Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day. Having grown up with the Mamas and the Papas singing about their misgivings about Monday morning, I have a healthy skepticism about Mondays in general. But this feeling about its vagaries comes from the Diaspora where the work week begins on day two, rather than day one of the week. Bearing that in mind, we Jews also have misgivings about Mondays because day two is the only day of Creation Week that God doesn’t say, ‘And it was good.’ So, we begin to explore the Shir Shel Yom for day two with a little trepidation.
Let’s begin with the famous Talmudic statement in Rosh Hashana explaining the choice of the daily Psalms: On Monday, they (the Leviyim) would sing “Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised in the city of our God, our holy mountain (Psalm 48),” as He separated His works and reigned over them (31a). This requires a little explanation. On Yom Sheini, God said, “Let there be an expanse (RAKI’A) in the midst of the water, that it may separate water from water.” God made the expanse, and it separated the water which was below the expanse from the water which was above the expanse. And it was so (Breishit 1:6-7).
Even this doesn’t totally clear up the mater, because chapter 48 may reference oceans (verse 5), but it really is all about Yerushalayim. Actually, on further consideration this makes a lot of sense because just as God separated the ‘waters below’ from the ‘waters above’, so God separated Yerushalayim from the rest of the inhabitable universe, and set the Divine Throne there (Rashi). Yerushalayim is also the interface point between this realm (Olam Hazeh) and the Divine precincts. Therefore, the Shir Shel Yom for Yom Sheni discusses Yerushalayim, which reminds us of the divide between the physical and spiritual.
This idea of separation is fully explored in chapter 48. The Psalm’s description of Yerushalayim emphasizes its separateness. The text begins by describing the impregnable nobility of Yerushalayim: Lovely in its elevation, distant extremity (verse 3), famed as a fortress (verse 4), Kings saw it and were dumbfounded, panicked, and dismayed (verse 5). Take note of the description towards the end: Walk about Tziyon, go all around her; count her towers. Take note of her ramparts, view her bastions, to recount to the last generation (verses 13-14).
Please, note the different tone from the earlier description (verses 3-5), and the latter account (13-14). At the beginning the Singer describes the impossibility of conquering Yerushalayim, its inviolability. We’ll ignore the irony that Yerushalayim has been conquered dozens of times. However, towards the end of the Psalm the emphasis is on the boundaries. There are clear lines of demarkation between the inside of Yerushalayim and everything else in the world; between the holy and the profane. That delineation is very much a Yom Sheni topic.
Then there’s the enigmatic middle section of our Psalm. What is our Singer getting at by telling us: We contemplate (meditate, imagine, reflect, Diminu) O Lord, Your loving Kindness, in the midst of Your Sanctuary (holy precinct, sanctum, Heichalecha, verse 10)?
Rav Weinreb offered an explanation:
In Jerusalem, one cannot escape God’s presence. Jerusalem is an antidote for feelings of alienation and abandonment…Magically, mysteriously God feels close to us when we are in His Holy City…the closeness to God that we feel there dispels the dark clouds of sadness and despair (Koren Psalms, p. 238). God’s greatest kindness (Chesed) is to bridge the gaps in our existence.
Rav Kook and his students saw in this verse an allusion to prayer. Prayer is an act of imagination (Dimyon). Rav Ya’akov Moshe Charlop, among the closest students of Rav Kook, wrote to his son in America that through the Dimyon referred to in our verse, one can extend the atmosphere of Yerushalayim to aid in prayer, even in the States! The Dimyon of Yerushalayim can work even outside its precincts. But it’s always the dream, image of Yerushalayim which transports us and our prayers to God’s Sanctum (Heichal).
And, finally, our Psalm concludes: For this God is our God, forevermore; He will guide us beyond death (verse 15). Yom Sheni in the Torah describes the separation between upper and lower waters (heaven and earth); most of Psalm 48 delineates the vast gulf between Yerushalayim and the rest of the universe; and, now, as the poem ends, we allude to the final great divide-life and death. The connection to God, which Yerushalayim helps us to maintain, will carry us beyond death (Al Mut) to the next realm.
This truly remarkable Psalm helps us cope with the vagaries of Monday. There is great disappointment in realizing that our world is compartmentalized into many different zones of distance from God. Chapter 48 reassures us that God has given us the means to bridge this great gulf between our earthly life and our God. The greatest aid to overcome this challenge is that beautiful bridge to the next realm, Yerushalayim, our eternal haven on a hill.