Yom Kippur - “Out of the Depths Have I Called You” – Tehillim 130

  • Rav Elchanan Samet
 
 
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Dedicated by Steven Weiner & Lisa Wise in tribute to
Mr. Yechiel Saiman of blessed memory. 
His presence in our community was such a privilege and treat for us, 
and he is very deeply missed.  
We send our warmest wishes of comfort to his wife Chana 
and to all of their children and grandchildren.  
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Psalm 130, "A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths have I called you, O Lord," is connected according to the common practice to the days of Selichot and mercy. The Sefardi communities conclude with it their recitation of the Selichot in the month of Elul and in the Ten Days of Repentance, and according to the prevailing custom it is recited after the Yishtabach blessing during the Ten Days of Repentance, beginning on Rosh Hashana and until Yom Kippur.[1]
 
The reason for reciting this chapter during the days of Selichot and mercy seems to be found in three verses in the psalm: Verses 3-4:  "If You, Lord, pay heed to iniquities, O Lord, who will stand? For with You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared"; and verse 8: "And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities."
 
Our interest in this study is the psalm as a whole: understanding its intention and the development of its ideas into one complete statement. In order to reach such understanding, it does not suffice to explain the words and verses of the psalm. We must consider the psalm as a whole poem, whose statement stems from its structure, from the combination of its parts and from the interrelationships between them.[2]
 
After we understand the meaning of the psalm in this manner, we will ask whether the meaning of the whole psalm (and not just isolated verses in it) accords with the content and experience of the days of Selichot and mercy.
 
I. Reconstructing the poetic form of the psalms in the book of Tehillim
 
The psalm in the book of Tehillim is a poem. The manner of transcribing poetry is different from that of writing prose. This finds expression in the poems in the Torah – the Song of the Sea and the Song of Ha'azinu – which are written in short lines which reflect their poetic character. As for the other words of poetry in the Bible, the Mesora did not establish that they must be written in a manner befitting poetry. Therefore they are written in the same manner as words of prose, without consideration of their special poetic structure. This is the way that they are published in most of the Bibles available to us.
 
The manner of writing a poem is not something external to its essence, but rather a very important part of the way in which the poem enters the reader's consciousness. Just as the letters and words of the poem bear its message, and without them communication between the poet and his poem, and the consciousness of the hearer or reader of the poem would be impossible, so too its division into short lines and stanzas is one of the ways of bringing the poem into the reader's consciousness. Therefore, various poets have labored over the visual design of their books and poems.
 
Although poetry that is written as prose does not cease for that reason to be poetry,[3] the prose form of writing poetry sets a barrier before the reader, and may prevent him from understanding the poem in the manner that was intended by the author.
 
Presumably, when the psalms of Tehillim were recited in song and chant, their poetic form was preserved in the way they were recited: each short line of the psalm was recited on its own, and care was taken to pause between the stanzas, so that the psalm's division into stanzas stood out by way of those pauses.
 
One who studies the book of Tehillim today must overcome the barrier of the form in which the psalms are printed in most Bibles. He must restore the poetic form by writing it anew, as a poem is written today: in short lines and with breaks between the stanzas. But since this is not done in the Bibles available to us, we must exercise our interpretive judgment in the task of restoring the original form of the poem. There may be, of course, different suggestions for the proper way of writing each psalm.
 
II. Our psalm as a poem
 
The psalm under consideration is a short psalm. A "stanza" in a short psalm in Tehillim is a combination of at least two, and usually no more than four or five verses, that have common content, or that revolve around one idea. Usually the stanza will also be marked by guide words that bear the idea of the stanza and are not found in the adjacent stanzas. These words may be repeated more than once.
 
It goes without saying that we are not dealing here with an exact science, and that there may be uncertainties and disagreements about how to apply this definition of a stanza, but our application of it in our psalm will demonstrate that at times it is a simple matter and does not raise special difficulties.
 
We will first transcribe our psalm, dividing it into short lines and four stanzas, and then present our fundamental justifications for this division.
 
          1:      A Song of Ascents.
I.       
             Out of the depths have I called You, O Lord.
          2:      Lord, hearken to my voice;
            let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
II.
          3:      If You, Lord, pay heed to iniquities,
          O Lord, who will stand?
4:      For with You there is forgiveness,
            that You may be feared.
III.
          5:      I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait,
                   and in His word do I hope.
          6:      My soul waits for the Lord,
                   more than watchmen for the morning; more than watchmen for the morning.
IV.
          7:      O Israel, hope in the Lord;
                   for with the Lord there is mercy,
                   and with Him is abundant redemption.
          8:      And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
 
Our psalm is made up of four stanzas, each of which contains three to four lines, and a concluding verse.
 
Stanza I: The petitioner beseeches God to hear his call "out of the depths."
The words that characterize this stanza are: "call," "voice" (twice), and corresponding to them "hearken" and "be attentive."
 
Stanza II: God forgives man's sins.
This stanza is built on the contrast between sins and their consequences and forgiveness and its consequences (a contrast that does not exist in reality, for: "If You, Lord, pay heed to iniquities… for (in the sense of "indeed") with You there is forgiveness"). The important words in this stanza are the contrasting pair "iniquities – forgiveness."
 
Stanza III: The petitioner waits for God and His word.
The characteristic words in this stanza are: verbs derived from the synonymous roots kof-vav-heh, "wait" (twice) and yod-chet-lamed, "hope," the noun "soul" (twice), and the phrase "watchmen for the morning" which appears twice.[4]
 
Stanza IV: An appeal to Israel to hope in God and its rationale.
The first line in this stanza is an expansion of the previous stanza, where the petitioner attested to his waiting for the word of God, whereas here he turns to Israel, imploring them to hope in God. The important words in this stanza are found in the rationale for the command, "mercy" and "redemption." They are found in two parallel lines, and their parallelism includes also the special phrase "with" God: "for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption" (in stanza II we find a similar expression "for with You there is forgiveness").
 
