Shiur #40: The Difference Between Prayer And Complaint Psalm 80 (Part II)

  • Rav Elchanan Samet

SEFER TEHILLIM

 

 

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Dedicated in memory of both Zissel Bat Yitzchak Gontownik, and Avraham Ben Yosef Halevi Gontownik,
on the occasion of his tenth yahrzeit, by his children, Anne and Jerry Gontownik, and Sidney Gontownik,
and his grandchildren, Ari and Shira, Zev and Daniela, Yonatan, Ranan, Hillel, and Ezra Gontownik.

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Lecture 40: Psalm 80

THe difference between prayer and complaint (part II)

 

Rav Elchanan Samet

 

 

              (1)     To the director of music, ­el-shoshanim. Edut.

                        A psalm of Asaf.

I

              (2)     O shepherd of Israel, listen,

                        You who tend Yosef like sheep.

                        You who sit upon the keruvim, shine forth.

              (3)     Before Efrayim, and Binyamin, and Menasheh,

                        stir up your might,

                        and come to save us.

              (4)     O God, restore us,

                        and cause Your face to shine, and we will be saved.

II

              (5)     O Lord, God of hosts,

                        how long will You angrily reject the prayer

                        of Your people?

              (6)     You feed them bread of tears,

                        and You give them to drink a cup mixed with tears.

              (7)     You have made us a strife to our neighbors,

                        and our enemies mock them.

              (8)     O God of hosts, restore us,

                        and cause Your face to shine, and we will be saved.

III

              (9)     You brought a vine out of Egypt.

                        You drove out nations and planted it.

              (10)   You cleared room before it,

                        and it took deep root and filled the land.

              (11)The hills were covered with its shadow,

                        and the mighty cedars with its boughs.

              (12)It sent out its boughs to the sea,

                        and its branches to the river.

              (13)   Why have You breached its fences,

                        and all who pass by the way pluck its fruit?

              (14)   The boar from the wood ravages it,

                        and the wild bird devours it.

              (15a)O God of hosts, please return.

IV

              (15b)Look down from heaven and see,

                        and be mindful of this vine.

              (16)   And the sapling that Your right hand planted,

                        and the branch that You planted for Yourself.

              (17)   It is burned with fire, it is cut down.

                        Let them perish at the rebuke of Your face.

              (18)   Let Your hand be with the man of Your right hand,

                        with the man whom You have attached strongly

                        to Yourself.

              (19)   He has not turned back from You.

                        Let us live, and we shall call upon Your name.

              (20)   O Lord, God of hosts, restore us.

                        Cause Your face to shine, and we will be saved.

 

II. THE SECOND STANZA - FROM PRAYER TO COMPLAINT

 

            What is the difference between the first two stanzas of the psalm? The answer is clear: stanza 1 constitutes a prayer, and its tone is optimistic – the bond between God and His people is expressed in positive terms.[1] Stanza 2 constitutes a complaint, and its tone is harsh – the connection between God and His people is expressed through verbs appearing in exceedingly negative contexts.

 

            The call to God at the beginning of the stanza, "O Lord, God of hosts,"[2] is immediately followed by a rhetorical question that is typical of complaints in the book of Tehillim: "How long…" Everything appearing later in this stanza with respect to God's relationship with Israel is governed by the opening question, "How long?"[3]

 

How long   will You angrily reject the prayer of Your people?[4]

[How long]      will You feed them bread of tears,[5]

                                    and give them to drink a cup mixed with tears.[6]

[How long]      will you make us a strife to our neighbors,[7]

                                    and will our enemies mock them.[8]

 

            The three questions of "how long" relate to three realms in which God acted against His people:

 

1)     He refused to accept their prayers because He was angry with them.

2)     He brought upon them exceedingly difficult afflictions which caused them bitter and extended weeping.

3)     He gave strength to their enemies and made Israel into a mockery in their eyes.

 

Now the question arises: In the psalms of complaint with which we are familiar, the prayer always follows the complaint, and the role that it plays is to shine a ray of light (sometimes weaker, sometimes stronger) on the darkness of the complaint and to conclude the psalm on a hopeful note for the future.[9] In the first part of our psalm, however, the prayer precedes the complaint. What does this mean?

