us a reproach to our neighbors,

                        a scorn and a derision to those round about us.

              (15)   When You made us a byword among the nations,

                        a shaking of the head among the peoples.

              (16)   All the day my humiliation is before me,

                        and shame covers my face,

              (17)   From the voice of him who taunts and blasphemes,

                        from the enemy and the avenger.

              (18)   All this has come upon us, yet we have not forgotten

                        You,

                        nor have we been false to Your covenant.

              (19)   Our heart has not turned back,

                        nor have our steps turned from Your way.

5            (20)   [Even] when You broke us in the place of jackals,

                        and You covered us with darkness.

              (21)   I swear that we have not forgotten the name of our

                        God,

                        nor have we stretched out our hands to a strange

                        god.

              (22)               Surely God has searched this out,

                        for He knows the secrets of the heart.

              (23)               Indeed, for Your sake we are being killed all the

                        day,

                        we are regarded as sheep for the slaughter.

6            (24)   Awake, why do you sleep, O Lord?

                        Arise, do not abandon us forever.

              (25)   Why do You hide Your face?

                        Why do You forget our affliction and oppression?

              (26)               For our soul is bowed down to the dust,

                        our belly cleaves to the ground.

              (27)   Arise and help us,

                        and redeem us for the sake of Your lovingkindness.

 

V. Section 5 (vv. 2-23)

 

            The grammatical structure of section 5 is similar to the grammatical structure of the previous section: it too opens with a subordinate clause describing God's harsh actions towards Israel, which is followed by the main clause describing Israel's response of fidelity to God even after those actions. The word "ki" at the beginning of verse 20 should be understood as we explained that same word at the beginning of verse 8, in the sense of "when," except that in section 5, owing to its grammatical and substantive similarity to section 4, we must fill in the word "even," as we find at the beginning of section 4.[1] Accordingly the explanation of v. 20 is as follows: "Even when You broke us in the place of jackals – a place of wilderness and desolation[2] - and You covered us with darkness,[3] we…."

 

            This similarity between sections 5 and 4, in terms of both grammatical structure and in substantive content, raises the following questions: Why does the argument articulated at length in section 4 appear again section 5? Is there any justification for the division between them?[4]

 

            The most striking difference between the two sections is their respective lengths: section 4 is 10 verses, whereas section 5 is only 4 verses. In poetry, shortening usually attests to a greater intensification of the message, and this is true in our case as well.

 

            Another striking difference involves the relationship in each section between the grammatically subordinate part and the main part. In section 4, the subordinate clauses spread out over 8 verses, whereas the main clauses cover only 2 verses. In section 5 the opposite is true: the subordinate clause occupies only one verse, whereas the main clauses take three verses.

 

            Let us examine the novelty of section 5 in relation to the previous section, and see how it intensifies the complaint that was sounded earlier in the psalm.

 

1. "And You covered us with darkness"

 

As in verses 10-15, so, too, in verse 20, the evils that befall the people of Israel are attributed to God's actions: It was You who "abandoned us and put us to shame," and it was You who "sold Your people" and "made us a reproach, etc." Similarly, in verse 20, it was You who "broke us in the place of jackals, and covered us with darkness." Nevertheless there is a difference between the two: the evils in section 4 were brought by God by way of the nations – it is they who defeated Israel – "those who hate us plundered us for themselves" (v. 11). And so too in the exile, it is they who taunt and mock Israel; God merely placed Israel in a situation that allows this. In verse 20, at the beginning of section 5, however, there are only two players: "You" and "us": there is no more talk about nations or wars, about mockery or taunting. Indeed, this follows from what is described in this verse: "the place of jackals" and "darkness" are desolate and dismal places.

 

            Is it possible that, in section 5, Israel is no longer among the nations in the lands of their dispersion, but rather in a desolate wilderness? This seems unlikely. First of all, the historical stage alluded to in verse 20 is unclear. When did the people of Israel leave the lands of their dispersion, enter a desolate wilderness and establish permanent residence there? Second, the continuation of this very same section implies that Israel is still among the nations. Verse 23 reads: "Indeed, for Your sake we are being killed all the day, we are regarded as sheep for the slaughter." The implication is that they are killing and slaughtering us, and this is done by the nations among whom we live.