Let us now consider these four stanzas together: Is it possible to justify the division of the psalm into these four stanzas based on additional considerations other than the considerations of content and style that we have mentioned thus far?
 
First, it is striking to the eye that in each stanza there are two mentions of the name of God, and in this matter there is a similarity between the stanzas: in stanza I the Tetragrammaton appears at the end of the first line, and the name Adonai appears at the beginning of the second line; this is also the case in stanza II, only that the Tetragrammaton is shortened to Yah. So too in the third stanza there is first the Tetragrammaton and afterwards the name Adonai as in stanza I, only that here the places where they appear are slightly different, and their roles are also different: They do not serve as words of address as these names served in the first two stanzas. In the fourth stanza, the Tetragrammaton appears at the end of the first line (as in stanzas I-II), and once again in the second line. The conclusion of the psalm in verse 8 differs from all four stanzas: The name of God does not appear in it at all, and the pronoun "He" substitutes for it.
 
Second, let us consider the length of each of the four stanzas. While there is a difference between the stanzas regarding the number of lines – 3 lines in stanzas I and IV, and 4 lines in the other two stanzas – the word count reveals an almost complete equality between the four stanzas: 11 words in stanzas I and IV, and 12 words in stanzas II and III.
 
These two phenomena are, of course, not accidental, and they support the division of the psalm into stanzas that we have proposed.
 
III. The two halves of the psalm
 
Now, when the psalm is properly transcribed before us as a poem, we can ask whether there are indications in our psalm of an overall structure, according to which its four stanzas are arranged?
 
We have already shown in many places that many literary units in the Bible are divided into two halves of similar length, thus alluding to the reader that he must set the two halves one against the other in order to understand the meaning of the complete literary unit. This literary principle is true in almost all of the literary genres found in the Bible, and of course also in the psalms of Tehillim.
 
Is it possible then to discern in our psalm that it too is divided into two equal halves?
 
The usual indicator of a transition from one half to the other is a significant change in the literary unit under discussion.[5] In the case of a story, this is usually a prominent turning point in the course of the plot. In the book of Tehillim, however, owing to the nature of the book, it is more difficult to identify this turn, because we are not dealing with an external occurrence like the plot of a story, but with the internal world of the psalmist.
 
Is it possible to point to a significant turnaround in the course of our psalm? Since the entire psalm addresses the relationship between man and God, the turn should be sought on this plane. And, of course, it should be possible to prove this turn in an objective manner, and not that it depend on the subjective interpretation of the reader.
 
Such a turning point does in fact exist: in the first two stanzas of our psalm, the petitioner turns to God in the second person: "I called You," "hearken," "your ears," "pay heed to," "with You," and "that You may be feared." However, at the beginning of stanza III we encounter a clear change, when the petitioner begins to talk about God in the third person: "I wait for the Lord" (and not: I wait for You, Lord). This continues throughout the second half of the psalm: "and in His word," "my soul waits for the Lord" (and not: my soul waits for You, Lord); "O Israel, hope in the Lord," and "for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption."[6]
 
What is the meaning of this transition from second person to third person with respect to God, a transition that creates the distinction between the two halves of our psalm?[7]
 
IV. The “conclusion” in the psalms of Tehillim and in our psalm
 
Usually the headings of the psalms in the book of Tehillim are not part of the body of the psalm, even when they attest to the author of the psalm or the circumstances of its composition. These headings are part of the editing of the book of Tehillim, and their language, which is different from the language of the psalms themselves, testifies to this.
 
There are also psalms whose conclusion is not part of the body of the psalm, but here the situation is more complex. There are a few psalms whose conclusion is not connected in any way to the body of the psalm, but is part of the editing process of the book of Tehillim. The four psalms that close the first four books of the book of Tehillim fall into this category.[8]
 
There are other psalms whose conclusion is indeed meant to end the psalm before them, but the conclusion is not at all related to the content of the psalm or its structure. The purpose of these conclusions is usually to end the psalm on an optimistic note. It is possible the even these conclusions, or at least some of them, are part of the editing process of the book of Tehillim.
 
On the other hand, there are conclusions which appear to belong to the psalm before them, and for various reasons the psalmist chose to conclude his psalm with them.[9] Let us demonstrate the two types of conclusions in two psalms:
 
Psalm 25 is an alphabetical psalm. The verse beginning with the letter taf (21): "Let integrity [tom] and uprightness preserve me, because I wait for You," is followed by another verse: "Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles." This verse is not part of the alphabetical structure, for the letter peh already appeared in verse 16: "Turn [peneh] to me, and be gracious to me." Contents-wise as well, this verse is different from the rest of the psalm: the entire psalm is formulated in the first person, the single petitioner who is praying on his own behalf, and the people of Israel are not mentioned at all. The conclusion, on the other hand, is a request for the redemption of Israel, and it is possible that this itself is the reason that the conclusion was added.[10]
 
So too psalm 34 is an alphabetical psalm, and at its end as well, after the verse beginning with the letter taf, there is an additional verse (23): "The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, and none of them that take refuge in Him shall be desolate." Here too the letter peh is not missing – it appears in verse 17: "The face [penei] of the Lord is against them that do evil." Despite the similarity between this concluding verse and the concluding verse discussed previously – both of them deal with God's redemption of His faithful – the verse in the conclusion of psalm 34 appears to belong to the body of the psalm, both with respect to its content and with respect to its style.[11]  It seems to have been added to the psalm by its author in order not to end with verse 24 which deals with the wicked and their punishment.
 
