Shiur #44: "They Stand Fast Forever And Ever" Psalms 111-112 Psalm 112 ֠"Happy Is The Man Who Fears The Lord" (Part I)

  • Rav Elchanan Samet

SEFER TEHILLIM

 

Lecture 44: "They stand fast forever and ever"

Psalms 111-112

Psalm 112 – "Happy is the man who fears the Lord" (Part I)

 

Rav Elchanan Samet

 

 

 

Psalm 111

 

Psalm 112

1

Praise the Lord!

(א) I will thank the Lord with all my heart,

(ב) in the assembly of the upright and in the congregation.

1

Praise the Lord!

(א) Happy is the man who fears the Lord,

(ב) who delights greatly in His commandments.

2

(ג) The works of the Lord are great.

(ד) They are available to all who delight in them.

2

(ג) His seed will be mighty upon the earth.

(ד) The generation of the upright will be blessed.

3

(ה) His work is glory and splendor,

(ו) And His righteousness endures forever.

3

(ה) Wealth and riches are in his house,

(ו) and his righteousness endures forever.

4

(ז) He has made a remembrance for His wonderful works.

(ח) The Lord is gracious and merciful.

4

(ז) He shines light in the darkness for the upright,

 

(ח) the gracious, and the merciful, and the righteous.

5

(ט) He gives food to those who fear Him.

(י) He remembers His covenant forever.

5

(ט) Good is the man who gives freely and lends,

(י) and who conducts his affairs justly.

6

(כ) He declared to His people the power of his works,

(ל) when He gave them the heritage of His nations.

6

(כ) Surely he will never stumble.

(ל) The righteous will be in everlasting remembrance.

7

(מ) The works of His hands are truth and justice.

(נ) All His decrees are true.

7

(מ) He is not afraid of evil tidings.

(נ) His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.

8

(ס) They stand fast forever and ever.

(ע) They are made in truth and uprightness.

8

(ס) His heart is supported, he is not afraid,

(ע) until he sees his enemies.

9

(פ) He sends redemption to His people.

(צ) He has commanded His covenant forever.

(ק) Holy and revered is His name.

9

(פ) He disperses freely to the needy.

(צ) His righteousness endures forever.

(ק) His horn will be exalted with honor.

10

(ר) The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,

(ש) good sense for all who do them.

(ת) His praise endures forever.

10

(ר) The wicked man will see it and be angry.

(ש) He will grind his teeth and melt away.

(ת) The hope of the wicked will come to nought.

 

THE STRUCTURE OF THE PSALM

 

            Wisdom psalm 112 describes the actions and fate of the God-fearing man. These two elements – the God-fearing man's actions and their recompense – are not arranged in two separate parts of the psalm, but are rather intermingled over the entire length of the psalm. For example, verse 1 praises the God-fearing man who delights greatly in God's commandments, while verses 2-3 describe his reward. Verse 5 relates the good deeds of the "man" under discussion in our psalm, and verse 6 speaks of his recompense. Verse 7 and the beginning of verse 8 describe the "man's" trust in God, whereas the second half of verse 8 speaks of the consequences of that trust.

 

            Thus, a question arises with respect to our psalm: Is the account of the God-fearing man in our psalm – both the description of his actions and the description of his recompense – structured in any systematic way? Does our psalm have a structure with internal organization of the descriptions of the two realms discussed with respect to the God-fearing man?

 

            Prof. Moshe Garciel, in his introduction to his commentary to our psalm, writes:

 

This psalm… is built as a collection of wisdom and moral adages… This collection revolves around the traits and actions of the God-fearing man, his recompense and his happiness. Since it revolves around one matter, it is difficult to discern a clear structure in it, and many commentators refrained from dividing it into sections.[1]

 

            This, however, does not free us from the obligation to try to uncover the structure of our psalm, especially after we have demonstrated that the preceding psalm, psalm 111, has a clear structure.

 

            In the case of our psalm as well, we must first define the body of the psalm, the structure of which we are trying to reveal. As in the case of psalm 111, verse 10 of our psalm constitutes an epilogue that is not part of the body of the psalm. Verse 10 deals with a different issue – the wicked man's reaction to the righteous man's prosperity. This verse serves as an antithesis to the body of the psalm.

 

            In contrast to psalm 111, however, our psalm lacks an opening verse or introduction. Already in verse 1, with the letter alef, "Happy is the man who fears the Lord," we find ourselves in the midst of the issue that will be discussed over the entire length of the body of the psalm (until verse 9).

 

This difference between the two psalms alludes to the fact that the structure of our psalm is not the same as the structure of the previous psalm. The body of our psalm is comprised of 9 verses containing 19 letters (alef until kuf). What harmonious internal division can we propose for these verses?

