Thursday, December 01, 2011

Amnesty from Hell - Psalm 23

The Previous Rebbe reveals for us what King David thought when he authored Psalm 23 (translated below, from הקריאה והקדושה, pp.781-2). It behooves every Jew to understand this short Psalm, for whom it was written in the first place. As a preface, I repeat what the Tzemach Tzedek said, that Moshiach will rejoice with the simple Jews, those who set aside their "brains" lest it interfere with their faith in the tzaddik's words. The "wise ones" will then have good reason to be jealous.

A friend once told me this about happiness - in Hebrew, שמחה: It consists of two inner letters and two outer letters that read מח שה, meaning "the mind of a sheep". True happiness is achieved by following the tzaddik's words as a sheep follows trustingly its shepherd. Much of the following relates to words of a tzaddik and the benefits of relying on and trusting Hashem, allowing oneself to be shepherded in His ways.
Our sages tell us, when a Psalm opens with the words "מזמור לדוד", this refers to a song King David created while yearning for divine insight. During such spiritual uplift, he would speak some divine truth, a profound holy lesson, for the sake of the Jewish people.

On the other hand, if it opens with "לדוד מזמור", this implies an occasion when unexpectedly he was infused with divine insight and then felt compelled to sing out a prophecy.

In Psalm 23, which we explain below, the divine poet renders a deep and holy lesson - that no real achievement is acquired in the world unless it is offered by Hashem, which is why Jews must always remain bound to Hashem, both in good times and, Hashem forbid, in bad times.
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"מזמור לדוד ד' רעי לא אחסר"
"A song of David. When God is my shepherd, I lack nothing."

When individuals or nations help themselves, or when they're helped by other individuals or nations, this help is imperfect and lacks lasting happiness. Only when Hashem offers help or leads ("pastures") an individual or nation, is the help flawless. We naturally conclude, therefore, we must let ourselves be guided by Hashem, following in only His ways, if we yearn for success and complete joy in life.


"בנאות דשא ירביצני על מי מנחות ינהלני"
"He makes only me lie down on grassy pastures. He leads only me along calm waters."

True economic success, for an individual or nation, comes only from Hashem. Only He can provide tranquility and political freedom. Self-made economic success and political independence are neither complete nor enduring; These cannot bring full satisfaction for various reasons; It cannot last long and it is flawed to begin with.


"נפשי ישובב ינחני במעגלי צדק למען שמו"
"He refreshes my soul; He leads me in rightful paths - for the sake of His name."

Divinely-offered success provides more than physical or material happiness; It also provides internal, spiritual joy. That's because those faithful to Hashem are lead by Him in the right paths. Their success isn't based on falsity, theft, robbery or murder. They have a clean conscience. Their soul too is refreshed from this success, as is the body. This contrasts with achievement attained by those who abandoned Hashem. Then there is no tranquility because their conscience plagues them constantly and punishment for having made these material gains frightens them because of the transgressions and sins involved. Their physical success and emotional happiness are thus flawed.


Only success that Hashem provides refreshes both the soul and the body. Why? Because He does it "for the sake of His name", so people should know that when Hashem provides success - it is true success, free of heartaches or misgivings.


"גם כי אלך בגיא צלמות לא אירא רע כי אתה עמדי שבטך ומשענתך המה ינחמני"
"Even when I walk in the valley of death-shadows, I fear no bad because You are with me; Your rod and cane are a comfort for me."

The divine poet here addresses two issues: Man's death, which can lead to Hell, and exile, which "valley of death-shadows" refers to, either for the individual or for a nation.

Regarding death and Hell, our sages tell us, that when the spiritual overseers of the nations [every nation has its overseer] complain why is it the sinful Jewish nation gets no Hell whereas other sinful nations do, they are shown the heavenly decree - that every sinful nation must go to Hell together with the god they worshipped! The same is true for every individual! If someone worshipped Hashem, then, even though he wasn't fully righteous, he cannot go to Hell for his smaller sins because his God, Hashem, cannot go with him! "I fear no bad because You are with me!" He who worships Hashem, therefore, has no fear of Hell because Hashem is with him! This means, in fact, his sins are regarded as minor, and get wiped away by punishments [in this world], but not by Hell.

Here then is another benefit for allowing oneself to be led by Hashem - it removes the option of Hell in the world-to-come.

The Jewish nation, in general, is therefore actually safe from Hell because as a collective they generally worship Hashem; Which is why they can say, and do say, regarding Hell, "I fear no bad because You are with me!"

After the Jewish people sinned, since they could not be sent to Hell, they had to be sentenced to exile. Despite exile, as a collective, they are not in danger of downfall [extinction], as happened to many other exiled nations who lost their land and their independence.

Jews in exile are sustained in life by "Your rod and cane"; By the divine rod that whips, and the divine Torah, which is their cane that prevents Jews from falling. Jews never achieve complete tranquility in exile as do other nations who also lost their independence.