The attentive reader may have noticed the similarity between the concluding verse in our psalm, "And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities," and the two concluding verses noted above.[12] To what extent does it belong to the psalm that precedes it?
 
The concluding verse's connection to the body of our psalm is exceedingly strong:[13] Almost all of its words appeared already in the psalm, especially in stanza IV:
 
"And He" – a pronoun referring to God who was mentioned twice in stanza IV.
 
"Will redeem" – "and with Him is abundant redemption."
 
"Israel" – "O Israel, hope."
 
"From all his iniquities" – "If… iniquities."
 
Why then was this verse not included in stanza IV, to which it appears to belong? There are two significant differences between the concluding verses and the verses that precede it:
 
First, whereas in stanza IV the appeal to Israel is an imperative formulated in second person, "O Israel hope," verse 8 speaks of Israel in the third person:  "from all his iniquities" (instead of: "And He will redeem you, Israel, from all your iniquities").
 
Second, verse 8 is formulated in the future tense, "And He will redeem," and thus it is different from the rest of the psalm, in which the petitioner describes his present situation, while he is offering his prayer.[14]
 
These distinctions suffice to allow us to determine that the concluding verse of the psalm does not share the clear structure of the four stanzas of the psalm. On the other hand, it is clear that this conclusion is not external to the psalm, but an intrinsic part of it, and that it plays a role in completing the idea of the psalm.
 
We will dedicate the following sections to an explanation of the different parts of the psalm in a way that will clarify the connection between the stanzas and the development of the idea of the psalm from stanza to stanza and from half to half: four section for the four stanzas (V-VIII) and another section for the conclusion (IX). After we explain the role of the conclusion and why it is necessary, and also the reason for the differences between it and that which preceded it, we will have strengthened our argument that verse 8 serves as the conclusion of the psalm while being part of the body of the psalm.
 
V. The first stanza
 
            "Out of the depths have I called You, O Lord" – without a doubt the rare form "out of the depths" [mi-ma'amakim] refers to a "deep place," but does this form have a unique meaning?
 
            An examination of the concordance reveals that this word in its various inflections appears in three other places in the Bible, and no more:
 
Yeshaya 51:10:  Are you not it that dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep;
that made the depths of the sea [ma'amakei yam] a way for the redeemed to pass over?
 
Yechezkel 27:34: Now that you are broken by the seas in the depths of the waters [be-ma'amakei mayim],
and your merchandise and all your company are fallen in the midst of you.
 
Tehillim 69:2-3: Save me, O God; for the waters are come in even to the soul.
I am sunk in deep mire, where there is no standing;
I am come into deep waters [be-ma'amakei mayim], and the flood overwhelms me.
 
Tehillim 69:15: Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink; let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters [u-mi-ma'amakei mayim].
 
In the first two places, in Yeshayahu and Yechezkel, "the depths of the sea" and "the depths of the water" should be understood in their plain sense, but in psalm 69 "deep waters" is a metaphor for the situation of the psalmist who is surrounded by many enemies and feels that without God's speedy help, he will be inundated by the metaphoric waters, which have already "come to the soul,"[15] and he will drown.
 
It is therefore not unreasonable to assume that in our psalm as well the word "depths" is used in the sense of deep waters,[16] and that it serves as a metaphor for the grave distress of the petitioner who feels that he is about to drown, and therefore for him God's help is vital and urgently needed. All the horror in the condition of a person who finds himself in rising floodwaters and whose very life is in danger, is expressed through the metaphor of "out of the depths." Hence, the desperate urgency in the pleading cry of the petitioner: "Hearken to my voice; let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications."
 
We must also understand in stanza I the meaning of the phrase, "hearken to my voice." Throughout the Bible, the expression "to hearken to the voice" [lishmo'a be-kol]," means to obey, to do as commanded by the speaker. But in our psalm this understanding is impossible. The petitioner has not yet asked for anything in particular, in relation to which he is seeking God's actual response. It is clear that his request of God is merely that He listen to his desperate cry, and not shut his ears to it. This follows also from the parallelism:
 
Hearken -- to my voice [be-koli]
Let your ears be attentive -- to the voice [le-kol] of my supplications.
 
Why does the petitioner add a bet before the word kol? Why does he not say shim'a koli or shim'a le-koli, as in the parallel element?
 
This phrase seems to have a special meaning in our psalm: There are situations in which it does not suffice to hear the content of the petitioner's words, but rather one must be attentive to the "music," the non-verbal expression that is expressed with the voice itself.
 
A person who finds himself in deep waters and feels that his life is coming to an end, is not free to speak at length. He asks God to hear the tone of his cry, the sound of his voice that expresses urgency and helplessness.
 
After all that has been said, we are faced with a fundamental question regarding stanza I: What is it that causes the petitioner to feel himself in deep waters, close to drowning, and to turn to God with such a desperate appeal?[17] We will see that the answer to this question is found in the second stanza of the psalm.
 
VI. The second stanza
 
"If you, Lord, pay heed to [tishmor] iniquities" - the word tishmor can be understood in the sense of "remember," but it can also be understood in its ordinary sense: "preserve the existence of the iniquities, and not allow them to be erased."
 
"O Lord, who will stand [ya'amod]" – the word ya'amod is used here in the sense of "exist," but it is possible that it means here "stand on one's feet," and that it continues the metaphor of drowning in deep waters: the death of a person drowning in deep waters begins the moment there is no ground under his feet. Support for this connection between "inability to stand" and drowning in deep water can be brought from Tehillim 69:3:
 
I am sunk in deep mire, where there is no standing;
I am come into deep waters, and the flood overwhelms me.
 