 

Our discussion regarding stanza 1 following Y.M. Grintz's article seems to open a door to an answer. Stanza 1 and stanza 2 reflect two different stages of the historical event upon which the psalm is based. The event in question is a war in which the tribes descending from Rachel participated – apparently Israel's war against the Pelishtim at Even ha-Ezer. Stanza 1 reflects the eve of the battle, the stage during which Israel prayed for their victory, filled with the hope that the shepherd of Israel, who sits upon the keruvim, would appear before them with all His might and deliver them from their enemies. In contrast, stanza 2 reflects Israel's situation following their painful defeat in that war, and it therefore expresses Israel's bitter complaint against God, its wording imbued with pain and suffering.

 

We can now understand the question with which the stanza opens: "How long will You angrily reject the prayer of Your people?" This question relates to the prayer in stanza 1: How long will You angrily reject the prayer that we offered before You on the eve of the battle, the prayer appearing in the previous stanza?

 

Nevertheless, even the complaint in stanza 2 ends with a short prayer, as in all the other places where Israel sounds a complaint in our book. This prayer is included in the refrain:

 

O God of hosts, restore us,

and cause Your face to shine, and we will be saved.

 

            This prayer which closes stanza 2 stands in opposition to what was stated in the body of the stanza:

 

"O God of hosts" – this call is similar to the call at the beginning of the stanza.

"Restore us" – to You, and let not Your rage fume at us; or else: Restore us to our original state, as we were in our time of prosperity before You made us fall before our enemies.

"And cause Your face to shine" – toward us, and not as You have hidden Your face from us until now.

"And we will be saved" – from the hands of our enemies who have overpowered us.

 

            Here the question may be raised: Surely the same refrain appears at the end of stanza 1, and there it cannot be understood as has been proposed here! And the answer is: Indeed, this is true, and this is one of the features of the refrains in the book of Tehillim. Not only does the refrain undergo various changes in its successive appearances in the psalm (as was noted at the beginning of this study), but its meaning also keeps changing in accordance with the context in which it appears at the end of each stanza.

 

            How should the refrain be understood at the end of the prayer for success in battle in stanza 1? Perhaps in this manner:

 

"O God, restore us" – to our homes in peace, like a shepherd who returns his sheep to their usual place after having led them out to pasture in the wilderness.

"And cause Your face to shine" – toward us by stirring up Your might before us.

"And we will be saved" – when you give us victory in battle and accept our prayer, "And come to save us."

 

III. THE THIRD STANZA - COMPLAINT FOLLOWING COMPLAINT

 

1. The Topic of this stanza, and the connection between it and the previous stanza

 

When we reach verse 9 at the beginning of stanza 3, we seem to be starting something new that is totally unconnected to the first part of the psalm. Several essential things change in the transition from the first part of the psalm to the beginning of stanza 3. First of all, the time – the prayer and the complaint in the first part pertain to the present, the time during which the psalm is being voiced; at the beginning of stanza 3 we go back in time to the exodus from Egypt and to the settlement of Eretz Yisrael. Second, the literary form – all of stanza 3 likens the people of Israel to a grapevine, and the changes in the nation's history are compared to the changes in the situation of that vine; nothing similar is found in the first part of the psalm.[10] Third, the atmosphere – the atmosphere at the beginning of stanza 3 is different than that of the first part of the psalm; it has none of the urgency that characterizes the prayer and the complaint in the first part, but rather a feeling of leisure and satisfaction.

 

This feeling that we get at the beginning of stanza 3 stems, of course, from an optical illusion. The four verses with which stanza 3 opens are but a necessary introduction to verses 13-14 that follow them. And it is precisely those two verses that determine the topic of the entire third stanza. Stanza 3 is a bitter complaint on the part of the psalmist regarding the attitude of God, who in the past had planted and nurtured the vine, to that very same vine in the present:

 

Why have You breached its fences,

and all who pass by the way pluck its fruit?

 

This "why" is left as a rhetorical question that has no answer.

 

            In other psalms of complaint as well, the complaint is preceded by a description of God's acts of loving-kindness toward Israel in the past. This is the case in psalm 44, the first part of which (about a third of the psalm) describes God's loving-kindness toward Israel during its conquest of Eretz Yisrael as a background to the complaint in the second part of the psalm regarding God's sharply contrasting attitude toward His people at the present time. Similarly, in psalm 89, the complaint at the end of the psalm regarding God's breaking of His covenant with the house of David is preceded by a description of God's loving-kindness toward David and the covenant that He had made with him, a description that takes up the better part of the psalm.