 

Neither the number of verses – nine – nor the number of letters of the alphabet of which they are comprised – nineteen – is even. But while the nine verses can still be divided in some way into equal parts, the nineteen clauses cannot be so divided.[2]

 

Let us assume that as in psalm 111, the clause that breaks the even number of clauses comprising the main body of the psalm – the third clause of verse 9, "His horn will be exalted with honor" – is not part of the structure that we are seeking. In our analysis of psalm 111, we demonstrated how the corresponding clause in that psalm, "Holy and revered is His name," although it pertains to the issue discussed in the main body of the psalm - praise of God - stands in opposition to everything stated before it. We therefore proposed that it serves as a conclusion of the main body of the psalm, and that it is not part of the structure with its two halves that we uncovered there.[3] Can a similar idea be proposed regarding the clause in our psalm, "His horn will be exalted with honor"? Its belonging to the main body of the psalm is clear; it deals with the good fate of the God-fearing man who is described the entire length of the psalm. What consideration could remove it from the framework of the main body of the psalm?

 

In 22 places in Scripture, the word "keren" ("horn") is used as a metaphor for the strength, courage, and majesty of man that is manifest to all. This is true about our psalm as well. In some instances, "the growing of a horn" (hatzmachat keren) refers to the reward bestowed upon the righteous, whereas "the cutting off of a horn" (gedi'at keren) refers to the punishment that is meted out to the wicked.[4] Here are verses from psalm 75:

 

(5) I say to the arrogant: Do not act arrogantly,

and to the wicked: Do not lift up the horn.

(6) Do not lift your horn on high,

do not speak arrogance with neck upstretched.

(11) And I will cut off all the horns of the wicked.

The horns of the righteous will be exalted.

 

            Our psalm does not speak of the cutting off of the horn of the wicked (it only says: "The hope of the wicked will come to naught"), but it does speak of the lifting up of the horn of the righteous – "His horn will be exalted with honor." “Lifting up the horn” of the righteous means emphasizing his strength and majesty before all. Against whom was the horn of the righteous man in our psalm lifted? The answer is clear -against the wicked man. This is the meaning of verse 10:

 

The wicked man will see it and be angry.

He will grind his teeth and melt away.

 

            The wicked man's "seeing" relates to the raised horn of the righteous, described in the previous clause, and it causes the wicked man to grind his teeth in anger.[5]

 

            It turns out, then, that the third clause in verse 9, "His horn will be exalted with honor," even though it belongs to the account of the prosperity of the God-fearing man that precedes it, serves primarily as an introduction to the description of the reaction of the wicked man in verse 10. Accordingly, we can justify the removal of this clause from the structure of the main body of the psalm, and see it as an introduction to the psalm's epilogue in verse 10.

 

            The main body of the psalm is left with 18 clauses in verses 1-92 (letters alef to tzadi). What is the structure of this part, which constitutes the main body of our psalm?[6] As we did in chapter 111, let us examine these verses from a stylistic perspective. Are there any stylistic phenomena that can help us divide these verses into subsections? Here, too, it is the repetitions that may help us. The most striking repetition is in the letters vav and tzadi:

 

And his righteousness endures forever. (v.3)

His righteousness endures forever. (v.9)

 

            This combination of words constitutes the sixth and the eighteenth clauses of our psalm. This alludes to a division of the main body of the psalm into three equal parts – 6 clauses in each part. What, then, is the twelfth clause of our psalm?

 

The righteous will be in everlasting remembrance. (v.6)

 

            This clause, even though it does not constitute a literal repetition of the sixth and eighteenth clauses, expresses a similar idea in different words. Corresponding to the word "la-ad" ("forever"), this clause says "le-zekher olam" ("in everlasting remembrance").[7] Corresponding to the word "tzidkato" ("His righteousness"), this clause says "tzadik" ("the righteous"). The common content of the three clauses is that the righteous and his righteous acts will never perish. It turns out, then, that these repeating clauses serve in our psalm as a refrain that divides the psalm into three stanzas.

 

            Here is our psalm written in a manner that illustrates its structure according to the discussion in this section:

 

(1)       Praise the Lord!

 

I

            (א) Happy is the man who fears the Lord,

            (ב) who delights greatly in His commandments.

(2)       (ג) His seed will be mighty upon the earth.

            (ד) The generation of the upright will be blessed.

(3)       (ה) Wealth and riches are in his house,

            (ו) and his righteousness endures forever.

 

II

(4)       (ז) He shines light in the darkness for the upright,

            (ח) the gracious, and the merciful, and the righteous.