In any event, this stanza teaches us that the "depths" in which the petitioner is found, and out of which he calls to God, is a metaphor for his iniquities. He feels himself drowning in them, and almost losing his existence because of them. It is his desperate cry to God that will save him through forgiveness, for "with You there is forgiveness."[18]
 
The petitioner does not say "for You will forgive" (in contrasting parallelism to "pay heed to iniquities"), but rather "for with You there is forgiveness." Forgiveness is not described here as an action of God, but as an independent essence found "with Him" – as one of His attributes. This description of forgiveness comes to express confidence in God's forgiveness: as an action, forgiveness may or may not be granted; as an attribute of God – it certainly exists.
 
Stanza II is built on the contrast between its first two lines and its last two lines. In the first two lines we still hear the distress and urgency of stanza I's desperate cry: "who will stand?" (and we have already suggested to see in these words a continuation of the metaphor of "depths"). These lines also explain retroactively the source of the petitioner's stress – his iniquities.
 
However, already in these two lines there is a hint of relief in the petitioner's situation: stanza II opens with the conditional word "if," and thus implies that this is not the case: God does not pay heed to man's iniquities. Furthermore, the possibility of paying heed to man's iniquities and his inability to stand as a result, is not expressed by the petitioner in the first person. He does not say: If You shall pay heed to my iniquities, I will not stand. He speaks of people in general, as a general truth. And this truth relieves the personal distress expressed in stanza I.
 
When we come to the last two lines in the second stanza, the horizon becomes clear: "For (= indeed) with you there is forgiveness," and You do not pay heed to the iniquities of man, and therefore my call out of the depths was certainly heard by your ears, and there is hope to be rescued out of these depths through forgiveness, which is one of Your attributes. It appears that the danger of drowning has passed, and that there is a place to stand.
 
Let us now set the two contrasting parts of the stanza against each other:
 
If you, Lord, pay heed to iniquities,                who will stand?
For with You there is forgiveness,                  that You may be feared [tivare].
 
The contrast between the preservation of iniquities and forgiveness is understandable and obvious. But is there also a contrast between the results with respect to man of the two possibilities discussed in relation to God?
 
Tivare is a verb derived from the root yod-resh-alef, and it means: "You shall be feared," that is to say, Your creatures will fear You. First, we must explain the logic in the statement: Will God's forgiveness of man's sins lead to a fear of God? Perhaps just the opposite is true!
 
Indeed, the fear exists that the possibility of forgiveness will lead a person to bad places, and therefore: "If one says: I shall sin and repent, sin and repent, no opportunity will be given to him to repent" (Mishna, Yoma 8:9). However, if a person truly repents and hopes for God's forgiveness, his fear of God will certainly grow when he is granted forgiveness, for "in the place where penitents stand even the wholly righteous cannot stand" (Berakhot 34b). True repentance brings a person closer to God and makes him more God-fearing than he had been prior to his sin.
 
Now let us ask again: What is the contrast between "who will stand" and "that You may be feared"? This contrast is the contrast between death and a life of closeness to and fear of God. "Who will stand" means "who will exist." Paying heed to a person's iniquities will lead to his death. Forgiveness, on the other hand, will not only allow him to stand/exist, but it will also bestow upon his life the fear of God.
 
This idea, that death is the opposite of a life of closeness to God, and God therefore desires life and not death, is expressed in several places in the book of Tehillim. We will bring one example:
 
What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise You? shall it declare Your truth?
 
Let us summarize by saying that the great distress in which the petitioner found himself has been somewhat alleviated when he contemplated – in stanza II – the well-known truth that "with You there is forgiveness." Now he is certain that indeed God has heard his voice and listened to his supplications.
 
VII. The third stanza
 
Why in the third stanza does the petitioner suddenly move on to talk about God in the third person? And how does stanza III continue what was stated in stanzas I-II?
 
To answer these questions, we must clarify what the petitioner is waiting and hoping for in this stanza. Kiviti HaShem means "I waited for the Lord, as we find later in this stanza "my soul waits for the Lord." But the absence of the lamed in the first phrase indicates that the waiting is for God Himself – for His appearance.
 
In the second line the petitioner says: "and in His word do I hope." What is this "word"? It seems that in consideration of what was stated in the previous stanzas, the answer is simple: the hoped-for word of God is "I have pardoned"! However, the petitioner does not content himself with God's word that reaches him indirectly; he wants God Himself to appear on the horizon of his life, and for him to hear the direct and redeeming word: "I have pardoned."
 
It is now understandable why the petitioner speaks of God in the third person. This follows necessarily from the main content of this stanza – for a person standing in tense expectation of God's appearance and hearing His word, God is "hidden." Continuing to talk to God in the second person, as in the previous stanzas, would contradict the content of this stanza!
 
Nafshi le-Adonai means my soul waits and hopes for Him. This explanation follows from what was stated in the two previous lines, and especially from the first line, in which the petitioner said: "My soul does wait."
 
Now we come to a duplication that requires an explanation: "more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning." Among all the explanations that have been proposed for these words, we prefer that of Prof. Y. Blau, cited by Amos Chakham in his Da'at Mikra commentary to our psalm (p. 480, note 7):
 
According to Y. Blau, the first shomerim is a noun, and the second shomerim is a verb: My soul's hope in God is greater than the hope of the watchmen, whose watch lasts until the morning, who wait for the morning to come.
 