 

            It seems then that verse 20 describes an extreme situation in which the people of Israel find themselves in the lands of their enemies. No more taunting and mockery, but rather killing and slaughter, as is stated in v. 23, to the point that the places of Israel's residence turn into wilderness and desolation. "A place of jackals" and "wilderness" serve as metaphors for the destruction of Israel and the places where they had settled (as the term is used in several places in Scripture; see note 2).

 

            This may be learned not only from verse 23, but from verse 20 itself: It does not say, "You took us out to a place of jackals," but rather "You broke us in a place of jackals"; and it does not say, "and You settled us in darkness," but rather, "and You covered us with darkness ("tzalmavet")," and of course the word "tzalmavet" alludes to death ("death"), and not just plain darkness (see note 3).

 

            It turns out, then, that verse 20 describes a new and more severe stage that comes after the series of calamities described in section 4. Israel's residence among the nations, which in section 4 mostly causes them humiliation and shame (vv. 13-17), now brings about their death and slaughter. In such a terrible situation, the nations are no longer a factor (even though they are doing the killing), rather, Israel stands directly before God, and it is He who breaks them and covers them with darkness.

 

2. "I swear that we have not forgotten the name of our God"

 

How do the people of Israel react to God's attitude toward them? Will they remain faithful to God even now? Verse 21, which is the main clause immediately following the subordinate clause, answers:

 

I swear that ("im shakhachnu") we have not forgotten the name of our God,

nor have we stretched out our hands to a strange god.

 

            The words "im shakhachnu" (lit., "if we forgot") express an oath: "I swear that we have not forgotten."[5] What does it mean that we have not forgotten the name of our God? The answer to this question may be learned from the parallel, "nor have we stretched out our hands." "Stretching out hands" is a term of prayer,[6] and, accordingly, not forgetting the name of God also refers to the constant mentioning of God's name in the prayers directed toward Him. Thus, the verse means that even when God broke Israel, they continued to pray to him and wait for His salvation, and did not shift their faith and prayers to a strange god.

 

            That which the people of Israel say about themselves in our psalm, Iyov says about himself in one of his orations (13:15):

 

Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him!

 

            The Mishna says about this (Sota 5:5):

 

On that day, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hyrkanos expounded: Iyov served the Holy One, blessed be He, only out of love. As it is stated: "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him." And yet, the matter is ambiguous: "I will trust in Him ['lo' without an alef, in accordance with the way the word is read]," or "I do not ['lo' with an alef, in accordance with the way the word is written] trust." Therefore the verse states (ibid. 27:5): "Till I die I will not put away my integrity from me" – this teaches that he acted out of love.

 

            What is the difference between Israel's declaration of fidelity in section 5 and the one in section 4? Even before we compare the two and determine the similarities and differences, we may say that the declaration of fidelity in section 5 is greater because it follows the more severe actions that God took against Israel. Let us now compare the two:

 

Section 4 (v. 18)

… yet we have not forgotten You,

Nor have we been false to Your covenant.

Section 5 (v. 21)

I swear that we have not forgotten the name of our God,

Nor have we stretched out our hands to a strange god.

 

            In the first clause of each verse the people proclaim that they have not forgotten God or His name, whereas in the second clause they clarify how this forgetting would be expressed: in section 4 it would mean being false to their covenant with God, whereas in section 5 it means praying to a false god; it seems that the two are referring to one and the same thing.

 

            Despite the great similarity, the declaration of fidelity in section 5 is stronger than the one in section 4, for it is formulated as an oath, "im shakhachnu." This oath is an expression of the same spiritual effort that we noted in our discussion of the threefold negation at the end of the previous section. The difference is that in section 5 it reflects greater and more intense vanquishing of the theoretical possibility of forgetting the name of God. The mention of stretching hands out to a strange god illustrates what had been merely alluded to in the previous section, "nor have we been false to Your covenant," and turns it into a more concrete possibility, which must be rejected with greater force by way of an oath.

 

            Another difference stems from what we said earlier: the declaration of fidelity in our section is not about not forgetting God, as in section 4, but rather about not forgetting His name in our prayers to Him: "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him!"

 

            This declaration of faithfulness expressed in an oath raises a question: Was Israel's faithfulness to God really so great that even when He broke them and covered them with darkness they continued to bear His name and trust in His salvation? The people of Israel who take this oath of loyalty feel a need for a witness who will attest to the truth of their words. But who can offer such testimony? Only He who "knows the secrets of the heart" can do this, that is to say, only God! And therefore they testify about themselves:

 

Surely God has searched this out,

for He knows the secrets of the heart.