 

            The reason that in all the aforementioned places the complaint is preceded by a description of God's loving-kindness is clear: the essence of the complaint relates to the radical change for the worse in God's relationship toward Israel, a change that defies explanation.[11] The same is true in our psalm. Following the expansive account of God's caring for and nurturing of the vine, i.e., Israel, the question of complaint cries out: "Why have You breached its fences…?" Why have you changed your disposition toward the vine from one extreme to the other, when the vine remains the very same vine?

 

Now that we have defined stanza 3 as a complaint, we understand how it is connected to the first part of the psalm, or more precisely, to stanza 2 - both of these stanzas contain complaints. Is there a connection between the complaints in these two stanzas? Do they relate to the same event? If the answer to this question is positive, why are these two complaints so different in their substantive and stylistic form?

 

We will only answer these questions after we deal with several exegetical aspects touching upon the two parts of stanza 3: the introduction that describes God's loving-kindness toward the people of Israel in the past and the complaint regarding his attitude toward them in the present.

 

2. The difference between the parable of the grapevine in our psalm and similar parables in the rebukes sounded by the prophets

 

Likening Israel to a grapevine or to a vineyard is very common in the words of the prophets. In two places, this metaphor is used, as in our psalm, to describe a change that occurred in Israel's situation. The first instance is the parable of the vineyard in Yeshayahu 5:1-7. From both a literary and a substantive perspective, there is great similarity between the parable of the vine in our psalm and the parable of the vineyard in Yeshayahu. The striking difference between them is the choice of the metaphor – a single grapevine or an entire vineyard.

 

Yesh.

5:1

Now I will sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved concerning his vineyard:

My well-beloved had a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:

2

 

 

And he dug it, and cleared away its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine,

And built a tower in the midst of it, and also hewed out a wine vat in it;

And he looked that it should bring forth good grapes, but it brought forth bad grapes.

3

And now, O inhabitant of Jerusalem and man of Yehuda,

Judge, I pray you, between me and my vineyard.

4

What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done it?

Why was it, when I looked that it should bring forth good grapes, that it brought forth bad grapes?

5

And now, I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard:

I will take away its hedge, and it shall be eaten up; and break down its wall, and it shall be trodden down:

6

And I will lay it waste: it shall be neither pruned, nor hoed; but there shall come up briers and thorns.

I will also command the clouds that they drop no rain upon it.

7

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Yehuda His pleasant plant;

And He looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.

 

The second place is the prophecy in Yirmiyahu 2:21. There we find, as in our psalm, a single vine rather than an entire vineyard, but the literary scope is limited; the metaphor of the vine takes up only one verse, and the account of the calamity that befell the vine (which is found both in our psalm and in Yeshayahu) is absent entirely:

 

And I had planted you a noble vine, an entirely right seed;

how then are you turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine to me? (Yirmiyahu 2:21)

 

            The short comparison conducted here between the three instances relates to various details, but not to the deep difference that distinguishes between our psalm and the prophecies of Yeshayahu and Yirmiyahu. Perhaps it shouldn't even be called a difference, but rather a complete turnaround.

 

Both in our psalm and in Yeshayahu's prophecy, the owner of the vine/vineyard breaches the fence that protects it, and thus allows it to be trodden over and eaten up by all who enter. Why does the owner of the vine/vineyard do this?

 

This question is raised by the author of our psalm:

 

Why have You breached its fences,

and all who pass by the way pluck its fruit? (v. 13)

 

The question is left unanswered, and therefore we have defined it as a complaint about God's disposition toward His vine-nation. But it is precisely this question that Yeshayahu comes to answer. The prophet also asks a question, and in his question we find an answer to the psalmist's question:

 

What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done it?

Why was it, when I looked that it should bring forth good grapes, that it brought forth bad grapes? (v. 4)

 

            To the question, "Why have you breached…," the prophet answers, "Why was it when I looked…" It is not the owner of the vineyard who changed his relationship with his vineyard, but rather it is the vineyard who "betrayed" its owner, disappointing one who had expected to see good grapes, but instead saw only bad grapes. Breaching the vineyard's fence is merely the reaction of its owner who was betrayed and thus punishes his vineyard for its sin.

