Shiur #41: The Difference Between Prayer And Complaint Psalm 80 (Part III)

  • Rav Elchanan Samet

 

SEFER TEHILLIM

 

The htm version of this shiur is available at:

http://vbm-torah.org/archive/tehillim70/41tehillim.htm

 

 

Lecture 41: Psalm 80

THe difference between prayer and complaint (Part III)

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.

 

IV. Stanza 4 – from complaint to Prayer

 

1. The prayer on behalf of the grapevine

 

In our discussion of stanza 2, we said that complaints in the book of Tehillim always conclude with a prayer for a change in the situation. This is also the role of stanza 4, which follows the complaint in stanza 3; it offers a moving prayer that an end be put to the grapevine's abandonment and that its owner return to it. For this reason, the analogy of Israel to a grapevine continues into the first half of this stanza. Corresponding to the question-complaint, "Why have You breached its fences," there is a prayer, "Look down from heaven and see, and be mindful of this vine."

 

In the continuation of the prayer with which stanza 4 opens, the vine is referred to by two designations:

 

1) And the sapling (kana) that Your right hand planted (v. 16).

 

That is to say, be mindful of this vine and be mindful of this "kana" that your right hand planted. This is the only instance of the term "kana" in Scripture. Some commentaries translate the word as "gina" ("garden," with a kaf substituting for a gimmel).[1] As we have seen, however, the psalm likens Israel to a single grapevine, and not to a "garden" with many trees. Based on the context, the term seems to denote a tender sapling,[2] the reference being to the vine about which it was stated, "You drove out nations and planted it;" here it is called, "the sapling that Your right hand planted." Accordingly, some suggest that the term "kana" is the feminine form of the word "ken," base,[3] for a sapling is the basis for the development of a tree.[4]

 

2) The second designation of the grapevine appears in the continuation of v. 16:

 

And the branch (ben) that You planted (imatzta) to Yourself.

 

            These words continue the request at the beginning of stanza 4: "Look down from heaven and see" – "Look down on the branch that You planted to Yourself."[5] The word "ben" denotes the branch of a grapevine,[6] as in the verse (Bereishit 49:22), "Yosef is a fruitful ben, a fruitful ben by a well," which means that Yosef is a branch of a fruitful grapevine planted by a well.

 

            The word "imatzta" parallels the words "nat'a yeminekha."  Therefore, the verse means, "Look down upon the branch of the grapevine ("ben" – "kana") that You planted for Yourself.”[7] It is possible, however, that the words "imatzta lakh" mean, "You strengthened for Yourself," in accordance with the prevalent meaning of the root alef-mem-tzadi even in the pi'el conjugation.[8] Thus, the verse refers to the strengthening of the tender branch of the grapevine after it is planted by hanging it over a stable object.[9]

 

            It should be noted that the description of the vine in stanza 3 – in the complaint – relates primarily to a mature vine and the amazing way in which it had spread out;[10] in stanza 4, however – in the prayer – the emphasis is on the stage when the vine was a tender sapling (kana) or a weak and solitary branch (ben) that had to be strengthened and hung over a solid base. The reason for this is clear: the petitioner wishes to remind God of His former love for His vine, when it was a tender and beloved sapling and when it enjoyed the planter's personal tending ("that Your right hand planted;" "that You planted for Yourself"), so that the words of the prophet be fulfilled, "I remember in your favor the devotion of your youth" (Yirmiyahu 2:2). In contrast, the complainer wishes to portray the calamity that befell the vine as a result of the breaching of its fences, and to do this, he must speak of the mature grapevine, whose branches reached the ends of the earth.

 

2. Verse 17 – explanation of the need for prayer

 

Verse 17 constitutes a continuation of the prayer in that it describes the wretched situation of the grapevine, because of which the previous prayer was necessary: "Look down from heaven and see, and be mindful of this vine" for "it is burned with fire, it is cut down."

 

Contents-wise, these words belong to the complaint in stanza 3, to verses 13-14, and they even describe a worsening of the grapevine's situation. Not only do all who pass by the way pluck its fruit, not only do the boar from the wood and the wild bird ravage it, but it is burned with fire and it is cut down. As opposed to verses 13-14, the account here fails to identify the active factor – the party that burned and cut down the grapevine. It seems, however, that the doer is mentioned in the continuation of verse 17, "at the rebuke of Your face." These words are attached to the words that precede them and to those that follow; in other words, they explain the reason that the vine was burnt and cut down and also introduce the words "let them perish."