 

            That in this verse God is turned from the addressee of Israel's complaints into a witness who attests to the truth of their oath may explain its shift from turning to God in second person, which characterizes the entire psalm, to speaking about Him in the third person.[7] Third person is appropriate for a witness, who must be objective, and, as it were, not involved in the litigation between the two parties.[8]

 

3. "Indeed, for Your sake we are being killed all the day"

 

The verse that closes section 5 brings Israel's declaration of fidelity to its climax, and thereby it also turns their complaint into something harsher than anything said thus fair in the psalm:

 

Indeed, for Your sake ("ki alekha") we are being killed all the day,

we are regarded as sheep for the slaughter.

 

            First of all, we must determine the meaning of the words, "ki alekha," at the beginning of this verse, and in the context in which the verse is found. In the two previous verses, the people of Israel swore that they have not forgotten the name of their God, and they invoked God to attest to the truth of their words. Now they say, "for Your sake we are being killed," which the Ibn Ezra explains as follows: "And the strongest witness to our words: for by our choice we are being killed for the glory of Your name, and by our choice we are regarded as sheep for the slaughter."[9] We are being killed "alekha" – "for your sake, so as not to change our faith" (R. Yeshaya),[10] or perhaps, "alekha" – because we are faithful to You. This fact is the "strongest witness" to the truth of our oath, because even when You cover us with darkness, we do not forget the name of our God. According to this, the word "ki" is used here in the sense of "for indeed," as it is used elsewhere in the psalm.[11]

 

            On the face of it, verse 23 states what was already stated in verse 12. There it says: "When You gave us like sheep to be eaten," whereas here it says: "For Your sake… we are regarded as sheep for the slaughter."[12] Indeed, what is the difference between these two verses? Let us note three important differences between them:

 

1)            Each of these two verses describes a different stage in the historical process that accompanies our psalm. Verse 12 is part of the description of the defeat in war, a description which begins already in verse 10: The words, "When You gave us like sheep to be eaten," mean then that "when You made us turn back from our enemy…," those who hate us and who defeated us in war killed many of us, and we were "like sheep to be eaten."

 

Verse 23, in contrast, describes a more advanced and serious stage in the exile, where our enemies kill and slaughter us in the lands of our dispersion not in the framework of war (for in exile we do not fight), but rather because we are God's people who are faithful to Him ("for Your sake").

 

2)            Who turns Israel into "sheep to be eaten" or "sheep for the slaughter"? In verse 12, it is God who does this – "when You gave us like sheep to be eaten," and He does this, of course, by way of Israel's enemies, to whom he assigns victory over them.

 

But in verse 23 no act of killing is attributed to God, and not even to the nations! We ourselves hand ourselves over to be killed! It is possible that this is the meaning of the rare form, "horagnu" – in the passive of the kal conjugation - instead of "neheragnu," in the nif'al conjugation. This form emphasizes our choice to hand ourselves over to be killed.

 

Though the killing is not attributed to God, God is, however, its cause, for we hand ourselves over to be killed "for your sake" – because of our faith in You.

 

3)            The main difference between the verses (which also explains the previous difference) relates to the role that each verse plays in the argument articulated by our psalm, and in the context in which each verse is found. As we have seen, from the beginning of the psalm until this verse, the psalm is built around a description of God's actions toward Israel and of Israel's response to those actions. The complaint in the second part of the psalm is based on the contrast between God's harsh actions toward Israel and Israel's absolute loyalty to Him, despite everything that He has done to them. Verse 12 is part of the description of God's actions toward Israel, and it is part of a series of subordinate clauses that lay the groundwork for the main clause (beginning in verse 18). Verse 23, on the other hand, is part of the description of Israel's fidelity toward God despite His attitude toward them, and it is part of the series of main clauses in section 5 that follow the subordinate clause (in verse 20).

