Next to the Book of Job my favorite of the 24 books in the Hebrew bible is the Book of Psalms. Containing 150 poems it has always been attributed to King David and is usually referred to as the Psalms of David.
However, psalm 72 , attributed to Solomon, clearly states in verse 20 “kulo tfilot David ben Yishai”, the prayers of David, son of Jesse, are ended, and continues in psalm 73 with “a song of Asaph”.
An orthodox rabbinical scholar, M. Friedlander, had written “Although we generally speak of the Psalms of David, only a portion of them was composed by King David… 1 was ascribed to Moses, 2 to King Solomon, 12 to Asaph, 1 to Heman, 1 to Ethan, and some have no author mentioned in the heading.”
The Talmud recognized that the Book of Psalms was a collection of multiple authorship. Yet for all of its authors, the themes were similar. As one biblical scholar has well-said “throughout history, the Psalms have been rivers of refreshment and wells of consolation. They alone have known no limitations to a particular age, country, or form of faith” (Prothero) and have been a treasury of comfort to all in need.
The Psalms teach us how to live our lives ethically and they denounce all deeds which can bring unhappiness to people.
First, they emphasize the greatness of God “whose throne is in the remote heavens above and the earth is His footstool” (Soncino, The Psalms, Rev. Dr. A. Cohen, London,1950).
Although it is written that God dwells in His chosen place, Zion (Jerusalem), Jews have always taught that God dwells everywhere and is available to the high and to the lowly… “karov Adonai l’kol kor’ov, l’kol asher yikrauhu be-emet”… God is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in Truth”.
The key word in man’s relationship to our heavenly Father is “emet”… TRUTH.
Happiness is described in the very first chapter of the Book of Psalms: “Happy is the man (woman too) that has not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scournful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law does he meditate day and night”.
Man’s trust in God gives him the strength he needs to survive and the power to succeed in all of his efforts. We Israelis, religious or secular, need that power and strength to overcome the vicissitudes of our sick political failure, a failure which leads us to greater disaster than a war with Hamas.
It is important to note that the very first words in the entire Book of Psalms are “ashrei ha-ish”… happy is the man.
Cohen concentrates on four major concerns of the Psalms… God, man, sin and revelation. The most important is, of course man’s duty to praise God and to exemplify Him by their daily activities. God can live without man but no man can live without God.
God has given all of us a choice between good and evil. And while man has the choice, God tries to emphasize “choose the good that you may live”. Does choosing evil imply death? Go ask our enemies!
Psalms were originally intended to be sung. The Hebrew word which introduces most of them is “mizmor” (a song, a melody) and in the days when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem they were accompanied by musical instruments, the harp, lyre, cymbals, and ram’s horn. All in praise of our One God, our Holy God, our Heavenly Father.
In periods of great catastrophe, dire illness, death, wars and destruction, Jews find comfort in reading chapters from the Book of Psalms, the greatest book of comfort ever written.
In this period of misery, of death, of survival from bombs, bullets, missiles, of bitterness and loneliness, turning only to God does not in itself bring the comfort we seek. The printed words in Torah and in the Sefer Tehillim provide us with visibility to recite those words… not alone by the eye but with the spoken tongue. The use of words comfort us when spoken and when heard.
To all those who have been wounded, made homeless, lost loved ones, I conclude with the ancient Hebrew words of comfort: “ HaMakom yenachem etchem b’toch sh’ar avalai Tzion v”Yerushalayim”.. May God comfort you among the remnant of the mourners out of the gates of Zion and Jerusalem.
“Fear not, for I am with You. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you. I will sustain you through My power” (prophet Isaiah 41: 10 )
In the darkest of days, especially, it helps to comfort us by one of the 150 psalms.
“Ki yodaya Hashem derech tzadikim v’derech r’sha-im tovaid”. God regards the way of the righteous but the way of the wicked shall perish.
Long live peace to all citizens of Israel and destruction to its enemies, internal and external.
“NACHAMU, NACHAMU AMI”… COMFORT YOU, COMFORT YOU, O MY PEOPLE”. (ISAIAH 40:1).