Rav Elchanan Samet
This shiur is
dedicated by Drs. Jerry and Barbara Belsh.
46: Psalm 112
is the man who fears the Lord" (Part III)
(à) I will thank the Lord with all my
(á) in the assembly of the upright and
in the congregation.
(à) Happy is the man who fears the
(á) who delights greatly in His
(â) The works of the Lord are
(ã) They are available to all who
delight in them.
(â) His seed will be mighty upon the
(ã) The generation of the upright will
(ä) His work is glory and
(å) And His righteousness endures
(ä) Wealth and riches are in his
(å) and his righteousness endures
(æ) He has made a remembrance for His
(ç) The Lord is gracious and
(æ) Light shines in the darkness for the
(ç) the gracious, and the merciful, and
(è) He gives food to those who fear
(é) He remembers His covenant
(è) Good is the man who gives freely and
(é) and who conducts his affairs
(ë) He declared to His people the power
of his works,
(ì) when He gave them the heritage of
(ë) Surely he will never
(ì) The righteous will be in everlasting
(î) The works of His hands are truth and
(ð) All His decrees are
(î) He is not afraid of evil
(ð) His heart is steadfast, trusting in
(ñ) They stand fast forever and
(ò) They are made in truth and
(ñ) His heart is supported, he is not
(ò) until he sees his
(ô) He sends redemption to His
(ö) He has commanded His covenant
(÷) Holy and revered is His
(ô) He disperses freely to the
(ö) His righteousness endures
(÷) His horn will be exalted with
(ø) The fear of the Lord is the
beginning of wisdom,
(ù) good sense for all who do
(ú) His praise endures
(ø) The wicked man will see it and be
(ù) He will grind his teeth and melt
(ú) The hope of the wicked will come to
THE NEED FOR THE THREE CYCLES OF "ACTIONS AND RECOMPENSE"
We have not yet explained why the description of the righteous man's
actions and recompense in psalm 112 is divided into three cycles/stanzas.
Clarification of the unique contents of each stanza will help us in this
The account of the God-fearing man's righteousness in stanza 1 is very
general and relates to the entirety of God's commandments. Stanzas 2-3
illustrate his righteousness in two specific realms: stanza 2 regarding the
mitzvot between man and his fellow and stanza 3 regarding the
mitzvot between man and God.
It should, however, be emphasized that stanzas 2-3 describe much more
than formal observance of the Torah's commandments. The Torah commands, "You
shall not harden your heart, nor shut your hand from your poor brother; but you
shall open your hand wide to him, and shall surely lend him" (Devarim
15:7-8). Not only does the righteous man in our psalm "give freely and lend" to
the poor as the Torah commands, he even "disperses" his money to them – that is,
he gives them gifts, thereby fulfilling what Chazal refer to as "giving
charity" (tzedaka). What is more, he also "shines light in the darkness
for the upright" – that is, he provides emotional support to people in distress,
which is likened to darkness. Similar actions are described in the commands of
it not to share your bread with the hungry,
that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house?
you see the naked, that you cover him;
that you hide not yourself from your own flesh?…
if you draw out your soul to the hungry,
satisfy the afflicted soul… (Yeshayahu 58:7, 10)
Stanza 3 also describes a religious quality of the righteous man that
goes beyond the fear and love of God (discussed in stanza 1): the quality of
trust in God. This quality is tested in times of distress and threat, when a
person's routine world is undermined and he is liable to lose his wits. But the
righteous man in our psalm "is not afraid of evil tidings" because "his heart is
steadfast, trusting in the Lord."
THE PSALM'S CONCLUSION
The conclusion of the psalm and the fact that the clause, "His horn will
be exalted with honor," serves as an introduction to this conclusion, was
already discussed at the beginning of our study of psalm 112. Here I wish only
to discuss the relationship between the stanza's conclusion and stanza 3, which
precedes it. The wicked man's anger and the grinding of his teeth when he sees
the exalted horn of the righteous man are not merely expressions of jealousy.
The Radak explains the physical reaction of grinding teeth: "Were he able to
destroy him, he would do so." It turns out, then, that this wicked man is one of
the enemies of the righteous man mentioned in stanza 3: "until he sees his
The final clause beginning with the letter tof, "The hope of the
wicked will come to naught," seems to refer to "the hope of the wicked to see
evil befall the righteous," as proposed by the Radak. Accordingly, the dashing
of the wicked man's hope certainly results from his fall, and this is precisely
what the righteous man is promised - he will "see [the fall of] his
We see, then, that the psalm's conclusion continues what was stated in
stanza 3, while changing the perspective from contemplation of the righteous man
and his destiny to the complementary consideration of the wicked man and his
STAND FAST FOREVER AND EVER - PSALMS 111-112
alphabetical order in the two psalms – limitation or
our analysis of each of the two psalms, we strove to reveal the structure of
each psalm and the importance of that structure for understanding the general
intent of the psalm as well as its various details. Exposure of the structure of
each of the psalms has taught us that despite the fact that the two psalms were
cast in the same mold and maintain ramified stylistic and substantive
connections between them, each psalm has a structure that is different than that
of the other. In each of the psalms, the structure serves the subject of the
psalm and its unique intention.