 

Even though the purpose of the metaphor was clear to us from the beginning, the metaphor itself "ruled" over the two parts of stanza 3 and the first part of stanza 4. Verse 17 contains the "official" transition from the metaphor of the grapevine to that which is likened to it – Israel. This verse is divided into two parallel parts: The first part still belongs to the metaphor – "it [the vine] is burned with fire, it is cut down" - whereas the second part clarifies that this vine is a nation – "Let them perish at the rebuke of Your face."

 

In verses 18-19, there is a resumption of the prayer that had started at the beginning of stanza 4, but here the prayer is recited on behalf of "the man of Your right hand" and "the man whom You have attached strongly to Yourself," that is, on behalf of "us" (verse 19), and no longer the vine.

 

It turns out, then, that stanza 4 is divided into two parts of almost equal length; the two parts are two prayers, and between them there is a central axis, verse 17. The role of the central axis is to carry the reader from the first prayer to the second prayer:

 

15-16              Prayer on behalf of the grapevine

171                  Account of the situation of the grapevine

                           The situation necessitating prayer       

172                  Account of the situation of Israel

18-19              Prayer on behalf of Israel

 

3. The prayer on behalf of israel

 

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

with the man whom You have attached strongly to Yourself.

 

            These two lines of prayer stand in linguistic and substantive relationship to the prayer on behalf of the grapevine at the beginning of the fourth stanza (in verses 15-16). The words "tehi yadkha al" (literally, "let Your hand be upon") seem to be similar in meaning to "tehi yadkha im" ("let Your hand be with"), denoting assistance given to a person in need of help.[11] This request explains the request at the beginning of the stanza, "and be mindful of this vine." How so this mindfulness? By letting Your hand be with those who need Your help.

 

            Now let us consider two linguistic parallels between the two prayers:

 

Verse 16 - grapevine

Verse 18 – Israel

(And be mindful of)

the sapling that Your right hand planted,

and the branch (ben) that You planted (imatzta) for Yourself.

 

Let Your hand be with the man of Your right hand,

with the man (ben-adam) whom You have attached strongly (imatzta) to Yourself.

 

            Don't be led astray by the linguistic similarity: "kana" and "ben" in verse 16 are designations of the grapevine at an early stage, whereas verse 18 speaks of the "ish" and "ben adam" – man – who is likened to the grapevine. This linguistic parallelism is a sophisticated artistic means of alluding to a connection between the vine and Israel.

 

            Who is the "man of Your right hand" and the "man" spoken of in verse 18?

 

            Many commentators understand these expressions as referring to the People of Israel as a whole. But why should the nation be referred to by the terms "ish" and "ben adam"?[12] Other commentators understand these terms as referring to the king of Israel who ruled during the period when our psalm was composed,[13] but we have already demonstrated that our psalm was composed during the period that preceded the monarchy. Moreover, there has been no previous mention of a king in our psalm.

 

            A new and original explanation of verse 18 was offered by Dr. Moshe Seidel, z"l, in his article, "AdamZeh Yosef," which was incorporated in his book, Chikrei Mikra.[14] I wish to cite several passages from this article, especially those that relate to our psalm:

 

The term "adam" (man) is used in Scripture as a designation of Yosef. This was taught to us by our Rabbis in Midrash Shemot Rabba, chapter 20: "… 'And there were certain men, who were defiled by the dead body of a man' (Bamidbar 9:6), and there is no man but Yosef, as it is stated, 'The tent where He made His dwelling in Adam' (Tehillim 78:60), and it is stated, 'And He rejected the tent of Yosef' (ibid. v. 67)."

Their proof is based on the chiastic structure of two verses in Tehillim 78:

“So that He forsook the tabernacle of Shilo, the tent where He made His dwelling in Adam(v. 60).

“And He rejected the tent of Yosef, and chose not the tribe of Efrayim” (v. 67).

We see, then, that "the tent where He made His dwelling in Adam" is "the tent of Yosef." It follows, then, that Adam is Yosef.