The mem in mi-shomerim la-boker is the mem of superiority: My soul hopes for God more than the watchmen hope for morning, that is to say, more than the night watchmen, who stand guard until morning, watch, i.e., hope, for morning. The explanation of the verb shin-mem-resh in the second phrase in the sense of hoping and waiting, we find in Rashi's commentary to Bereishit 37:11:  "'And his father observed [shamar] the matter' – He awaited and looked forward to the time when this would come to pass. And similarly: 'that watch [shomer] for faithfulness' (Yeshayahu 26:2); and similarly: 'You do not wait [tishmor] for my sin' (Iyov 14:16)."
 
We must now consider why the psalmist chose specifically people who are engaged in the uncommon profession of night watchmen,[19] in order to demonstrate the magnitude of his hope, which is greater than the hope of those waiting for their work to end when morning comes. An ordinary person works during the day, during all the hours of light: "Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until the evening" (Tehillim 104:23). Therefore, his hope is directed toward the evening, when he will find rest from his work, and if he is a hired hand, he will then receive his wages (Devarim 24:15). This is the way Iyov describes a worker's waiting for evening:
 
Iyov 7:1-2: Is there not a time of service to man upon earth? And are not his days like the days of a hireling?
As a servant that eagerly longs for the shadow, and as a hireling that looks for his wages.
 
So why did our psalmist choose specifically night watchmen?
 
A day worker's hope for evening is a routine hope, and not at all similar to a night watchman's hope for morning. A night watchmen fulfills his work obligation while darkness surrounds him and fills him with insecurity, and the responsibility cast on his shoulders is great. Night guard-duty is performed when a person is tired and it is accompanied by stress and fears and a keen anticipation of the rising sun which will cast daylight, instill confidence, and relieve the watchman of his difficult role.[20]
 
Several things can be learned from the comparison that the psalmist makes between his own hope for the appearance of God and the hope of the night watchmen for the arrival of morning:
 
• While he is hoping for God, he is subject to emotional difficulty and insecurity as are those night watchmen.
• The fact that God is "hidden" from him leaves him in "darkness."
• His hope for God is accompanied by great tension and the counting of the minutes until its end.
• The appearance of God and His word are like the rising of the sun after a dark night.
• The petitioner believes that the appearance of God is as certain as the rising of the sun at the end of the night.
 
The psalmist does not give explicit expression to all this wealth of feeling about his hope and waiting for God and His word, but simply uses a four-word (in the original Hebrew) image, which is actually only two words: "more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning." The mem of superiority at the beginning of the phrase includes all that we have said about the night watchmen, but with greater intensity for the person hoping for God.
 
In twelve words, the third stanza of our psalm expresses the hope for the appearance of God, in perhaps the most vigorous way in the Bible.
 
VIII. The fourth stanza
 
In the previous stanza the psalmist likened his hope and longing for God to the night watchman's hope for the arrival of morning, and thus he intimated to us that this hope involves a certain measure of distress and affliction. In the fourth stanza all shadow and trace of darkness and suffering is gone. Here the hope for God is accompanied by the awareness that "with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption," and therefore His positive response to the person's hope is certain.
 
            What are the mercy and redemption that are "with" God?  The mercy is of course the mercy of forgiveness ("for with You there is forgiveness"), and the redemption is the redemption from iniquities, as is stated in the conclusion of the psalm: "And He will redeem… from all his iniquities."
 
            What brings about the change in atmosphere in the fourth stanza from that which prevailed in the third stanza? This will become clear after we discuss another important question relating to the fourth stanza.
 
The command to Israel at the beginning of the fourth stanza, "O Israel, hope in the Lord," is surprising: After all, the first three stanzas of our psalm are marked by the seal of the individual who stands before God and hopes for Him. Why does the psalmist change this intimate atmosphere by appealing to Israel? And who at all mentioned "Israel" until now?
 
We find a somewhat similar phenomenon already in the first half of the psalm, in the transition from stanza I to stanza II: stanza I is marked by an intimate personal experience, whereas in stanza II the speaker's "I" retreats, and he no longer refers to himself in the first person. This follows from the fact that the petitioner contemplates a general truth, which concerns not only him, but God's relationship with all human beings, among whom he – the petitioner – is included. This general truth alleviates his distress expressed in the first stanza.
 
In stanza III the petitioner is filled with vigorous hope for the appearance of God. Is God's appearance certain? Will the petitioner hear God's word: "I have pardoned"? The petitioner believes that he will, but there is no certainty about the matter. Hence, the hints of distress and suffering in this stanza.
 
In stanza IV the petitioner contemplates the fact that his own judgment as an individual is not the same as the judgment of Israel in general. Regarding them, there is no doubt about God's positive response that will bestow upon them the mercy of forgiveness and redemption from iniquities. This explains the appeal to Israel at the beginning of the stanza: "O Israel, hope in the Lord," as I hope in Him, but your hope, Israel, will certainly be answered in the affirmative, for with respect to you – "with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption."
 
From now on, the individual petitioner is included in the whole of Israel, and his own hope joins with their hope. Hence, the confidence in God's response to them includes himself as well. This explains the change in atmosphere in this stanza in comparison to the previous stanza.
 
One of the derashot of Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik, z"l, "Bein ha-Yachid ve-ha-Tzibbur," deals with precisely this issue: the difference between the individual and the community with respect to the atonement of sins and God's positive response to those who come before Him.[21] We will present a few lines from this complex and amazing derasha:[22]
 
This is the huge difference between the confession of the individual and the confession of the community… the individual confesses out of a state of insecurity, depression and despair of after the sin. What guarantee does he have that he will achieve atonement?… Not so the confession of the people of Israel… This confession is recited with confidence and even joy, for it is recited before the faithful partner to the covenant, before the great lover…[23]
 
IX. The conclusion of the psalm
 
It is very important to note that the vigorous anticipation of the appearance of God and His word is not answered in the body of the psalm, but rather remains open. This does not mean that God's response is uncertain! After stanza IV it is in fact certain, but nevertheless it is not described in the body of the psalm.
 