the structure of each of the psalms taught us something else as well: The
alphabetic acrostic in these two psalms did not at all impede the free
expression of their ideas and their internal organization in a tight and logical
us formulate this more clearly. The literary analysis could have been undertaken
independently of the acrostic, to the point that the reader might have entirely
overlooked the fact that the verses in these two psalms are arranged in
alphabetical order. Why, then, did the author of psalms 111 and 112 choose to
arrange the psalms around an alphabetical acrostic?
goes without saying that we must not content ourselves with the technical
answer, which can be found among certain modern commentators, that this order
was meant to make it easier to recite these psalms from memory. While it is
undeniable that an alphabetical order is helpful in this regard, there is no
reason why precisely these psalms (and the other alphabetical psalms) were
supposed to be committed to memory any more than the rest of the psalms in the
book of Tehillim.
more convincing explanation relates to the symbolic significance of using all
the letters of the alphabet, whereby the psalmist expresses the idea of
perfection and wholeness.
The acrostic demonstrates that the idea of the psalm can be expressed, and even
must be expressed, in each of the letters of the alphabet, from alef to
tof. A similar notion is expressed through the fact that each of the two
psalms is comprised of ten verses, which is a number that expresses the idea of
perfection in a different way.
phenomenon of a poet accepting upon himself a technical limitation such as an
acrostic (and in later generations, many additional limitations, rhyme being
just one of them) characterizes the history of poetry throughout the ages. For a
true poet, not only does such a limitation not impair his freedom of expression,
but on the contrary, it helps in this regard.
This seems to be paradoxical, but anyone familiar with the poetry of R. Yehuda
Ha-Levi, for example, can see this in almost every one of his poems.
The connections between Psalm 111 and Psalm 112
Now that we have dealt with each of the psalms independently, the time
has come to return to the question that we raised in our introduction to this
pair of psalms: What is the essential connection between them, and does this
connection help us understand each of the psalms, and perhaps even teach us a
new idea that we would not have learned from each psalm on its
"THE FEAR OF THE LORD IS THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM" – "HAPPY IS THE MAN WHO FEARS
will began our discussion of this issue with the most overt and prominent
substantive connection between the two psalms. Verse 10 of psalm 111 serves as
that psalm's conclusion, it being the didactic conclusion of the main body of
the psalm, as we noted in our analysis. At the same time, however, it serves as
a connecting link, or perhaps even as an introduction to psalm 112. Let us
clarify this by comparing this closing verse to the opening clause of psalm
fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
is the man who fears the Lord,
sense for all who do them.
delights greatly in His commandments.
The primary difference between the two verses is that the first one is
formulated as an abstract and general conclusion following from what was stated
previously, whereas the second one concretizes this conclusion in the person of
a particular "man."
Let us now examine the conclusion in verse 10. How does it follow from
the body of psalm 111? In our discussion of this verse at the end of our study
of psalm 111, we demonstrated that its first clause is substantively and
linguistically connected to the first half of the psalm, whereas the second
clause is connected to the second half of the psalm. Let us expand now upon what
was said there.
Why is "the fear of God" the necessary conclusion from the description of
God's greatness in the first half of the psalm? God's greatness is evident in
this half in two areas: in the world that He created and in His providence over
His creatures. The second realm is connected linguistically to the conclusion in
verse 10: "He gives food to those who fear Him" – "The fear of the
Lord is the beginning of wisdom." That is to say, God ensures the continued
existence of those who fear Him, and it is wise to be included among
Fear of God is also the necessary conclusion from contemplation about the
world that God created. The Rambam's words in Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah
(2:1-2) explain this idea:
God, honored and revered, it is our duty to love and fear… And what is the way
that will lead to the love of Him and the fear of Him? When a person
contemplates His great and wondrous works and creatures and from them obtains a
glimpse of His wisdom which is incomparable and infinite, he will
straightway love Him, praise Him, and long with an exceeding longing to know His
great name… And when he ponders these matters, he will recoil affrighted,
and realize that he is a small creature, lowly and obscure, endowed with
slight and slender intelligence, standing in the presence of Him who is perfect
Let us move on now to the second clause of verse 10, "good sense for all
who do them." How does this conclusion follow from the second half of the psalm?
The commentators explained that the pronominal suffix in the word
“oseihem,” "who do them," refers to the decrees described in verses 7-8.
God's decrees and commandments are described in the second half of psalm 111 by
several designations: "truth and justice," "true," "they stand fast forever and
ever," "they are made in truth and uprightness." From this we may conclude that
it is wise and sensible for a person to observe them.
Now, since psalm 112 concretizes what was stated in 111:10 with respect
to the "man" described therein, we can say that contemplation of what was
described in psalm 111 brought the "man" in psalm 112 to be a "man who fears the
Lord, who delights greatly in His commandments."