 

            Yirmiyahu's prophecy also provides an answer to the question raised by the author of our psalm, and this answer is also formulated as a question and an expression of amazement:

 

How then are you turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine to me?

 

            In our psalm, however, the vine is the same vine that was brought out of Egypt and planted in Eretz Yisrael. It did not betray its planter or disappoint him; it was he who changed his attitude toward it for the worse, from one extreme to the other, for no apparent reason!

 

            We have, then, what appears to be a "disagreement" and contradiction between our psalm and the prophecies of Yeshayahu and Yirmiyahu on the question "who is responsible" for the degenerated state of the vine: it itself or its owner?

 

            It may, of course, be suggested that a gulf of many years, or even many generations, separates between our psalm and the two prophecies. The circumstances in each place are different, and this difference may account for the contrast between our psalm and the prophecies. Indeed, a historical discussion of this sort should not be rejected, despite the difficulty in clarifying the precise spiritual-religious circumstances that serve as the background of our psalm.

 

            It seems, however, that the solution to the contradiction between our psalm and the two prophecies must be sought elsewhere. The solution lies in the fact that our psalm is found in the book of Tehillim – the book in which man speaks from down below to God above. The books of Yeshayahu and Yirmiyahu, on the other hand, are included among the books of the Prophets, in which God speaks to man by way of His prophets.

 

            Using terminology taken from Yeshayahu's parable of the vineyard, we can say as follows: The prophecy contains "a song of my beloved concerning his vineyard," a song of reproach that the "beloved" – God – sings to His vineyard – the house of Israel. Our psalm, in contrast, is "a song of the vine's complaint against its beloved."

 

            From the prophetic perspective, the history of the people of Israel is understood in the framework of God's recompense for Israel's actions. When calamity strikes Israel, or when it is about to strike, the prophets explain that the calamity is a just punishment for Israel's sins and their betrayal of God.

 

            From the human perspective, on the other hand, the people of Israel sometimes feel that the calamity brought upon them by God is unjust, and they complain to God in accordance with the way that they experience the calamity.

 

            It is not impossible then that a particular event in Jewish history will give rise to harsh prophetic words that justify the calamity and hang it upon the sins of Israel, while at the same time the same event will give rise to bitter words of complaint on the part of the holy poets who direct their complaints toward God; those words will be included in the nation's holy Scripture in the framework of the book of Tehillim (or the book of Eikha).[12]

 

            The canonizers of the Hebrew Bible included sharp and bitter psalms of complaint in the book of Tehillim, such as psalm 84, psalm 89, and, in far more moderate fashion, our psalm as well. In this way, they taught us that a complaint sounded from man's perspective, when it expresses a true human experience and is voiced by holy poets, is also said through the holy spirit and worthy of being included in holy Scripture. This is true even if there is a response to Israel's complaints and this answer will be revealed by a prophet in later generations, or even in that same generation.[13]

 

            We are, therefore, permitted to ignore the differences in the periods and the circumstances between our psalm and the prophecies of Yeshayahu and Yirmiyahu and consider all of them from an a-historical perspective, as if they were all sounded at the very same time.

 

3. The differences in the choice of the parable – vine or vineyard

 

The main difference that we noted above between the parable of the vine that serves as the basis of the complaint in our psalm and the similar parables in the reproaches of the prophets can also explain some of the more specific differences between them. For the details follow from the speaker's general approach - is it his intention to admonish and reproach with a prophetic rebuke, or does he mean to lay out his complaint before God?

 

Why did the author of our psalm choose to liken Israel to a single vine, whereas Yeshayahu compares them to a vineyard? Before we answer this question, we must first explain the parable's meaning in our psalm.

 

The beginning of Yeshayahu's parable of the vineyard describes the vineyard owner's actions in a most realistic fashion, to the point that we don't even realize at first that we are dealing with a parable. In contrast, the parable of the vine in our psalm announces from the very outset that it is a parable, and it is clear already from the opening words what is being likened to the vine: "You brought a vine out of Egypt. You drove out nations and planted it." Even though the name of Israel is not mentioned here, it is evident to all that the reference is to Israel and not really to a vine.

 

But the description of the vine in our psalm is so fantastic that the question may be raised whether there is any connection between this description and actual reality. The answer is that, indeed, such a connection exists: the description in our psalm accords with the household vine that a person grows in the back of his house and that climbs up and covers a pergola built on the roof.