This is not a shortcoming in the psalm, but rather the essence of its intention.
 
There were periods in the history of Israel when the longing for the word of God, "I have pardoned," was answered with an explicit prophecy: "I have pardoned in accordance with your word" (Bemidbar 14:20). There were other periods, when prophecy had already ceased, and a red thread served in this role of expressing God's response to Israel, a silent and indirect response, but nevertheless a direct revelation of the relationship between God and Israel.[24] In most periods, however, the individual member of Israel and the people of Israel as a whole did not merit clear prophecy or the testimony of the red thread. Even in those periods the hope of the individual and of the community in the appearance of God and hearing His word did not wane, and there rested among them the certainty of God's positive response to the hopes of the people of Israel and of every individual among them. Still, we did not merit an explicit and manifest response. Our psalm also gives expression then to the experience of these later generations.[25]
 
The conclusion of the psalm in verse 8 comes to slightly alleviate the sense of absence that exists in the body of the psalm with regard to the description of God's response. As it were, it is difficult to come to terms with the psalmist's call to Israel in stanza IV that is left hanging in the air. The reader asks himself: Has God revealed His mercy to Israel? Has He redeemed them from their iniquities?
 
If there were another stanza in the psalm, which included a description of God's response as something occurring at the time of the recitation of the psalm, the unique intention of our psalm as described above would have been impaired.
 
The conclusion of the psalm is a kind of compromise: God's actual response is not described, but it is guaranteed in the future: "And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities."
 
This distancing in the conclusion of the psalm with respect to the time of the redemption that God will bring to Israel, is also a distancing from the body of the speaker in the psalm. No longer is he the speaker whose words were sounded throughout the psalm, for that speaker turned to Israel in the second person: "O Israel, hope in the Lord," whereas the repetition here of the word "Israel" indicates that they are being spoken about in the third person.
 
In the psalm's conclusion, the speaker is sort of an announcer, whose role it is to fill in what was not said and could not have been said by the petitioner: that the certainty expressed by the petitioner in stanza IV that God will answer Israel will one day be realized. 
 
X. The structure of the psalm: The parallelism between its two halves
 
So far we have noted the differences between the stanzas of our psalm, and we have explained how they all revolve around one (internal) event, and how each stanza continues what preceded it. Now we ask, is the complete psalm arranged in a structure that bestows additional meaning upon our psalm?
 
 In section III of our study we noted the distinction between the two halves of our psalm which are equal in length: in the first half (stanzas I and II) the petitioner appeals to God in the second person, whereas in the second half (stanzas III-IV) he speaks about Him in the third person. We explained the reason for this transition in section VII, which was devoted to the explanation of stanza III. We further noted in section III that the distinction that Scripture makes between the two halves of a literary unit comes to direct the reader to consider the parallelism between these two halves, parallelism that will reveal the complete picture of the structure and the idea of the psalm.
 
How then do the two halves of the psalm parallel each other? There is no doubt about the matter: this is direct parallelism, in which stanza I parallels stanza III and stanza II parallels stanza IV. We will transcribe our psalm again in a manner that highlights not only its poetic character (as we did at the end of section II), but also its structure – the parallelism between its stanzas and halves. Based on this visual parallelism, we will then discuss the details of the correspondence:[26]
 
A Song of Ascents.
I. Out of the depths have I called You, O Lord.
Lord, hearken to my voice;
let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
 
III. I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait,
and in His word do I hope.
My soul wait for the Lord,
more than watchmen for the morning; more than watchmen for the morning.
II: If You, Lord, pay heed to iniquities,
O Lord, who will stand?
4:      For with You there is forgiveness,
that You may be feared.
IV: O Israel, hope in the Lord;
for with the Lord there is mercy,
and with Him is abundant redemption.
And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
 
 
Stanzas I and III
 
The parallel between stanza I and stanza III is fundamentally substantive:[27] Both of them express a vigorous hope for a connection between the petitioner and God, and in both of them this hope stems from the distress in which the petitioner finds himself. In stanza I the distress is symbolized by the metaphor "out of the depths," whereas in stanza III it is expressed through the metaphor of the night watchmen who wait in keen anticipation for the arrival of morning.
 
But the type of hopeful connection between man and God in each of the parallel stanzas is reversed. In stanza I the direction of the desired connection is from below upwards. It is man who sounds his voice and supplications, and his vigorous plea that God should hear his desperate call out of the depths. In stanza III the petitioner hopes for the reverse connection – from heaven to earth, from up above downwards. The person hopes for the word of God and for His appearance in the darkness of his life, an appearance that will be like sunrise for the night watchmen who longingly wait for the day, or as the paytan formulates this idea: "Cause Your light to shine upon him who is in darkness."[28]
 
There is then development between the two parallel stanzas: The petitioner who hopes for the word of God (stanza III) assumes that his own word – his call out of the depths (in stanza I) has in fact been heard, and now he waits for God's response.
 
This change and development were achieved by virtue of what the petitioner contemplated in stanza II: that God pardons His creatures and does not pay heed to their iniquities. Now, after having strengthened himself with the feeling that God has heard his desperate call out of the depths, he awaits His response and His word, "I have pardoned."
 