By the divine rod, Jews get whipped in all their lands of exile; They know they are victimized because of the divine Torah they possess, a Torah from which they do not want to be torn away from despite all the dirt heaped upon them. The rod and the Torah are therefore Hashem's goodness and consolation for the Jewish people. Were it not for the whipping rod that casts the sinning countries in a despicable light, and were it not for Torah that demonstrates that the Jewish nation is more beautiful and, spiritually, heavens higher than the sinning, whipping countries, the Jews would long ago have had their downfall through assimilation. Our consolation and entire hope on final redemption rest strictly on Hashem's "rod and cane" that He has us contending with.

This is then another benefit for letting be led by Hashem: That we as a collective cannot go to Hell and that we cannot go extinct during exile!

The fact that we must contend with the rod and the cane during exile, which prevents us from going under, is a sign He wants to redeem us, to return us to the Holy Land, and provide us with luscious pastures, along quiet waters - which means economic plenty and political independence and tranquility!


"תערך לפני שלחן נגד צררי דשנת בשמן ראשי כוסי רויה"
"You prepare for me a table against my enemies. You anoint my head with fragrant oil; My cup satiates me."

The Godly poet relates another advantage in letting oneself be led by Hashem, even in exile - the valley of death-shadows. Even in exile Hashem gives to those who earn it a prepared table, wealth and honor, in order to anger all enemies of the Jews. For not abandoning faith in Hashem, the Jewish people, even in exile, and despite enemies who heap dirt upon them, get a great name, in the sense of "שמן תורק שמך על כן עלמות אהבוך" ("For your flowing oil [whose fragrance one smells from afar] you are renowned, therefore maidens love you.") [Song of Songs 1:3]. Even the anti-Semitic nations have to acknowledge Jewish greatness and talent, and they want Jews should intermingle with them. For this reason, the cup of many Jews is a full one that satiates them. Nations and their officials need access to Jewish resourcefulness, so they appoint Jews to high office, which satiates the appointees either economically or with honor. All this comes as a result of maintaining belief in Hashem; All this for not giving up their Jewishness.

And this is truly a great wonder - that youngsters from the Jewish "Gypsy" [nomadic, unconventional] nation manage to rub shoulders with royalty, to become finance ministers, authors, lawyers and governors - a phenomenon that could never happen to person from a real Gypsy nation!


"אך טוב וחסד ירדפוני כל ימי חיי ושבתי בבית ד' לארך ימים"
"Just goodness and favor will follow me all days of my life, and I will yet even sit in God's house for long years."

According to circumstances where Jews sinned and thus warranted exile, since then all Jewish days are full with goodness and favor that Hashem gives them. Without true miracles, the Jewish nation could never have possibly survived amid 2,000 years of hate and persecution. And finally Jews will, speedily in our days, live to see the ultimate redemption and remain the most free and luckiest people, in their holy, divine land, forever.
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So, King David gave us, in this small chapter 23, a complete thesis about the happy opportunity Jews have, to be led by Hashem alone, by following the ways of Torah. Briefly expressed, he enumerates all the benefits we derive therefrom, in good times or bad, God forbid, when we transgress somewhat.

God-given success is whole, flawless, as it was during the short era under the reigns of King David and King Solomon, when Jews enjoyed true economic "grassy pastures" and complete political "tranquil waters", because then the Land of Israel was the richest and most respected nation in the world. God-given success is a delight for both soul and body, for it comes as a reward for following in Hashem's path; It is free of painful thoughts or fear of punishment that come bound with unkosher success.

Also after death, the God-fearing person is happier than everyone because he cannot go to Hell, just as the Jewish people collectively are free from Hell.

Even suffering through exile, for which their sins are to blame, Jews are guaranteed from becoming extinct and, moreover, they have comfort knowing they will one day be redeeemed, based on an undoubtful sign, that even in exile a Jew can enjoy wealth and honor, simply by remaining a God-faithful Jew, vis-vis anti-Semites who, upon seeing this, burn inside with fire.

And surely Jews would incur a much lighter exile were they to be better Jews, correctly observing the Torah, instead of being satisfied for not being completely Gentile-like, as many Jews do in the more-or-less assimilated circles.

The exile turned out to be a long chain of miracles, due to the goodness and favor Hashem showered upon us, for which we will merit a complete redemption from which our happy future will never again be taken away from us.

All this we learn from 6 short verses, in 57 words! The most profound, truthful, complete and shortest explanation why it is the best of fortunes to be a Jew walking in Hashem's ways by observing Torah and Mitzvot.

Unfortunately, many Jews lost both worlds only because they knew not the contents or meaning of this very chapter of Psalms, small as it is!

2 comments:

  1. I understand this Psalm better now that I have read your post here :) thanks for placing the link to this post on my "who will be resurrected" post.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Tidbits, why not leave the link to your post here?

    ReplyDelete

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