(5)       (ט) Good is the man who gives freely and lends,

            (י) and who conducts his affairs justly.

(6)       (כ) Surely he will never stumble.

            (ל) The righteous will be in everlasting remembrance.

 

III

(7)       (מ) He is not afraid of evil tidings.

            (נ) His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.

(8)       (ס) His heart is supported, he is not afraid,

            (ע) until he sees his enemies.

(9)       (פ) He disperses freely to the needy.

            (צ) His righteousness endures forever.

 

            (ק) His horn will be exalted with honor.

(10)     (ר) The wicked man will see it and be angry.

            (ש) He will grind his teeth and melt away.

            (ת) The hope of the wicked will come to naught.

 

            Does an examination of the contents of the three stanzas comprising the main body of the psalm justify the division that we proposed based on the similarity between the conclusions of the three sections?

 

            The answer to this question is yes. Each stanza constitutes an independent description of the actions of the God-fearing man with respect to a particular matter and the reward that he receives for those actions. Each stanza begins with an account of the righteous man's deeds and traits, and this is followed by a description of the reward that awaits him. This explains the phenomenon noted at the beginning of section I, that the deeds of the God-fearing man and their recompense are not portrayed in two different parts of the psalm, but are rather intermingled the entire length of the psalm. This "intermingling" follows from the structure of the psalm, in which there are three different (although equal in length and in their conclusions) cycles of actions and reward.

 

            As we shall see in the continuation of this study, just as in psalm 111, in our psalm, uncovering the structure of the psalm has importance for the interpretation of several of its verses.

 

            Of course, this schematic account of our psalm gives rise to the question of why it is necessary to express the (twofold) idea of our psalm in there different cycles, rather than in one long series, half of which is devoted to an account of the righteous man's actions, and the other half to his recompense. In order to answer this question, we must first understand the uniqueness of each cycle, and we will do this by way of a brief review of each of the psalm's stanzas.

 

I.              STANZA 1 - VERSES 1-3

 

The first two clauses in verse 1 (letters alef and bet) describe the qualities of the man who serves as the subject of our psalm. This account is very general: he is a God-fearing man who delights greatly in His commandments. Some medieval commentators understood that each clause relates to a different section of the Torah's commandments. The man's fear of God finds expression in his mindfulness regarding the Torah's prohibitions, whereas his delight in the observance of the commandments expresses itself in the fulfillment of the Torah's positive commandments. Such a precise and formal distinction seems, however, to be unnecessary. The distinction between the two clauses may be between Divine service based on fear and Divine service based on love.[8]

 

The next two verses, verses 2-3, describe the good fate of the man presented in verse 1. This man's good fortune is described with respect to the members of his household: His descendants will excel both in might – "His seed will be mighty upon the earth" - and in good traits – "The generation of the upright will be blessed," as ell as "Wealth and riches are in his house."

 

The good bestowed upon the family of "the beloved of God" or the God-fearing man was also described in the two wisdom psalms that we already studied, psalms 127 and 128. Tehillim 127 describes the reward of the beloved of God in the birth of children (v. 3), who in relationship to their father are "like arrows in the hand of a mighty man," and who, together with their father, "will not be put to shame, when they destroy their enemies in the gate" (vv. 4-5).

 

Psalm 128 describes the God-fearing man's children as "olive plants around your table" (v. 3). This is somewhat similar to what is stated in our psalm regarding such a man's children - "the generation of the upright will be blessed."

 

Despite the similarity between our psalm and the two others, attention should be paid to the uniqueness of the God-fearing man described in our psalm. His uniqueness finds expression in the opening clause of verse 3 - that "wealth and riches are in his house." This description is very different from the description of his parallel in psalm 128:

 

If you eat the labor of your hands,

you will be happy and it will be well with you.

 

            There, the God-fearing man is marked by the labor of his own hands and his contentment with little.

 

            The beloved of God in psalm 127 is also different from the man in our psalm. That person goes out to war together with his sons and destroys the enemies at the city's gate, whereas in our psalm the father merits to have sons who are "mighty upon the earth" – the sons are famous for their might and this brings honor to their father, but it does not say that they will go out to war at the gate of the city.

 

            Our psalm is dealing, then, with a wealthy and distinguished person, "a mighty man of valor" according to Scriptural terminology, who also merits raising an ideal family that further magnifies his honor. Why does the psalm choose to focus on such a person?

 

            The answer to this question will become clear in the coming stanzas. The God-fearing man described in our psalm excels in his many acts of loving-kindness, which are beyond the capability of the ordinary, small-time farmer described in the other two psalms. The economic strength of the "hero" of our psalm allows him to transcend the bounds of his family and its basic needs (maintenance and security) and deal with the many people in need outside his narrow family circle.