The fundamental difference between stanza I and stanza III that we noted  above with regard to the direction of the connection is also the cause of the fact that in stanza I the desperate appeal to God is made in the second person. This is typical of a petitioner who finds himself in great distress and with a sense that God has hidden Himself from him.[29] However, in stanza III, which describes the tense hope for God's appearance and for hearing His word, of necessity God is hidden, and the petitioner can no longer appeal to Him, but can only talk about Him and the hope for His appearance.[30]
 
Stanzas II and IV
 
The parallel between these two stanzas is both substantive and stylistic. The unusual phrase "for with You there is forgiveness" in stanza II, is repeated twice in stanza IV in similar words: "for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption." This parallelism teaches us the nature of the mercy that the petitioner and the people of Israel are hoping for: The mercy is the mercy of forgiveness, and the redemption is redemption from iniquities (as is evident from verse 8). Nevertheless there is development in stanza IV in relation to stanza II: The charge of the words "mercy" and "redemption" is more positive, and the meaning of these words is broader than what can be attributed to the word "forgiveness."
 
Another hidden parallel between these two stanzas is that in both of them the petitioner's reference to himself in the first person – typical of stanzas I and III – is gone. Nevertheless, the voice that is sounded in them is, of course, the voice of the petitioner himself. This is evident from the speaker's appeal in these stanzas to the party standing before him: in stanza II – God, and in stanza IV – Israel.
 
What is the reason for the petitioner's "retreat" in these two stanzas from referring to himself? It stems from similar reasons: the function of these two stanzas is to alleviate the distress in which the petitioner found himself in the previous stanzas. In these two stanzas the petitioner emerges from himself, from his own world, into a broader world, and contemplates truths relating to this wider world, and not just his own distress.
 
In stanza II, the petitioner's distress abates when he contemplates the manner in which God conducts Himself with His creatures in general: He does not pay heed to their iniquities, but rather forgives them, in order to increase His fear among them. If this is the case, the petitioner's own call to God out of the depths was certainly heard, and he has hope of "standing," and not sinking into those depths.
 
In stanza IV the petitioner's personal distress lessens when he joins the rest of Israel: the hope for the word of God (in stanza III) that was achieved after understanding that the petitioner's call was certainly heard (in stanza II) is accompanied by distress. Israel's hope in God, on the other hand, will certainly merit God's response for "with Him there is mercy."
 
It turns out that even though stanza IV parallels stanza II, it expresses a higher level of certainty with respect to God's response to those who wait for Him. The ascent from stanza I to stanza III which parallels it necessitates a similar ascent from stanza II to stanza IV which parallels it. Stanza II brings the petitioner to certainty that God in fact has heard his desperate call from below; stanza IV brings him to certainty that God will in fact answer from above those who hope for Him, and bestow upon them mercy and redemption. Stanza IV brings the psalm to its highest peak, to the most positive consciousness to which the petitioner arrives in the psalm.
 
And yet, the psalm does not end with a description of God's response, but leaves it as certainty the fulfillment of which lies in the bosom of the future (as is promised in the concluding verse).
 
Thus the psalm expresses a dramatic and multi-stage emotional process of hoping for a two-way connection between a person who wishes to be rescued from his sins, and God with whom are found forgiveness and redemption. This two-way connection is in fact fulfilled in stages in the consciousness of the petitioner, as is described in the psalm, but it does not find expression in our psalm in external reality. 
 
* * *
 
An analysis of our psalm, as done in this study, teaches us how appropriate the psalm is for the experience of Yom Kippur and for the emotional process that passes over the petitioner on Yom Kippur from the beginning until after the Ne'ila service.
 
At the beginning and during the main part of the day, the person stands bent over and broken in the depths of his sins, and he pleads before God that He should listen to his desperate cry.
 
The day's prayers encourage the petitioner: God waits for his repentance and will certainly forgive his sins. "For You take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that he should turn from his way and live."
 
However, with the arrival of the Ne'ila prayer, when the feeling grows stronger that our prayers have indeed been heard in heaven, a tense hope fills the synagogue: This is the hope for God's answer: "I have pardoned." This answer is not explicitly given to us, but the certainty in its existence is what accompanies the blowing of the shofar at the end of the day, and it is what accompanies us as we return home, happy and joyful, in anticipation of  the fulfillment of the mitzvot of the festival of Sukkot.
 
 
(Translated by David Strauss)
 
 