The assumption that Adam is Yosef also sheds light on psalm 80 in Tehillim. This psalm is unique in that the psalmist seeks God's help for Efrayim, Binyamin, and Menasheh – and there is no mention of the other tribes. As the Ibn Ezra comments: "The psalmist mentions a war that the descendants of Rachel fought with the nations." We already find these tribes united under a single banner in the wilderness, the banner of the camp of Efrayim; see Bamidbar 2:18-24. When did this war take place? This cannot be determined. And since the prayer is on behalf of Efrayim and Menashe – along with Binyaminit therefore mentions at the beginning Yosef parallel to Israel: "O shepherd of Israel, listen, You who tend Yosef like sheep; before Efrayim, and Binyamin, and Menasheh, stir up your might…"

It may be assumed that the name of Yosef brought the psalmist to use the metaphor of the grapevine: "You brought a vine out of Egypt" (verses 9-17). For Yosef was likened to a vine in Ya'akov's blessing: "Yosef is a fruitful ben, a fruitful ben by a well" (Bereishit 49:22), which means "Yosef is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine by a well." The word "ben" in our psalm is used in the same sense as "ben porat:" "Look down from heaven and see, and be mindful of this vine. And the sapling that Your right hand planted, and the branch that You planted for Yourself" (verses 15-16). The word "ben" is synonymous with "kana" and "gefen." The psalmist seems to have chosen three synonymous terms corresponding to the three tribes on behalf of whom he prays, as he himself explains in verse 18: "Let Your hand be with the man of Your right hand, with the man whom You have attached strongly to Yourself" – that is, Binyamin, Efrayim and Menasheh. "The man of Your right hand" corresponds to Binyamin - Ish-yamin, Ben-Yamin, Binyamin, and Ish-yamini (Esther 2:5) = Binyamin = Ben Yamini, as the term is written in I Shemuel 9:21. "With the man (ben adam)" – refers to Efrayim and Menasheh, each one of which is ben adam, the son of Yosef, who is called Adam! And he says "ben adam" in the singular, so that it parallels "and the branch (ben) that You planted for Yourself" in verse 16.

 

            In his article, Seidel shows that the assumption that "Adam is Yosef" "provides us with a key to understanding several obscure verses with which the commentators struggled."[15] At the end of his article, he explains the connection between the words "Adam" and "Yosef":

 

What is the unique meaning of the designation "Adam" and why was it used in reference to Yosef? For this as well we must turn to Chazal, who say in Vayikra Rabba 2:8: "'Adam' is a term of endearment, brotherhood and fellowship." And see Gesenius' Lexicon, s.v. adam, that the word adam in southern Arabic is also used in the sense of friend, fellow. The word adam already parallels the word ahava (love) in Hoshea 11:4: "I drew them with the cords of a man (adam), with bands of love (ahava)."[16]

 

            It turns out, then, that the prayer at the end of our psalm brings us back to the prayer at the beginning. Corresponding to the prayer that was not accepted, "Before Efrayim, and Binyamin, and Menasheh, stir up your might," our psalmist offers a prayer that God be mindful of these three tribes: "Let Your hand be with the man of Your right hand (ish yamin=Binyamin), with the man (ben adam, the son of Yosef) whom You have attached strongly to Yourself."

 

4. The psalm's closing

 

(19) He has not turned back from You.

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

 

            Two explanations have been offered for the first part of verse 19.[17] According to one explanation, these words constitute a continuation of the previous verse: "The man of Your right hand" and "the man whom You have attached strongly to Yourself" has not turned back from You. (According to this explanation, the word "nasog" is third-person past in the nif'al conjugation.) This means: You have attached him strongly to You, and he has not turned back from You. Therefore, place Your hand upon him to help him.[18]

 

            The problem with this explanation is that it divides the verse into two different sections. The first part concludes the previous verse, which speaks of an individual in the third person in the past, whereas in the second part the psalmist shifts to first person plural and makes a commitment regarding the future: When You let us live, we shall call upon Your name and praise You for it.

 

            An alternative explanation has, therefore, been offered, according to which the two parts of the verse parallel each other in incomplete parallelism:

 

___________, and we shall not turn back from You.

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

 

            At the beginning of the verse, a word must be filled in, similar to "techayenu," let us live – for example, "toshi'einu," “save us," in which case the first part of the verse means: "Save us, and we shall not turn back from You." (According to this, the word "nasog" is first-person plural future in the kal conjugation.)[19] According to this explanation, the verse in its entirety expresses our commitment to cleave to God and to call upon His name when He saves us and lets us live.