 

Despite all these differences, we must not blur the fact that these two verses (and also verse 20 that opens section 5) describe the same phenomenon: the killing of Israel at the hands of their enemies. How does this fact serve once in the description of God's actions toward Israel and a second time in the description of Israel's loyalty to God?[13]

 

The answer to this question is that the motive for the killing is different in each case: In verse 12 the nations kill Israel in battle in the manner of victors in war. This is an action that God performs against Israel in that He delivers them into the hands of their enemies. This action stands on one side of the dividing line (in section 4), as opposed to Israel's loyalty to God that stands on the other side – "we have not forgotten You…." In verse 23, on the other hand, the nations kill Israel in the lands of their dispersion because of their loyalty to God, and the people of Israel are killed by them because of their stubbornness to remain faithful, as is stated, "for Your sake we are being killed." It turns out then that in paradoxical fashion this action gives expression both to God's actions against Israel and to Israel's loyalty to Him despite those actions. These are not two separate things – God's actions and Israel's reaction – but rather a single phenomenon that embraces both God's harsh action and the expression of the fidelity of the people of Israel who choose to serve as objects of that action.[14]

 

For this reason, we said at the beginning of our comments on verse 23 that in this verse Israel's declaration of loyalty reaches a climax: Israel's loyalty to God brings them to choose to die for the sanctification of His name. But together with this the complaint in our psalm also reaches a climax: How is it that God brings upon his nation cruel and mass killing at the hands of the nations, precisely because they bear His name and remain stubbornly faithful to Him?

 

Let us conclude our discussion of section 5, the most severe and difficult section of our psalm, with a historical illustration that expresses the great amazement found in a paradoxical situation similar to the one described in this section. The passage cited below is taken from the book, "Shevet Yehuda," by R. Shelomo Ibn Verga, an account of the expulsion from Spain in 1492. The book was written in the generation following the expulsion, based on testimonies that the author had collected from elderly survivors of the expulsion.[15]

 

I heard from elders who had been expelled from Spain that a certain ship was struck with plague, and the ship's master cast [his passengers] ashore in an uninhabited place. Most of the people died there of hunger, while a few managed to continue on foot until they reached civilization.

A certain Jew among them, he and his wife and two sons, struggled to walk. The woman, who had not been accustomed to walking, collapsed and died. The man was carrying his sons, and he and his sons also collapsed because of their hunger. When the man woke up from his faint, he found his two sons dead. Greatly distressed, he stood up and said: Master of the Universe! You have done much to make me forsake my religion.[16] Know that against the will of Heaven, I am a Jew and I will remain a Jew, and everything that you already brought and will bring upon me in the future will have no effect! He then gathered dirt and grass and covered the boys, and went on in search of civilization.

 

VI. Section 6 (vv. 24-27)

 

            Even though the speaker in our psalm turns to God in the second person beginning with the first word[17] and ending with the conclusion of the psalm,[18] it is only in the last verses, in section 6, that he offers a prayer and petition. This ending of the psalm with an emotional prayer slightly softens the tone of the complaint in the previous two sections. In other psalms of complaint in the book of Tehilim, the complaint and the prayer are inseparably intermingled. In our psalm, however, they stand distinctively apart. This might be explained by the severity of the complaint sounded in our psalm: it is difficult for someone in the role of "accuser" to play at one and the same time the role of "petitioner." Only after unburdening himself of his complaints (in sections 4-5) does the psalmist feel capable of changing roles and pleading and petitioning for a change in the situation. It turns out, then, that the shift itself in our psalm from complaint to prayer alludes to the possibility of appeasement and reconciliation.

 

            Support for this reconciliation may be found in the first two verses of the prayer:

 

(24) Awake, why do you sleep, O Lord?

Arise, do not abandon us forever.

(25) Why do You hide Your face?

Why do You forget our affliction and oppression?

 

            These verses contain a new explanation for Israel's afflictions: not a direct and intentional action against them on the part of God, as was described in the previous two sections, but rather "the hiding of God's face," ignoring and forgetting, similar to "sleep." It is this abandonment that brought all the evils upon Israel, as is stated in the book of Devarim (31:17):

 

… And I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them…

 

            If this is the reason for Israel's troubles, and not an active step taken by God against His people, then the possibility exists that prayer and supplications will change God's attitude toward them, so that He will remember their affliction and help them escape their dreadful decline.

 

            On the other hand, we should not exaggerate the change in atmosphere in this prayer. The atmosphere is still difficult, because Israel is found at the lowest possible level of degradation:

 

(26) For our soul is bowed down to the dust,

our belly cleaves to the ground.

 

            This is a description of man's descent to the lowest possible place – to the dust of the earth, the only lower place being the grave.

