Shiur #45: "They Stand Fast Forever And Ever" Psalms 111-112 Psalm 112 ֠"Happy Is The Man Who Fears The Lord" (Part II)

  • Rav Elchanan Samet

SEFER TEHILLIM

By Rav Elchanan Samet

 

 

Lecture 45: "They stand fast forever and ever"

Psalms 111-112

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

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

II. Stanza 2 – Verses 4-6

 

When we come to verse 4, the most pressing exegetical question is who the subject of the second clause in this verse is - "the gracious, and the merciful, and the righteous." The answer to this question will also determine our understanding of the first clause in the verse.

 

The medieval commentators (Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Radak in his first explanation, R. Yeshaya, Meiri) all explain that the subject of this clause is God, who is gracious and merciful, as well as righteous, as He is described in various verses in Scripture.[1]

 

The reason that they explain the verse in this manner seems to be that wherever the terms "rachum" (merciful) and "chanun" (gracious) appear in Scripture, they always refers to God. Why should the verse in our psalm be an exception?

 

Based on this, these commentators understand that God, who is "the gracious and the merciful and the righteous," is also the subject of the first clause in the verse, "He shines light (zarach) in the darkness for the upright." Accordingly, the word "zarach" is a transitive verb, used here in the sense of "hizri'ach," shines light. Thus, the verse means: He shines light in the darkness for the upright, He who is gracious, and merciful, and righteous.[2]

 

            Three objections stemming from the context in which this verse is found in our psalm may be raised against this explanation. First, according to this explanation, the verse deals with the praise of God, in which case its proper place is in psalm 111. Indeed, we find similar descriptions in verses 8-9 of that psalm: "The Lord is gracious and merciful. He gives food to those who fear Him."

 

            Second, even if we say that even though the verse deals with the praise of God, it clarifies the good recompense of the God-fearing man, which is the topic of our psalm, it still does not fit in with the context necessitated by the structure of the psalm as was demonstrated earlier. Verse 4 begins the second cycle of the description of the actions and recompense of the God-fearing man, and therefore verse 4 should describe the man's good deeds (as it does in verse 5). Only in verse 6 is the recompense of the God-fearing man described in the second cycle.

 

            Third, if we explain "He shines light in the darkness for the upright (la-yesharim)" as a description of the reward given to the righteous, it is difficult to understand why the psalm suddenly shifts to the plural in its discussion regarding the God-fearing man; throughout the rest of the psalm, it speaks of him in the singular.

 

            Perforce, all of these difficulties lead us to the same conclusion: Both halves of verse 4 speak of the good deeds of the righteous man!

 

            The subject of the clause "the gracious and the merciful and the righteous" is stated explicitly - the righteous man is gracious and merciful. The Radak proposes this explanation at the end of his comment: "And it is possible… that ‘the gracious and the merciful’ refers to the upright man who learned from the qualities of his Creator." It is true that according to this explanation our verse is the only place in Scripture where the traits "graceful and merciful" are assigned to a human being, but the reason for this is evident  - the influence of psalm 111 on our psalm. In the clause beginning with the letter chet there, it says, "The Lord is gracious and merciful," whereas in our psalm, it says, "the gracious, and the merciful, and the righteous."

 

            We must still clarify the role of the connective vav preceding the word "tzadik." It would seem that the verse should have read "chanun ve-rachum – tzadik," "the gracious and the merciful – the righteous." The answer to this question will become clear after we have explained the first clause in our verse, "zarach be-choshekh or la-yesharim." Here we accept the view of the medieval commentators who understood the word "zarach" as a transitive verb, equivalent to “hizri'ach,” "he shines light." But who is the subject of this verb? The answer is that the "hero" of our psalm is the subject. It is he who shines light for the upright who find themselves in distress, which may be likened to darkness. The shining of light is a metaphor for the help that he provides them in their time of difficulty (whether emotional or material help). The verse means: He shines light in the darkness for the upright, he who is gracious and merciful and righteous. This is precisely the way that the medieval commentators explain the verse, only that the subject of the entire verse is now the God-fearing man, rather than God.

 

            Now verse 5 continues what was stated in verse 4: "Good is the man who gives freely and lends." This means: "As if it were reversed, 'a good man,' just like 'all the many peoples' ("kol rabim amim") (Tehillim 89:51), for all is correct in our language" (Ibn Ezra). In other words, in Hebrew an adjective can precede the word that it modifies, and this is done in our psalm owing to the need to begin the clause with the letter tet.[3]

 

            This clause illustrates how the "gracious" (chanun) man shines light on the upright. He "gives freely (chonen) and lends" to the poor, and rescues them from their distress, and this he can do by way of "the wealth and riches in his house," with which he was blessed in stanza 1 by virtue of the good qualities and deeds described there.