* This study originally appeared as part of a series of studies on the book of Tehillim in the framework of the Virtual Beit Midrash, and is being sent out now, before Yom Kippur, in a new version.
[1] The source of this custom is in the Kabala of the Ari (Peri Etz Chayyim, Sha'ar Rosh Hashana, chap. 7). The Magen Avraham (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayyim, 54, 2) discusses this custom, whether it involves an interruption between the Yishtabach blessing and the Yotzer Or blessing, without resolving the issue. See also Dagul mi-Revava, ad loc.
[2] Of course, the discussion of the structure of the psalm may affect the interpretation of various details in it, just as the interpretation of the words and verses themselves constitutes a necessary basis for exposing the structure of the psalm.
[3] Of course, the opposite is also true: writing prose in short, vocalized lines does not turn it into poetry.
For the distinction between what is poetry and what is not, see Leah Goldberg's essay, "Chamisha Perakim bi-Yesodot ha-Shira, in the Iyyunim series, Jewish Agency, Jerusalem 5717, p. 12.
[4] This repetition requires an explanation. The explanation will be given below, when each of the psalm's stanzas will be explained in full.
[5] Sometimes the transition between the halves is marked by the beginning of a repetition of the first half, as if the second half repeats the first half, and thus it stands against it in a parallel state. This is common in the book of Tehillim.
[6] This difference between the two halves is beautifully expressed in the parallel between what is stated in the first half, in stanza II, "for with You there is forgiveness," and what is stated in the second half, "for with the Lord there is forgiveness and with him is abundant redemption."
[7] Needless to say, the two halves are exactly equal: each one consists of two stanzas, seven short lines and twenty-three words.
[8] Tehillim 41 with the concluding verse (14): "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting and to everlasting. Amen, and Amen"; Tehillim 72 with the concluding verses (18-20): "Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only does wondrous things; and blessed be His glorious name forever; and let the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen. The prayers of David the son of Yishai are ended"; Tehillim 89 with the concluding verse (53): "Blessed be the Lord for evermore. Amen, and Amen"; Tehillim 106 with the concluding verse (48): "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting; and let all the people say: Amen. Haleluya."
[9]  In our study of psalm 27, we dealt with a similar conclusion. At the end of section I we explained the considerations for removing the last verse (14) from the structure of the psalm and seeing it as the didactic conclusion of the entire psalm. In section III we discussed that verse's clear belonging to the psalm preceding it – it completes the two parts of the psalm and reinforces the unity of the whole psalm.
[10] Characteristically, in the liturgical rites in which this psalm serves as the psalm of nefilat appayim (thus among the Sefardi communities and Chabad Chassidim), they did not content themselves with the conclusion found in the Bible, but rather they added another concluding verse: "And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities" – the concluding verse of psalm 130. The similarity between the two verses is obvious, and the reason for adding this verse is also clear: In the Biblical conclusion the matter is stated as a request: "Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles"; whereas in the additional conclusion it is stated as a promise: "And He will redeem."
[11] In terms of its content, the concluding verse is similar to some verses in the body of the psalm that express a similar idea, for example, verse 8: "The angel of the Lord encamps round about them that fear Him, and delivers them." In terms of its style, the concluding verse connects with the preceding verse (the letter taf) by way of contrast: "They that hate the righteous shall be held guilty [yeshmu]… and none of them that take refuge in Him shall be desolate [yeshmu]."
[12] See note 10 above.
[13]  In this it is similar to the concluding verse of psalm 34 (see above note 11), and its belonging to the psalm that precedes it is even more pronounced.
[14] Often in Biblical poetry the tenses must be interpreted in accordance with the context in which they appear; "out of the depths have I called You" does not mean in the past, but rather "I am calling You now." This follows from the imperative and future tenses found in the continuation: "hearken" and "let be attentive." This is also true about verse 5: kiviti and hochalti do not refer to the past, but rather to the present time: "I wait," "I hope." However, the future tense in verse 8 does in fact refer to the future, which in the meantime cannot be seen.
[15] The word nefesh here [translated as "soul"], as in other places in Scripture, refers to the throat. What this means is that if the waters continue to rise, the person immersed in them will be unable to breathe.
[16] In our explanation of stanza II, we will bring further support to this assumption.
[17] In psalm 69 it is clear that it is the many enemies that surround the petitioner.
[18] In this, the meaning of the metaphor in our psalm differs from that in psalm 69 (see previous note).
[19] Night watchmen are mentioned in the Bible in several places. In Yeshayahu 21:11: "Watchmen, what of the night"; ibid. 62:6: "I have set watchmen on your walls, they shall never hold their peace day nor night"; Shir ha-Shirim 3:3: "The watchmen that go about the city found me," and this occurred after the woman rose from her bed by night (v. 1), and similarly ibid. 5:7. In a borrowed sense it is stated about God in Tehillim 121:4: "Behold, He that keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps."
[20] Anyone who has experienced, or is accustomed to experiencing, night guard duty in a place and time of security-related tension, on a long and dark wintry night when the darkness is thick and the mists severely limit the guard's vision, will well understand the meaning of the comparison to the night watchmen's waiting for the arrival of morning.
[21] Al ha-Teshuva, pp. 67-98.
[22] The quote is taken from p. 91. In the previous section (starting on page 87) Rabbi Soloveitchik demonstrates that the Yom Kippur prayers contain two confessions that are very different in character: that which is recited by the individual in his silent prayer, and that which is recited by the congregation during the repetition of the Amida prayer.
[23] He says in the continuation: "Indeed, it is the customary practice among several communities in Israel, and I heard it myself when I was in Germany, that the Al chet passage in the prayer leader's repetition of the service is sung by the entire congregation with melodies that make the heart rejoice."
[24] In Yoma 39a it is stated that until the days of Shimon the Righteous the red thread would turn white, but afterwards sometimes it would turn white, and sometimes not. In the continuation of that passage, it is stated that already forty years before the destruction of the Temple the red thread would not white.
[25] Of course, this says nothing about the time of the composition of our psalm. The psalms in the book of Tehillim were written not only for their own time, but also for future generations.
[26]  In the parallels that we will point out below, we will inevitably repeat certain things that have already been said in this study. But the discussion of the structure of the complete psalm and the parallels between its stanzas and its halves will crystallize all these details into one unified picture.
[27] However, note should be taken of one verbal correspondence: In both of these stanzas, and only in them, the Tetragrammaton appears in its full form (in the first line) and afterward it is replaced by the name Adonai. The other two stanzas contain two names of God, but with slight differences from what we find in stanzas I and III.
[28] This is the beginning of a piyyut that is recited after the order of the Yom Kippur service in the Temple (Machzor le-Yamim Nora'im, ed. D. Goldschmidt, vol. II – Yom Kippur, p. 498).
[29] See what we said in this regard in our study of Tehillim 27, section II, and note 4 there.
[30] There is a kind of paradox here: Appealing to God in the second person expresses the feeling of His distance, whereas in a calmer state God is related to in the third person. This is the case in psalm 23 and in psalm 27, and so too in our psalm, where the distress and feeling of distance of stanza I is lessened in stanza III. This is the case in the psalms of Tehillim, because this is the human experience.