 

The analogy of a good wife to such a vine in psalm 128 – "Your wife will be like a fruitful vine in the innermost parts of your house" – was discussed at length in our study of that psalm, section VI. There, we also described this phenomenon, bringing support from scriptural verses and the words of Chazal. In that same study, we tried to identify the characteristics of this household vine that are not found in a vine growing out in the field. I wish to mention two of the characteristics noted there. First, there is an incomprehensible relationship between the weakness of the vine's thin trunk and the enormous spread of its branches across the entire roof of the house. Second, such a vine is amazingly able to climb up and reach the height of the roof. A thin and weak trunk rises up without limitations, although it is supported by the wall of the house. It is clear that in order for the vine to reach the roof and spread out across the pergola that is built there, the vine must be tended by its owner, who trains it to climb the wall of the house and cover the pergola.

 

This is the background of the parable of the vine in our psalm; just as the vine is the people of Israel, the house on which it climbs is Eretz Yisrael, the roof of the house are the hills covered by its shade, and the poles of the pergola built on the roof are the "mighty cedars."

 

Let us now return to our question regarding the selection of the different analogies used for the people of Israel, the vine in our psalm and the vineyard in Yeshayahu's prophecy.

 

There is a great difference between the single household vine growing in the innermost parts of a person's house and the many vines growing in his vineyard. This difference expresses itself not only in the external appearance of these two types of vines, but also in the care that the owner gives to each of them and in the goal of that care.

 

The vineyard is the farmer's place of work. Many different labors are associated with a vineyard, some of which are mentioned in the words of Yeshayahu: "And he dug it, and cleared away its stones, and planted it… and built a tower in the midst of it, and also hewed out a wine vat in it." Other labors are mentioned later: building a wall around it, pruning the branches, hoeing, and removing the weeds growing in the vineyard. The farmer invests this difficult and time-consuming labor so that he will be able to pick the grapes and support himself from them.

 

In the prophetic reproach of Yeshayahu, it is precisely the parable of the vineyard that is most appropriate. Through this parable, the prophet wishes to express the vineyard's ingratitude – even though its owner invested such hard work, the vineyard yielded bad grapes, causing the owner great disappointment and frustration.

 

The household vine would have been inappropriate for Yeshayahu's reproach for two reasons. First, it does not demand the same hard and continuous work as does the vineyard; second, this vine is not planted for economic reasons, for its fruit, but rather for its shade and beauty. Thus, it cannot be used to express the disappointment stemming from the contradiction between the great investment and the meager results.

 

For these very reasons, it is precisely the household vine that is most appropriate for the complaint in our psalm. The care and nurturing provided by the vine's owner to the single household vine does not involve arduous and tiring labor, but they do give expression to a personal, intimate relationship with it. The role of the vine is to shade the house, and this it does by itself, after the initial investment made by its owner. With this we can understand the transition in verses 9-12 from verbs whose unequivocal subject is God, "You brought," "You drove out,"  "You planted it," and "You cleared room," to verbs the subject of which can be understood to be the vine itself, "it took deep root," "it filled," "it sent out."

 

The test of this vine is not necessarily in the fruit that it yields, but rather in the fulfillment of its role of shading the roof through the spread of its branches. And this the vine did with great success: "And it filled the land. The hills were covered with its shadow… It sent out its boughs to the sea…"

 

It is precisely against the background of the personal care that the owner provides his vine - care and investment based on endearment - and against the background of the vine's success in it mission to shade the hills that the complaint is sounded: "Why have You breached its fences…" Why has Your loving attitude toward the vine turned into abandonment? Surely the vine is the very same vine that You took out of Egypt, and the goal of its being planted on the soil of Your Land has been achieved!

 

It is difficult to imagine how it would have been possible to express this complaint had the psalmist chosen to liken the people of Israel to a vineyard, as in the prophecy of Yeshayahu.

 

Why does Yirmiyahu in his prophecy of reproach choose to liken Israel to a single vine, as in our psalm, rather than to a vineyard, as in the prophecy of Yeshayahu? The purpose of Yirmiyahu's rebuke is different than that of Yeshayahu. He does not compare the great amount of work that the vintner invested to the meager yield of fruit, a comparison that emphasizes the vineyard's ingratitude and the lack of (economic) profitability in continuing to maintain it. The comparison that Yirmiyahu draws is between the excellent genetic foundations enjoyed by the vine that had been chosen out of many (the reference seems to be the selection of the Patriarchs for the purpose of establishing the nation), and the "strange" branches that grew from this first-rate vine.