 

            This description gives expression to the desperation in Israel's situation, and no less, to the urgency of their rescue before they disappear from the face of the earth. In another psalm of complaint, Psalm 39, the author concludes his desperate prayer in similar fashion:

 

Look away from me, that I may recover brightness,

before I go hence and am no more.[19] (v. 14)

 

            Since this is Israel's situation, the psalm concludes with an urgent call to positive action on the part of God with respect to Israel: not in the manner that the prayer opened, with a call to end the negative situation – "Awake, why do you sleep, O Lord?… Why do You hide Your face?…" - but with the hope that God will appear and realize the covenant that He had made with His people:

 

(27) Arise and help us,

and redeem us for the sake of Your covenant ("chasdekha").[20]

 

            Midrash Shemot Rabbah (1, 9) sees the conclusion of our psalm as a promise to Israel. Regarding the verse in Shemot 1:10, "and go up out of the land," the midrash states:

 

Whenever Israel is at the lowest descent, they ascend. See what is written: "And go up out of the land (aretz)." David said: "For our soul is bowed down to the dust, our belly cleaves to the ground (aretz)." At the same time: "Arise and help us, and redeem us for the sake of Your lovingkindness."

 

            The fact that our psalm concludes with a prayer allowed an early[21] and anonymous[22] paytan to use our entire psalm, including its complaints, in his composition of a moving prayer. This piyyut is recited to this very day in the Ashkenazic communities in the tachanun prayer recited on Mondays and Thursdays. We bring here the first and fourth (and final) stanzas, and we mark in bold the places where there is a linguistic or substantive connection to our psalm.

 

Lord, God of Israel, turn from Your fierce anger, and change Your mind about doing evil to Your people.

 

Look down from heaven and see how we have become an object of contempt and derision among the nations; we are counted as sheep led to the slaughter, to be slain and destroyed, or to be beaten and disgraced.

Yet, despite all this,[23] we have not forgotten your name; O forget us not!

 

Hear our voice and have pity; leave us not in the power of our enemies to blot out our name. Remember that You had sworn to our fathers: "I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky"; and now, we are left but a few out of many.

Yet, despite all this, we have not forgotten your name; O forget us not![24]

 

(To be continued.)

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 



[1] This, indeed, is the way that Rashi, understands our verse: "'Ki You broke us' – this instance of the word 'ki' is used in the sense of 'when': Even when you lowered us in a land of deserts and of pits, a wilderness and place of jackals…."

[2] Most (or all) of the places where jackals appear in Scripture are connected to desolation, destruction or wilderness. See, for example, Yeshayahu 34:13; Yirmiyahu 10:22; Malakhi 1:3.

[3] The word "tzalmavet" appears 18 times in Scripture, and in most places it is connected to darkness, or it stands in contrast to light or morning. Nevertheless, the element of "mavet" ("death") found in the word (which seem to be comprised of "tzel" and "mavet") suggests that is it does not refer to ordinary darkness, but to darkness that involves a danger of death. This, indeed, seems to be the sense of several of the verses. In one place, Iyov 38:17, "tzalmavet" parallels "mavet": "Have the gates of death ('mavet') been opened to you? Or have you seen the doors of deepest darkness ('tzalmavet')?"

[4] We raised a similar question in our discussion of section 2 regarding its repetition of what had already been stated in section 1. The answer that we shall give here is similar in its general structure to the answer that we gave there.

[5] Like, "If I forget you ('im eshkachekh'), O Jerusalem," which is an oath for the future, that I shall not forget. Only that there, in psalm 137, the oath continues with a punishment that the person taking the oath accepts upon himself, whereas here the oath is reinforced in a different manner: through God's testimony (in verse 22; see below).

[6] See, for example: Shemot 9:29; Yeshayahu 1:15; and elsewhere. The expression is based on the fact that a person standing in prayer would stretch out his hands to express his supplications.

[7] It is possible that the transition took place already in the previous verse – "I swear that we have not forgotten the name of our God" (and not, "I swear that we have not forgotten Your name"), these words serving as an introduction to the request for testimony in our verse. It is possible, however, that since the psalmist mentioned the word "name," he attached to it the words, "of our God," as an illustration of the name that we have not forgotten. If this is true, there is no proof from this verse of a shift to third person.