 

            The refrain with which the prayer closes summarizes it: "Restore us" to You as we had been at the time that You planted us when we were a "sapling" and at the time that You attached us strongly to Yourself when we were a "branch." "Cause Your face to shine," the opposite of what was stated in verse 17: "Let them perish at the rebuke of Your face."

 

            The novelty in this appearance of the refrain in relation to its previous appearances is the addition of the name of God in the address found at its beginning: "O Lord, God of hosts." Thus, the psalmist fulfills in advance his obligation to "call in Your name," for he already calls in God's name now.

 

Conclusion: More on the structure of the psalm

 

            In the introduction to this study, we noted the psalm's structure, arguing that the psalm is divided into two parts that are very unequal in length, each of which is comprised of two stanzas equal in length and ending with a refrain.

 

            The two large parts of the psalm are very different in nature. The first part revolves around a particular military event, whereas the second part deals with an enormous historical expanse that embraces the distant past ("You brought a vine out of Egypt"), the ongoing present ("and all who pass by the way pluck its fruit"), and the future ("let us live, and we shall call upon Your name").

 

            There is, however, a common denominator between the two parts of the psalm: each of them is comprised of a stanza of prayer and a stanza of complaint, but the internal order reverses itself, thus creating a chiastic structure for the entire psalm:

 

Stanza 1 – Prayer

Stanza 3 – Complaint

before going out to war

about the ongoing consequences of the defeat

Stanza 2 – Complaint

Stanza 4 – Prayer

about the defeat in battle

for salvation in the future

 

            The prayer in stanza 1 is not identical with that in stanza 4: the two prayers are uttered at different stages of the historical event serving as the background of the psalm; the circumstances for reciting them and their intended objectives are different; and they are even different in length. Nevertheless, they parallel each other by virtue of their basic content as prayers. In our analysis of stanza 4 (sub-section 3), we even found a concrete parallel regarding the object of the prayers: Efrayim-Binyamin-Menashe in stanza 1 parallels "the man of Your right hand" and "ben adam" in stanza 4.

 

            The complaint in stanza 2 is also different from the complaint in stanza 3, and the differences between them are similar to the differences between the two prayers (regarding the circumstances in which they were uttered, their length, etc.). Nevertheless, the two complaints parallel each other by virtue of their basic content as complaints. Both of them contain a rhetorical question that is typical of complaints in the book of Tehillim: "how long" in stanza 2 and "why" in stanza 3.

           

            It turns out, then, that our psalm is comprised of two types of religious expression – prayer and complaint. The psalm is framed by an opening prayer and a concluding prayer, in between which there are two complaints.

           

            Accordingly, we may propose a division of our psalm into two halves based on these two forms of expression: the one half, the "prayer" half, includes stanzas 1 and 4 and is made up of 67 words; and the other half, the "complaint" half, includes stanzas 2 and 3 and is made up of 68 words.

 

            While it is true that at the beginning of our study of psalm 44 we included our psalm among the collective psalms of complaint in the book of Tehillim, there is no parity between the complaint in our psalm and that in other psalms of complaint in the book of Tehillim, such as psalms 44 and 89. Not only is the complaint in our psalm less bitter than those in the other psalms, but it is also surrounded on both sides by a prayer. This framework turns our psalm into a psalm that fans the hope for a better future.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] This is the way the term is understood by Ibn Janach in Sefer Rikma and in Sefer Ha-Shorashim, s.v. ken, whose words are cited without attribution by the Ibn Ezra and the Radak.

[2] This is the way the word was explained by the Radak and Rabbenu Yeshaya, based on the context.

[3] This is the way the word was explained by Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and the Radak, although not in the sense that we will immediately propose. The feminine form "kana" in the sense of base is found in Rabbinic Hebrew in the mishna, Kelim 7:6.

[4] In Modern Hebrew, the word "kana" is used in the agricultural context to denote the tree serving as the stock, the tree upon which some part of another tree is grafted.

[5] According to this understanding, the prayer has a chiastic structure:

Look down from heaven and see

and be mindful of this vine.

And [be mindful of] the sapling that Your right hand planted,

and [look down upon] the branch that You attached strongly.

[6] This is a metaphor: A branch growing out from the trunk of a tree is like a son. This is the way the word was understood by Ibn Ezra, Radak, Rabbenu Yeshaya, and the Meiri. It is interesting to note how many terms connected to a grapevine and its various parts are found in our psalm: the grapevine itself, its roots, its branches, "kana," and "ben." Our chapter also contains many verbs connected to the growing of grapes.