 

A solitary grapevine that was carefully selected from among many others is particularly suited to express the planter's disappointment with this genetic accident {"how then are you turned into the degenerate plant").

 

4. The difference between the complaint in stanza 3 and the complaint in stanza 2

 

What is the difference between the complaint expressed in stanza 2 of our psalm and the one expressed in stanza 3? There are several differences between them, but we will focus on one of them: The complaint in stanza 2 seems to relate to a particular event, that which is referred to in the prayer in stanza 1. That is to say, it is a complaint about the defeat in battle alluded to in the first part of the psalm, as was already pointed out in our analysis of stanza 2. In contrast, the complaint in stanza 3 is directed at the ongoing national situation, in which Israel's borders are breached ("Why have You breached its fences") and various nations allow themselves to pluck the vine's fruit ("and all who pass by the way[14] pluck its fruit"). Other nations ("the boar from the wood" and "the wild bird") inflict damage upon the vine itself when they eat of its branches, that is to say, they fight Israel and perhaps even conquer parts of the Land. Since this stanza is not dealing with a specific national trauma like in the previous stanza, but rather with the ongoing national situation, there is no "bread of tears" or "a cup mixed with tears," but there is here the bitter feeling of continued abandonment and desertion of the vine.

 

Is there a connection between the two complaints in stanzas 2 and 3? The answer seems to be yes. The ongoing national condition described in stanza 3 is a consequence of that same decisive defeat in battle discussed in stanza 2. If indeed we are dealing with the battle fought at Even ha-Ezer, this supports our argument. In the wake of this battle, the Pelishtim reached Shilo in Mount Efrayim and destroyed it and the Mishkan in its midst, as well as the army of Israel. Thus, the fence that had protected the vine – the people of Israel - was breached, and the people and Land of Israel became subjugated to the Pelishtim.

 

This war created a new national situation reflected in the complaint found in verses 13-14 of our psalm. It turns out, then, that all three stanzas – 1, 2 and 3 – refer to the same event, but they relate to three different stages that are arranged in chronological order. Stanza 1 – the eve of the war; stanza 2 – the rout in war; stanza 3 – the ongoing national consequences.

 

5. The refrain following stanza 3

 

Let us conclude our analysis of stanza 3 with a discussion of the refrain appearing at its end, in the first half of verse 15:

 

O God of hosts, please return.

 

            Why was the second part of the refrain – "and cause Your face to shine, and we will be saved" – omitted? And why was a change introduced into the first part, so that it reads "please return" and not "restore us," as it reads in its other appearances?

 

            The reason seems to be the nature of the complaint in this stanza. In the previous stanza, the complaint related to a specific event, the defeat in battle, and therefore it says at the end, "restore us" to our previous situation, "and cause your face to shine, and we will be saved" from the enemies who overcame us. In stanza 3, on the other hand, the complaint relates to the ongoing national situation, in which the psalmist feels that God has abandoned His people and deserted them, like the owner of the vine who breached its fences and allowed it to be trampled by passers-by. In such a lowly situation, the prayer, "and cause Your face to shine, and we will be saved," is inappropriate, for we are not dealing with a complaint of temporary anger that can be repaired with the shining of God's face and a single act of deliverance. The request, "restore us," is also out of place: We are in our place, but God has abandoned us. Therefore, the correct and appropriate request in such a situation is "please return." Please return to Your cherished vine as in days of old![15]

 

(To be continued.)

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] The connection in the past, at the time of the exodus from Egypt, is likened to a shepherd's tending of his sheep (v. 2). The connection upon which the prayer is based in this stanza is expressed through a series of verbs that express God's positive disposition toward His people: listen, shine forth, stir up your might (before Israel), and come to save us.

[2] Whereas the call to God at the beginning of stanza 1 describes Him as having acted favorably toward Israel in the past – "O shepherd of Israel… You who tend Yosef like sheep," the call in stanza 2 alludes apparently to the present, when Israel went out to battle, and the Lord, the God of the hosts of Israel, brought utter defeat upon them.