 

            The next clause, which begins with the letter yod, "and who conducts his affairs justly," is understood by Rashi as standing in contrast to that which was stated in the previous clause. To the poor he gives and lends freely, showing no miserliness, but regarding "the things that he himself needs, such as food and drink and clothing, he conducts his affairs justly and in measure, spending his assets sparingly."[4] This fitting conduct gives twofold force to the praise of the righteous man in the previous clause. He gives and lends freely to the poor not out of wastefulness, for he is prudent regarding his own assets, but rather because of his desire to shine light in their darkness, for he is a "good man."

 

            The recompense of the righteous man in the second stanza is found in the two clauses of verse 6:

 

Surely he will never stumble.

The righteous will be in everlasting remembrance.

 

            Attention should be paid to the reversal in the relationship between the account of the righteous man's actions and his recompense between stanza 1 and stanza 2. In stanza 1, two clauses describe the righteous man's actions and four clauses describe his reward, whereas in stanza 2, the numbers are reversed. The reason for this seems to be paradoxical. His actions and qualities in stanza 1 are of a more general character, and are not explained in detail, and therefore two clauses suffice. But precisely because they include the fear of God and the observance of all the commandments, his reward is described at great length. In contrast, the account of the righteous man's actions is limited in stanza 2 to a single realm – that of giving aid to those in need and rescuing those in distress. Here, there is room to spell out the relevant actions and character traits, but the reward accords with the actions which are limited to a single narrow realm.

 

            The first clause says about the righteous man that "he will never stumble. The Radak explains: "His money will always remain in his hands and he will always be healthy in body." In this clause, the word "le-olam" means "all the days of his life." This reward involves the notion of measure for measure: the righteous man assists those who suffered financial collapse and now require gifts and loans, or those who find themselves in dire straits and need the help of one who can shine light in their darkness, and therefore, "he will never stumble."

 

"The righteous will be in everlasting (le-olam) remembrance" – here it does not seem reasonable to understand the word "le-olam" as "all the days of his life," as in the previous clause, for there is nothing special about a person being remembered by others during his lifetime. Thus, the Radak was right in his comment on this clause: "Le-olam – even after his death he will be remembered for good." The Meiri adds: "He will be for everlasting remembrance with respect to his actions, 'everlasting remembrance' alluding to this world and the World-to-Come."

 

It turns out, then, that the redundancy in the description of the reward that we found in stanza 1 is found also in stanza 2: First the reward that the righteous man will see in his lifetime, and afterwards the eternal reward that will endure even after he is removed from this world.

 

III. Stanza 3 – Verses 7-9

 

Stanza 2 presented the righteous man with his quality of loving-kindness and his good interpersonal deeds; stanza 3 presents him with his faith and trust in God. He "fears the Lord" – "He is not afraid of evil tidings… His heart is supported, he is not afraid."

 

What is the meaning of the clause, "He is not afraid of evil tidings"? Should we understand it as it was understood by the Radak in his first explanation: "He is not afraid that he will hear evil tidings" – that is to say, he is not afraid that any evil will befall him? Or perhaps as the Radak understood it in his second explanation: "If he hears that enemies are coming upon him – he is not afraid."

 

There is a fundamental difference between these two explanations of the Radak. According to the first understanding, we are describing the righteous man's reward - he is immune to all evil tidings - whereas according to the second explanation, we have here a description of his religiosity - evil tidings do in fact reach him, but owing to his trust in God, he does not fear – "His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord."[5]

 

Verse 7's location at the beginning of the third cycle of the God-fearing man's actions and their reward teaches that the verse is describing the righteous man's qualities, and not his reward. This forces us to adopt the Radak's second explanation.[6] The continuation of the stanza also supports the Radak's second explanation:

 

(8) His heart is supported [by God – Radak], he is not afraid,

until he sees his enemies.

 

            We see that the righteous man of our psalm has "enemies" who wish to do him harm,[7] but he does not fear them because his heart rests upon God. It stands to reason, then, that the "evil tidings" mentioned in the previous verse are connected to these enemies.

