David Walk

A New Song

The penultimate Psalm immediately begins with the information that something has changed. The previous three HALLELU-KAH Psalms have a natural progression. First, the Psalmist gives a very personal account of the need to praise God, then we’re told that it’s good for everyone to praise God, finally in Psalm 148 we find out that all Creation praises God from the highest levels in heaven to the deepest depths. Now, Psalm 149 begins with: Sing to the Lord a new song. What is this ‘new song’? 

There are a number of opinions to explain this phenomenon, but two fascinate me. The first is my emotional favorite. The ‘new song’ is the new day. Every time we begin our day with prayer, there must be a ‘new song’. When we get to this verse in P’SUKEI D’ZIMRA, we should be inspired to think of the new situations, problems and ideas we will confront during this fresh start of our life, and then incorporate them into our davening. Every davening must have a CHIDUSH, a new insight, and that’s our ‘new song’. It’s not easy. TEFILA can so readily devolve into rote. It’s the ‘new song’ effort which helps us fight that terrible tendency. 

The other approach is presented by Rashi (Tehillim 96:1), a SHIR CHADASH is about a future event. I believe strongly that our Singer is assuming that there will be post-Biblical miracles which require praise to God, and, therefore a SHIR CHADASH. This could mean the Chanukah miracle or the birth of the Medina or the Six Day War. Between the conclusion of prophecy at the closing of TANACH and the advent of MASHIACH with the final redemption there will be miracles worth singing HALALU-KAH about.  

This SHIR CHADASH can take two forms. We can sing HALLEL, which makes an old song into a SHIR CHADASH, or new singers can arise to sing about the new miracle in new songs and poems, like MAOZ TZUR or AL HaNISSIM. In either case we’re singing a SHIR CHADASH. 

I like the Chanukah example of a post-Biblical miracle, because our Psalm uses the word CHASIDIM three times. It’s unfortunately not well known that the Maccabees called themselves the Chasidim, because they went beyond the letter of the Law to keep Torah and Mitzvot. Did they adopt the name Chasidim because of our Psalm? I, of course, don’t know, but would love to believe a resounding YES! 

Verses 2-4 of our Psalm describe the great joy of the Jews over the deliverance God has provided. Yisrael is joyous about God’s Divine power, and then the B’NEI TZIYON (citizens of Yerushalayim?) will sing anew for our Divine King (verse 2). I believe the King is God, because I think the poem is pre-Mashiach. The Malbim points out that SIMCHA, in the first clause, is happiness over long existing phenomena, while GILA, in the second phrase, is joy for a newly perceived reality.  Verse 3 describes the joyous scene of music making and dancing. This miraculous event reminds us that God loves us, and the normally meek (ANAVIM) glory in this victory (salvation, YESHUA, verse 4). 

The second half of the Psalm (verses 5-9) describes the nature of this YESHUA. First, those aforementioned CHASIDIM are extremely happy about their newfound honor, and their joy continues even when they have returned home, and reclined on their MISHKAV. This last term can mean a couch or bed, so they continue their joy when in repose in the privacy of family. But maybe it means the eternal sleep of the grave, and these CHASIDIM will celebrate into eternity (verse 4). 

The exaltations to God come from hearty cries deep in their throats (GRONAM), but the glory was achieved by the double-edged swords in their hands (verse 6). There are commentaries (Alshich) who believe that the CHASIDIM are only wielding prayers and Torah, and those are their swords. However, the example of the Maccabees seems to teach us that even very frum CHASIDIM can wield swords quite effectively when their efforts are blessed by God. Remember, Yehoshua only allowed the righteous to serve in his army. How times have changed! 

Verses 7 & 8 describe the downfall of our enemies. All of the nations and people who rise up to destroy us will be defeated and punished. Those leaders who encouraged this reprehensible behavior will be shackled and chained. The vengeance and retribution will be total. 

The Psalm ends with a fascinating parallel. In verse 9 we’re told that the bad guys will get what’s coming to them, while the CHASIDIM will get HADAR (grandeur, glory, splendor). I believe strongly that this last verse is extremely important. I wrote ‘get what’s coming to them’; the verse says: executing upon them the justice (MISHPAT) as written (KATUV). Where is this written? 

As I said earlier, I think that this Psalm is about post-Biblical events. However, the ultimate disposition of our enemies will be the MISHPAT decreed in the prophecies of our TANACH. Just because some event happens after the closing of the prophetic era doesn’t mean that the rules (MISHPAT) and predictions of the TANACH won’t be in effect. The downfall of our many enemies in the last 2500 years followed principles set down and predicted by our prophets. 

And the CHASIDIM? Well. Their loyalty is rewarded with greatest glory of all. They exult in the Torah’s predictions being brought to fruition by their heroic actions. What could be more HADAR than that?  

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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