[8] It seems that under the influence of verses 21-22 in our psalm, the Rambam learned (in Hilkhot Teshuva 2:2) that when a person commits himself before God never to return to his sin, he should call upon God to serve as a witness that his intention is genuine. Only God can serve as a witness, for nobody else knows the secrets of man's heart. The Rambam says as follows: "That the sinner abandon his sin, remove it from his thoughts, and resolve in his heart, never to repeat it… and he should call upon Him who knows all secrets to witness that he will never return to this sin again."

[9] The Ibn Ezra understands that our verse manifests incomplete parallelism: The second clause should be completed with the word "alekha" found in the first clause: "Indeed, for Your sake we are being killed all the day, [for Your sake] we are regarded as sheep for the slaughter."

[10] The Radak offers a similar explanation: "For Your sake – for the unity of Your name, for we didn't want to deny You, and they kill us for that."

[11] This is the meaning of the word at the beginning of v. 4 and at the beginning of v. 7.

[12] Sheep are slaughtered in order to be eaten, and so "sheep for the slaughter" are the same as "sheep to be eaten."

[13] A similar difficulty from an exegetical perspective is found in Devarim 26:16-19: Observance of the mitzvot is testimony both to God's selection of Israel and to Israel's selection of God. See Ramban, ad loc.

[14] It seems that v. 23 parallels v. 20, which opens section 5: both of them relate to the very same thing, the killing of Israel in the lands of their exile at the hands of the nations. Only that v. 20 emphasizes God's action which finds expression in this killing: "[Even] when You broke us… and You covered us with darkness"; whereas v. 23 emphasizes Israel's fidelity which finds expression in this very action: "Indeed, for Your sake, we are being killed."

[15] The citation is from chapter fifty-two of the book. Here are a few words of background to clarify the event under discussion: Following the publication of the order of expulsion of the Jews of Spain who adamantly refused to accept Christianity, the value of Jewish property fell dramatically. At the same time, the owners of the ships which the Jews of Spain wished to board in order to flee the country and find refuge in other countries in the Mediterranean basin dramatically raised their fares. Shipmasters took on board great numbers of passengers in order to increase their profits. Plagues broke out aboard these ships, and Jews were frequently cast off on a desolate coast and not at the destination that they had planned to reach.

[16] The whole expulsion from Spain served as a means to pressure the Jews to forsake their religion. Most of them withstood the test and left the country, but a minority accepted Christianity, usually only for the sake of appearances, in order to continue their lives in Spain.

[17] The psalm opens with "O God," which stands outside the parallelism and meter of the two parallel clauses at the beginning of verse 1. We noted the frequency of such an opening in the psalms of Tehilim in our study of psalm 131, section III (see note 13 there).

[18] With the exception of verse 22 (and perhaps verses 21-22). We noted the reason for the shift to speaking about God in the third person in our discussion of that verse.

[19] A similar argument is made by Iyov in several of his orations: 7:7-10; ibid. 16-21; 10:20-22; 14:1-15; and it is also prevalent in several psalms of supplication in Tehilim.

[20] The meaning of the word "chesed" in various places is "covenant" (the expression "berit ve-chesed" appears eight times in Scripture). In a psalm which discusses Israel's fidelity to the covenant – "nor have we been false to Your covenant," and in which Israel complains "When You sold Your people…," it is fitting that the concluding words should be: "and redeem us for the sake of chasdekha" – for the sake of the covenant that You made with us.

[21] There may already be an allusion to this piyyut in Seder Rav Amram Gaon in the section, "Seder Sheni va-Chamishi." There it says (Coronel edition, p. 20b): "And the prayer leader says: 'Lord, God of Israel, turn from Your fierce anger, and change Your mind about doing evil to Your people.'" The rest of the piyyut, however, is not brought there. The piyyut in its entirety, with differences and additions, is brought in Machzor Vitri. In any event, the antiquity of the piyyut is evident from the fact that it is not rhymed.

[22] Attempts have been made to identify the name of the author based on allusions at the beginning of the stanzas, but even if we can determine his name, we would still not know who he was or when and where he lived.

[23] The words, "yet, despite all this," mean, "despite all these things that happened to us" – the very same meaning of the words, "All this has come upon us," found in our psalm.

[24] Despite the clear use that the paytan made of our psalm, he greatly tempers what is stated there: He turns the complaint into a prayer and supplication, this beginning already in the opening line of the piyyut. For this purpose he omits the attribution of the afflictions to God. For example: Whereas the psalm reads, "When You made us a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and a derision to those round about us" (v. 14), the piyyut reads: "We have become an object of contempt and derision among the nations."