 

            It turns out, then, that the recompense of the God-fearing man in stanza 1, "Wealth and riches are in his house," serves as the foundation of his good deeds in stanza 2, and thus it serves as the connecting link between the two stanzas.

 

            Before concluding this section, we must deal with the closing line of stanza 1, which, as stated above, serves as a refrain in our psalm, "And his righteousness endures forever." The Ibn Ezra explains this as a continuation of the previous clause, "Wealth and riches are in his house":

 

He did not amass his wealth by way of robbery or thievery, but rather in a righteous manner. Therefore, "his righteousness [the assets that he amassed in a righteous manner] endures forever."

 

            But how can we say about the material assets of a mortal man that they will endure forever? Surely "when he dies he shall carry nothing away; his glory shall not descend after him" (Tehillim 49:18)! We must therefore fill in the Ibn Ezra's explanation with the help of the words of the Radak: "'Forever' – for his children and his children's children forevermore."[9] But the difficulty remains - can a person be promised that his wealth will remain in the hands of his children and grandchildren forevermore?

 

            It therefore seems that the closing line of stanza 1 is not a direct continuation of the previous clause, but rather relates to the beginning of the same stanza. The righteousness of the hero of our psalm lies in his fear of God and in the commandments that he fulfills with a willing heart. These will endure forever, for all eternity, even after the person is removed from this world.

 

            It turns out, then, that the closing line of stanza 1 adds a new dimension to the recompense of the God-fearing man. After spelling out the blessings that he will merit seeing in his own lifetime, "that his sons will be mighty, for this is a blessing of man in this world… and wealth and riches will be in his house for himself and for his children in this world, [it adds] 'and his righteousness endures forever' – in the World-to-Come" (Radak).[10]

 

(To be continued.)

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] Olam Ha-Tanakh, Tehillim II, p. 165

[2] We are working on the assumption that in a psalm such as ours, the parts of which the main body of the psalm is comprised should be equal in length. This assumption was demonstrated to be correct in our analysis of the structure of psalm 111.

[3] This was discussed at length in our study of psalm 111, section 1.

[4] The author of Eikha 2 laments the fact that the tables have been overturned: "He has cut off in His fierce anger all the horn of Israel" (v. 3), whereas with respect to the enemies: "He has raised up the horn of your adversaries" (v. 17).

[5] What we have written here follows the Radak at the end of v.9 and the beginning of v.10: "'His horn will be exalted with honor' – his might and strength. And similarly: 'The horns of the righteous will be exalted' (Tehillim 75:11). And regarding the wicked the opposite: 'And I will cut off all the horns of the wicked' (ibid.). 'The wicked man' – when he sees the honor of the righteous man, will burn with anger owing to his great jealousy."

[6] We cannot divide these verses into two equal halves, as we did in the case of Tehillim 111, for such a division would divide verse 5 into two with no justification. The two clauses of verse 5 – "Good is the man who gives freely and lends/ and who conducts his affairs justly" – describe the good deeds of the God-fearing man.

[7] In Tehillim 111, the two words, "la-ad le-olam" ("forever and ever") appear together in verse 8.

[8] The Radak expands at length upon the words "who delights greatly in His commandments," explaining them in the manner proposed above:

He does them with a willing heart, not to impress other people and acquire a reputation, but rather with a willing heart, based on the love of God who commanded him to do them. Therefore, it says, "greatly" (me'od), so that he not mix in with the desire of his heart any other desire or love, but only the love of God. "Greatly" also means that he chases after the commandments and exerts himself to do them with all his strength, with his body and with his money. Our Rabbis, z"l, have said (Avoda Zara 19a): "'Who delights greatly in His commandments' – and not in the reward for His commandments." That is to say, that he does not perform mitzvot in order to receive a reward. Such a person merits that it be said about him: "Happy is the man."

[9] The Radak brings this explanation as his second explanation. His first and main explanation will be brought below.

[10] This exegetical discussion regarding the question of the man's tzedaka may seem superfluous to one who thinks of tzedaka in the sense of charity that one gives as a gift to the poor. Indeed, the Meiri explains: "Wealth and riches are in his house, and he will practice charity with it that will endure for him forever – in this world and in the World-to-Come." This, however, is not the meaning of the word tzedaka in biblical Hebrew, but only in rabbinic Hebrew. In Scripture, the word tzedaka denotes righteousness and uprightness. A man's tzedaka is his good and upright deeds, tzadaka in Scripture being the quality of the tzadik.