[7] This is the way R. Sh. Berman explains our verse in his commentary to Yeshayahu, Or Bahir (Yeshayahu 44:14): "Which he plants (va-ya'ametz) for himself among the trees of the forest; he plants (nata) a forest tree and the rain nourishes it."

[8] Yeshayahu 41:10: "I will strengthen you (imatztikha); indeed, I will help you; moreover, I will uphold you with the right hand of My righteousness."

[9] In Modern Hebrew, the expression "le'ametz ben" refers to adoption, joining a child to a family that is not his biological family and recognizing him as the legal child of his adoptive parents. This expression is taken from our psalm, and perhaps also from verse 18, "with the man whom You have attached strongly to Yourself" (al ben adam imatzta lakh), but its original meaning was changed.

[10] The planting of the grapevine is mentioned in stanza 3 – "You drove out nations and planted it" – but this is only as a necessary introduction to what follows, an account of the way it spread out throughout the land. The terms "kana" and "ben," which denote the first stage of the grapevine at the time of its planting, do not appear in stanza 3.

[11] In Shemuel II 3:12, Avner says to David: "And behold, my hand shall be with you, to bring all Israel round to you." It is possible that there the reference is to the extension of a hand in partnership, but it is also possible that the meaning is: "My hand shall be with you" – to help you in what you are unable to do by yourself – to bring all Israel round to you (see there, vv. 10-19).

In Tehillim 119:173, the psalmist asks, "Let your hand to help me" ("tehi yadkha le-azreini"), and we must fill in the word "alai" or "imi."

[12] The answer, alluded to by the Ibn Ezra, that the use of the expression "ben adam" for the entire People of Israel stems from the metaphor in which the vine is referred to as a "ben" is not convincing.

[13] Ibn Ezra seems to have been the first commentator to take this approach. Alongside his explanation that the verse is referring to Israel, he adds, "Or else relating to the anointed son of Efrayim." He seems to be referring to the king of the northern Israelite kingdom during the period when there were two monarchies.

[14] Mossad Ha-Rav Kook (Jerusalem 5738), pp. 157-166. Dr. Moshe Seidel (1886-1971) was a dear disciple of Rav Kook, ztz"l, when they were both still in Latvia and Rav Kook was the rabbi of Bausk. Some of the most important letters included in Iggerot Ha-Ra'aya were sent to Seidel. Rav Kook advised Seidel to study Semitic languages in universities in Germany and Switzerland. In 1931, Seidel moved to Eretz Yisrael, where he headed the Mizrahi Teachers' College in Jerusalem for twenty years.

Seidel's articles deal with biblical studies and the Hebrew language. Two volumes of Seidel's studies were published posthumously by Mossad Ha-Rav Kook, Chikrei Mikra (1978) and Chikrei Lashon (1986). Seidel also wrote a commentary to the book of Mikha which was published as part of the Da'at Mikra commentary to Trei Asar.

[15] These are the other verses, in addition to the ones cited above, that Seidel explains based on this assumption: Zekharya 9:1; Hoshea 6:7; Hoshea 13:2; Amos 4:13; Mikha 5:4; Mikha 6:8; Yirmiyahu 32:20. In the notes at the beginning of the article, Seidel also explains several rabbinic statements that are based on the identification of Adam with Yosef.

[16] In fact, Chazal interpreted this verse as referring to Yosef. In Shabbat 89b, R. Chiyya bar Abba says in the name of R. Yochanan: "It was fitting for our father Ya'akov to go down into Egypt in iron chains, but his merit saved him, for it is written: 'I drew them with the cords of a man, with bands of love.'" See Seidel's comment on this midrash in note 1 of his article.

[17] These two explanations were already proposed by the Ibn Ezra on our verse and by the Meiri.

[18] The Meiri hears a note of complaint in these words according to this explanation: "And he has not turned back from You or Your service, to the point that he deserved to be so distanced from You." Compare this to the complaint in Tehillim 44:18-19: "All this has come upon us, yet we have not forgotten You…, our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps turned from Your way."

[19] The consideration of the parallelism between the two parts of the verse as support for this explanation was already proposed by the Meiri: "Some explain 'nasog' as first-person plural future in the kal conjugation, in order to reconcile it with "let us live" and "we shall call upon Your name." This is also the understanding of Tz.P. Chajes.