This is a beautiful Psalm of consolation. It was my Mother’s favorite, especially through the last years of her life as she faced physical challenges bravely and with delightful humor. It also has a special place in my heart; especially when I sing it in Hebrew with a Carlebach-sounding happy melody. No matter the many troubles and dangers King David encountered on his journey, his soul continued to sing when he raised his eyes to Heaven – his constant and faithful source of help and strength.
Flying and rising, sing a song of delights;
a Song of Ascents.*
David can trust that God, who created the mountains and is above and beyond all creation and understanding, nevertheless sees his plight and, knowing all, in His love and care for him, will save him from adverse circumstances and the hand of his enemies. Every day, every moment, we too can raise a cry and a prayer to the Throne of glory and grace; confident that our Father in Heaven will hear and respond.
The Sages of Israel compare the ‘great mountain’ in Zechariah 4:7 – “Who are you, O great mountain?”- to King Messiah, saying:
“From where will he come? By way of the mountains. As it [the Tanakh – Hebrew Scriptures] says: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings” (Isaiah 52:7). This alludes to both the Messiah son of Joseph and the Messiah son of David… hence the plural form: “the mountains.”**
King David had come to the realization that there was no person around him who was able or willing to help him; he could only look up to the One who created heaven and earth through His Word of grace and mercy.
“For the world is built on loving-kindness” (Psalm 89:3).
Even though He usually works through intermediaries, the true Source of all life and help is God Himself.
In reference to verses 1-4, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch*** approaches them as a question. In essence, “To whom, or what, do I look to for help in my times of need or despair?” He answers, “I will NOT lift my eyes to any earthly power [whose intent is not for my personal good but has only selfish motives in all that is done]. I will gladly forego the favor and assistance which these powers deny me. There is One Who is higher still and surer, and it is to Him that I look for help.”*
All the forces that men employ are nothing more than physical and mechanical protection. They are powerful only on a superficial level and seem to provide security but they are limited and do not safeguard a man’s deeper moral course of life, which matters for eternity. While we definitely trust the Lord for the external elements of life – even our daily bread – it is in the matters of the soul that we more deeply trust that He is our Help and protector. With all our inherent weaknesses and imperfections, no person is immune to sin or error. We need constantly to be looking to G-d for guidance; trusting for His enabling and protection to keep walking in the way He has set and in doing what is pleasing to Him. He then assures us that, in His deep and tender love for each one, He never slumbers nor sleeps but is watching over us faithfully at all times.
verses 5-6 The shade of His Presence covers all that we do when it is for the sake of His Name and in love. Rabbi Hirsch compares the brightness of the sun to the “glitter of good fortune.” In other words, the time when all is going well and prospering financially. Then the Lord will shade you from being ‘dazzled’ by it and becoming arrogant in your own power and accomplishments. Also, during the dark times of “misfortune” His Presence will steadily shine, as the gentle light of the moon, to brighten the darkness of the night and to give hope that, in harmony with His plan and purpose, the sun will again rise with the birth of a new day.
Again, verses 7 – 8 assure us that His protection is not limited. He is with us every moment, through every circumstance good or bad, and He will keep us and bring us through as the keeper and guardian of our soul.
No evil aimed against you will harm your spirit and its purity for, dedicated to Him, it is in His powerful hands and tender care. Thus, Hirsch happily concludes, “You may go out confidently, even into the midst of a world that is opposed to you and cheerfully complete your journeys therein…and, one day, when you have been steeled and refined by the trials and experiences of your life on earth, He will lead you back to your own true home”… to the now incomprehensible blessing and glory of His Presence for all eternity.
*[from a poem by Rabbi Elazar haKalir]
** The Torah Anthology. The Book of Tehillim [Psalms] V. pg. 164.
*** Samson Raphael Hirsch, The Hirsch Psalms, Feldheim Publishers