 

            In verse 8, in the transition from the first to the second clause, stanza 3 shifts from a description of the righteous man's good qualities to a description of his reward. His trust in God will prove to be justified – "until he sees [the fall of] his enemies."[8] The reward here is clearly connected to the righteous man's good qualities and perforce follows from it.

 

            Thus far, the analysis of our psalm based on the structure that was uncovered at the beginning of this study has proceeded smoothly. The structure supports the interpretation of the psalm, and the interpretation of the psalm supports the proposed structure. But when we come to the clause beginning with the letter peh, we are faced with a serious difficulty:

 

He disperses freely to the needy.

 

            This clause does not accord with the place in which it is found. First of all, it describes the righteous man's actions, while this part of stanza 3 should describe his reward. Second, contents-wise this clause belongs to the previous stanza, which dealt precisely with this issue, and not to stanza 3, which deals with the righteous man's trust in God. Unfortunately, the commentators cannot help us with this problem, because they did not recognize the psalm's structure and therefore they did not sense the difficulty that we are raising.[9] We do not have a convincing solution to this problem, but it is not up to us to complete the task. Nevertheless, it seems that this difficulty need not undermine the structure of the psalm as described thus far.

 

            The closing line of stanza 3 – "His righteousness endures forever" - is similar to the closing lines of the previous stanzas, and it too adds a higher dimension to the righteous man's reward: Not only will his trust in God allow him to see the fall of his enemies in his lifetime, but "his righteousness" will endure forever "in this world and in the World-to-Come."

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 



[1] For example, Devarim 32:4: "A God of truth and without iniquity, just (tzadik) and right is He;" Tehilim 145:17: "The Lord is righteous (tzadik) in all His ways, and gracious in all His works."

[2] Without changing the entire meaning of the verse, we find among the medieval commentators two other variations of this explanation: 1) The word "zarach" is indeed an intransitive verb, and the subject of the first clause is "light," but "light" serves as a designation of God, as we find in Tehillim 27:1: "The Lord is my light and my salvation" (see Rashi’s homiletical interpretation and Ibn Ezra). According to this, the words, "the gracious, and the merciful, and the righteous," substitute for "light." 2) The word "zarach" is indeed an intransitive verb, and the subject of the first clause is "light." The word "light" does not designate God, but rather is in a construct state with the second clause – "the light of the gracious and the merciful and the righteous" (Ibn Ezra’s second explanation).

[3] The Ibn Ezra writes in his second explanation: "Or else it means: 'How good.' And thus it means: 'Good is the man who gives freely.'" The Radak understands the verse in similar fashion: "Good is the man, like happy is the man."

[4] The Radak proposes another explanation according to which this clause qualifies the previous one: "When he gives to the poor, he does not disperse his funds in such a way that he will later need other people." This is in accordance with the words of Chazal: "He who disperses his money [to the poor] should not disperse more than a fifth [of his assets], lest he come to need other people" (Ketuvot 50a and elsewhere). The Radak completes what he has to say on this matter in his commentary to verse 9: "He disperses freely to the needy."

[5] The Radak comments on these words as follows: "He does not trust in his wealth, his great might, or his many friends and relatives, but rather he places his trust exclusively in God."

[6] We proposed a similar argument in our discussion of verse 4; see there.

[7] One who has "wealth and riches in his house" and whose seed "will be mighty upon the earth," and he who occupies himself with the performance of mitzvot and with providing assistance to the needy, cannot but arouse the opposition of jealous and evil-hearted enemies.

[8] There are several instances of "seeing enemies" in this sense in the book of Tehillim. See, for example, 54:9; 92:12; 118:7.

[9] Nevertheless, mention should be made of R. Yeshaya's comment on these words: "He disperses freely to the needy – He who disperses freely to the needy." In other words, he sees this clause as the subject of the following clause: He who acts in this manner, "his righteousness endures forever." The linguistic basis for this explanation is the lack of a connective vav before the words, "his righteousness endures forever" (in contrast to verse 3, where each verse stands on its own and they are connected to one another with a connective vav). Accordingly, we are not dealing here with an account of the righteous man's actions for their own sake, but rather with a reminder of his actions described in the previous stanza as an explanation of the reward described in this stanza. Thus, the words, "his righteousness endures forever," are the common reward for the actions described in stanza 2 and for the actions described in stanza 3. The need for this explanation may stem from the fact that the closing line of stanza 2 does not mention the righteous man's "righteousness," but rather says that he himself will be "for everlasting remembrance."