#04: Psalm 130 (Part
Rav Elchanan Samet
does the psalmist now suddenly start speaking about God, in the third
person? And how does stanza c. continue the ideas expressed
order to answer these questions, we need to clarify what it is that the
worshipper is “waiting” and “hoping” for. “Kiviti hashem” means “I wait
for God," as further on in this stanza, “my soul (waits) for God”
(la-donay). However, the absence of the ‘lammed’ indicates that
the waiting is for God Himself, i.e., for His revelation.
the second line, the worshipper declares, “for His word I hope." What is this
word? Considering what has already been said in the previous stanzas, the answer
seems clear: the word that the psalmist longs to hear is God’s declaration,
“salachti” (I have forgiven). However, he is not content for God’s word
to reach him in some indirect manner; what he wants is for God Himself to appear
on the horizon of his life, with His direct, redeeming word –
we can understand why the psalmist is speaking of God in the third person. It is
appropriate by virtue of the content of this stanza: if a person is anxiously
awaiting God’s appearance, waiting to hear His word, then until this happens God
is “hidden” from him. Continuing to address God in the second person, as in the
previous stanzas, would contradict the very message that this stanza is trying
la-Adoshem” means “My soul hopes and waits for God." This interpretation is
supported by the preceding two lines, and especially the first line, where the
psalmist declares, “my soul waits."
we arrive at the puzzling repetition, “mi-shomrim la-boker, shomrim
la-boker." Of all the interpretations that have been proposed, the one that
seems most appropriate is that of Prof. Y. Blau, cited by Amos Chakham in his
Da’at Mikra commentary on our verse (p. 480, n. 7):
Y. Blau’s view, the first ‘shomrim’ is meant as a noun, and the second – as a
verb. What the verse means is, “My hope in God is stronger than the hope of the
(night) watchmen (shomrim) for the morning, as they await
(shomrim) the coming of the morning.
first occurrence, then, refers to the night-watchmen who are guarding the city
until dawn. The verb “sh-m-r” is interpreted to mean anticipation or waiting by
Rashi in his commentary on Bereishit 37:11:
his father waited with (shamar et) the matter” – meaning, “he waited in
anticipation to see when it would happen.” Likewise (Yishayahu 26:2),
anticipates faith” (shomer emunim), and (Iyov 14:16), “Do you not await
(tishmor) my sin.”
does the psalmist specifically choose night watchmen
– a fairly uncommon profession – to illustrate the anticipation of the end of
their work, with the dawn?
model of a person working regular hours is presented in Tehillim 104:23,
“Man goes out to his work and to his labor until evening” – i.e., he works all
day. Hence, he anticipates the coming of evening; it is then that he will rest,
and if he is day-laborer, he will also receive his wages (Devarim 24:15).
Indeed, Iyov describes the laborer’s anticipation of the
a man not hard service upon the earth,
are his days not like the days of a hired laborer?
the servant awaits the shadow, and as a hired laborer waits for (the wages of)
his work…. (Iyov
then, does the psalmist choose to depict night watchmen?
laborer’s anticipation, throughout the day, for the arrival of evening is a
normal, common matter. It is quite unlike the night-watchman’s anticipation of
the dawn. The night-watchman carries out his job while he is surrounded by
darkness and uncertainty, with a great responsibility resting on his shoulders.
Guard duty at night is a job performed during hours when a person is tired, and
it is accompanied by anxiety and a tense anticipation of the dawn, which brings
daylight and confidence, and delivers the watchman from his stressful
comparison that is drawn here between the psalmist’s hope for God’s appearance
and the anticipation of the night-watchmen for the dawn, teaches us several
waiting and hoping for God he is as emotionally stressed and insecure as the
is “hidden” from him, leaving him “in the dark."
hoping for God’s appearance is accompanied by great stress, and he counts the
minutes until it is over.
appearance and His word are like the dawn that comes after a dark
worshipper would like to believe that God’s appearance is as assured and certain
as is the dawn.
of this rich evocation of his hope in God and his anticipation of His word is
expressed in four words, which are actually two words that are repeated:
“mi-shomrim la-boker shomrim la-boker." All that the night-watchmen
experience and feel is brought to life – and made even more vivid and powerful
simply by means of the prefixed letter “mem”
(mi-shomrim) – “more than those who
the space of twelve Hebrew words, of which four are really two that are
repeated, this third stanza expresses the anticipation of God’s appearance in
perhaps the most powerful form in all of the Tanakh.
in the preceding stanza the psalmist compared his waiting for God’s word to the
anticipation of the dawn on the part of the night watchmen, thereby alluding to
the distress and suffering involved in this hope, in the fourth stanza any
allusion to darkness and suffering is banished. Here, the waiting for God is
accompanied by an awareness that “with God is kindness, and great redemption is
with Him." This being the case, His positive response to man’s appeal is
assured and certain.