[3] It is possible, however, to understand the question "how long" as relating exclusively to what immediately follows, "how long will you angrily reject the prayer of Your people," whereas the rest of the stanza explains the question: "for surely – You feed them bread of tears…" According to this understanding, everything that follows is proof of the fact that God has rejected the prayer of His people. The first alternative, however, seems to be simpler.

[4] This explanation follows R. Yeshaya of Trani. Some commentators (Ibn Ezra) explain that the prayer itself turned into smoke – an expression of God's anger.

[5] Here, too, we follow R. Yeshaya: "You feed them bread of tears – that is, they ate their bread weeping, and perhaps the tears even melted in their bread. And some explain that their tears were their bread, as in Tehillim 42:4: 'My tears have been my bread day and night.'"

[6] The word "shelish" refers to a vessel that holds a measure called a "shelish," as in Yeshayahu 40:12: "And comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure (ba-shelish)." According to the Ibn Ezra, the letter bet before the word dema'ot governs the word shalish, as if the verse read: "vatashkemo dema'ot ba-shelish." This parallels what we explained in the name of R. Yeshaya at the beginning of the previous note (and indeed R. Yeshaya explains these words in this way as well).

[7] The word "madon" appears in Scripture together with the word "riv." Accordingly, the meaning of the verse is "that they quarrel with us all the time" (Radak); "all day long they fight us" (Meiri).

[8] The word "lamo" means "lahem" (them). Therefore, the Ibn Ezra explains that it comes in place of the word "lekha," and it is "a substitution for the glory of God… and 'they will mock him' – that You cannot help us." So, too, explains the Radak. According to this explanation, there may be an allusion here to the fall of the ark into Pelishti captivity. The plain sense, however, seems to be as suggested by Tz.P. Chajes: "Lamo refers to the enemies, this being an instance of the lamed of benefit, as in 'lekh lekha,' 'go for yourself,' for your own benefit. And here too: 'for themselves.' Accordingly, the object of the enemies' mockery is us.” The Septuagint and the Peshita have "lanu" instead of "lamo," although we cannot determine whether this was their actual text or their interpretation.

[9] This is the case regarding Tehillim 44, 79, 89, and in our psalm as well, as will be demonstrated later in this study.

[10] In truth, the two distinctions that we have noted between the first half of the psalm and the beginning of stanza 3 are imprecise. The call to God at the beginning of the psalm, "O shepherd of Israel… You who tend Yosef like sheep," alludes to the time of the exodus from Egypt and Israel's wandering in the wilderness (see our discussion about this in the analysis of the stanza 1), and it is these designations themselves that liken the people of Israel to a flock of sheep that is tended by God. Another hidden connection between the two parts is the fact that a grapevine serves as a metaphor for Yosef – "ben porat Yosef" (Bereishit 49:22) – “the branch of a fruitful grapevine is Yosef” - And at the beginning of our psalm, the people of Israel are called by the name of Yosef.

[11] Introductions of this sort are not found in two psalms of complaint, Tehillim 74 and 79, because the complaint in these psalms does not relate to a change in God's disposition toward Israel, but rather to the fact that God, through His actions regarding Israel, causes the profanation of His name among the non-Jewish peoples. See our comments on the two types of complaints in the book of Tehillim at the end of the section dealing with stanza 1.

[12] It goes without saying that we are not arguing that our psalm and Yeshayahu's prophecy are dealing with the very same event, but merely that it is not the change in time and circumstances that account for the contradiction between them, but rather their belonging to two different, and even contradictory, types of religious expression – prophecy and prayer.

[13] This point was already discussed in a different style and with the help of the words of Chazal at the end of our study of psalm 44, section 7.

[14] a. The expression "those who pass by the way" as a designation of the nations bordering upon Israel appears twice in Eikha: 1:12 – "Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by;" 2:15 – "All that pass by clap their hands."

b. An example of the fruit of the vine-Israel being eaten by the neighboring nations is found in Shoftim 6:3-4: "And so it was, when Israel had sown, that Midyan and Amalek, and the children of the east came up against them… and destroyed the produce of the earth… and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass."

[15] Only at the end of stanza 4, following the detailed and moving prayer in which the psalmist imagines the arrival of the salvation, "Let us live, and we shall call upon Your name," does he feel that he can once again return to the full refrain, and even expand upon it by way of the threefold designation, "Lord, God of hosts."