are the kindness and redemption that are “with” God? The kindness, obviously,
refers to the kindness of forgiveness (“for with You is forgiveness”), and
“redemption” refers to His redeeming man from his sins, as we read in the
conclusion of the psalm: “And He will redeem Israel
from all of their sins."
has brought about this change of atmosphere? The answer to this question will
become clear after we discuss another important matter pertaining to the fourth
command to Israel, at the
beginning of this stanza (“Israel – hope in God!”) comes as a
surprise. The first three stanzas of this psalm are stamped with the individual
personality who stands before God, waiting and hoping for Him. Why does the
psalmist now set aside this intimate atmosphere in favor of an appeal to
Israel? And where has
Israel even been mentioned thus
detected a somewhat similar phenomenon earlier on in the first half of the
psalm, in the transition between the first and the second stanzas: the first
stanza is characterized by personal, intimate experience, while in the second
stanza the “I” of the speaker retreats, making no further reference to himself
in the first person. This is the result of the worshipper having brought to mind
a general truth which applies not only to him personally, but to God’s
relationship with all of mankind, including himself. This general truth eases
the distress that was voiced in the first stanza.
the third stanza, the worshipper is deeply and intensively hoping for God’s
appearance and awaiting His word. Is God’s appearance a certainty? Will the
worshipper hear God’s word, “salachti”? He would like to believe so, but
it would seem that it is not so certain; hence the hints of distress and
suffering in this stanza.
this point the worshipper reminds himself that what applies to him personally is
not the same as what applies to Israel as a nation. With regard to
the nation, there is no doubt as to God’s positive response, bestowing His
kindness of forgiveness and redemption from sins.
the appeal to Israel at the
beginning of the fourth stanza: “Israel – have hope in the Lord” – as
I have hope in Him. But your help, Israel, will certainly be granted a
positive response, because with regard to you collectively, “With God is
kindness, and great redemption is with Him.”
this point forward, the individual worshipper is included amongst all of
Israel, and his own waiting and
hoping becomes part of theirs. His confidence in God’s response to them now
includes himself; hence the change in atmosphere in this
Soloveitchik’s essays on teshuva – “The Individual and
the Community” – addresses precisely this point: the difference between the
individual and the collective when it comes to atonement for sins and God’s
positive response to man who stands before Him.
To quote just a few lines from this complex and wonderful essay:
difference between individual and communal confession is tremendous. When the
individual confesses he does so from a state of insecurity, depression and
despair in the wake of sin. For
what assurance has he that he will be acquitted of his sins? ... In contrast,
Knesset Israel… confesses out of a sense
of confidence and even rejoicing for it does so in the presence of a loyal ally,
before its most beloved one.”
Conclusion of the psalm
is very important to note that the intense hope for God’s appearance and for His
redemptive word is not fulfilled within the body of the psalm; it remains open.
This in no way implies that God’s response is not assured. After the fourth
stanza it is certain, but nevertheless it is not described within the body of
the psalm. This is not a deficiency, but rather integral to the psalmist’s
were periods of Jewish history when the hope for God’s word, uttering
“salachti," was answered with an explicit prophecy declaring, “I have
forgiven as you have spoken." There were other periods, when prophecy had
already ceased and a crimson thread served the purpose of expressing God’s
direct response to Israel, albeit in a silent and
For most of our history, however, neither the nation as a whole nor individuals
received a response in the form of prophecy or through the evidence of the
crimson thread. Throughout this time, there was no dimming of the hope in the
heart of either the individual or the Jewish people as a whole for the
appearance of God and the sound of His word. Along with this hope there was a
certainty that God would response positively to the hope and waiting of Israel,
and of each individual comprising the nation. However, we have not merited a
clear and explicit response. Our psalm therefore gives expression to the
experience of these many generations.
conclusion of the psalm, at verse 8, is meant to alleviate somewhat the sense of
deficiency that arises from the body of the psalm with regard to God’s response.
It is difficult, as it were, to come to terms with the psalmist’s call to
Israel, in stanza four, which remains
suspended in the air. The reader asks himself, “Did God’s kindness appear to
Israel? Did He redeem them from their
the psalm included another stanza, providing a description of God’s
response, as something happening in the present – as the psalm is being uttered
– then the special purpose of our psalm, as described above, would be damaged.
The conclusion is a sort of compromise: there is no description of God’s actual
response, but it is promised for the future: “He will redeem
Israel from all of their
distancing of the conclusion from the body of the psalm, in terms of the
redemption that God will bring to Israel, is also a distancing from the body of
the speaker, the psalmist: it is no longer the speaker whose words have been
issuing throughout the psalm, since that speaker had addressed Israel in the
second person: “Israel, have hope…”! In the conclusion, the psalmist is a sort
of narrator, who speaks about Israel in the third person, and whose task is to
finish off what the worshipper did not say – what could not have been said: that
the certainty expressed by the worshipper in the fourth stanza, as to God’s
positive response to Israel, is indeed going to happen.
by Kaeren Fish