In our explanation of this verse (in our analysis of psalm 112), we said
that its two clauses describe the qualities of the fear and love of God on the
part of the man described. How does this man come to the love of God? Above we
brought the words of the Rambam in Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah. But in his
Sefer Ha-Mitzvot (positive commandment 3), the Rambam describes a
different path to the love of God:
we should contemplate and look at His commandments and decrees and
actions so that we may comprehend Him… This is the love about which we were
With respect to psalms 111-112, we can formulate this as follows: What is
the path to the love of God and to observing His commandments with great desire?
When a person contemplates God's decrees, as described in psalm 111, and sees in
them His wisdom and uprightness, he will immediately long to observe them with a
It turns out, then, that the man described in psalm 112 is one who
internalized the description of God's greatness in psalm 111 and thanked God
with all his heart for His actions. This man also learned the didactic
conclusion of psalm 111 and applied it in his daily life.
"THE LORD IS GRACIOUS AND MERCIFUL" - "THE GRACIOUS, AND THE MERCIFUL, AND THE
our introduction to this pair of psalms, we noted the stylistic-verbal
similarity between the two, and especially the repetition of clauses found in
one psalm in the other. This repetition is the most prominent phenomenon when we
compare the two psalms, and it stands to reason that it is especially
significant with respect to the question of the essential connection between
two clauses beginning with the letter chet are very
Lord is gracious and merciful.
gracious, and the merciful, and the righteous.
In our explanation of the second stanza of psalm 112, we brought the
prevalent view among the commentators that
"the gracious, and the merciful,
and the righteous" are three designations of God. We conjectured there that they
understood these words in this manner because the words "chanun"
(gracious) and "rachum" (merciful) appear in Scripture only in connection
to God. We raised several objections to this explanation, however, owing to
which we reached the conclusion that this clause is dealing with the righteous
man, who is "gracious and merciful."
truth is that if all we had before us was psalm 112, it would be difficult to
explain these words in this manner. It would be unreasonable to think that the
terms "gracious and merciful" were assigned to man in only one place in
Scripture. But the proximity of psalm 112 to psalm 111 makes this explanation
possible. In psalm 111, it says about God that He is "gracious and merciful,"
and in psalm 112 it says about the righteous man that he follows in his
Creator's footsteps and adopts His qualities, to the point that he, too, is
"gracious and merciful."
This is what the Sages (Sifrei, Parashat Ekev, sec. 49) taught on the
verse, "To love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways" (Devarim
are God's ways? "The Lord, God, merciful and gracious" (Shemot 34:6)…
Rather, the Omnipresent is called "merciful," you too be merciful; the Holy One,
blessed be He, is called "gracious," you too be gracious, as it is stated, "The
Lord is gracious and merciful, etc.,"
and make free gifts; the Omnipresent is called "righteous," as it is stated,
"For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness" (Tehillim 11:7), you
too be righteous. The Omnipresent is called "kind," as it is stated, "For I am
kind, says the Lord" (Yirmiyahu 3:12), you too be kind.
It turns out, then, that the juxtaposition of psalms 111-112 not only
helps us understand a difficult verse in psalm 112,
but also give rise to a new idea that we would not have arrived at had we
studied each of the psalms independently: The God-fearing man who delights in
His commandments must imitate God's ways and adopt those qualities with which
God is described and which are relevant to man as well.
"AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER"
clause that is found in both psalms is the clause beginning with the letter
His righteousness endures forever.
psalm 112, this clause appears once again in the letter tzadi, and in a
slightly different form in the letter lamed: "The righteous will be in
everlasting remembrance." We have already seen that these three clauses serve as
a refrain at the end of each of the three stanzas, which constitute the main
body of psalm 112.
repetition cannot be explained in the way that we explained above the repetition
of the words "gracious and merciful." This follows from the different context in
which the clause "His righteousness endures forever" appears in each psalm; the
different context determines also a different explanation.
psalm 111, this clause appears in the context of a description of God's works in
creation (letters gimmel to zayin), and therefore it should be
understood as it was understood by the Radak: "And His righteousness – namely,
the entire world, for it is righteousness from Him to His creatures, stands
forever." Man, who is one of the creations in God's world and not the Creator,
cannot follow here in the footsteps of God.
psalm 112, this clause appears twice, at the end of the description of the
righteous man's reward in stanzas 1 and 3. "Reward" is something human by its
very definition, and irrelevant to a description of God's
then, is the meaning of the repetition of the clause "and His righteousness will
endure forever" in the two psalms in such different contexts? What does it come
to teach us?
psalms 111-112, two synonymous words repeat themselves in striking fashion:
"la-ad" and "le-olam" ("forever"). In psalm 111, they
appear 6 times,
and in psalm 112 they appear 4 times.
Their repetition in psalm is 111 is understandable: this psalm describes God's
greatness, which finds expression in the eternality of His works. The world that
He created, the commandments that He gave, and the covenant that He made will
all endure "forever," and God's praise itself will "endure
appearance of these synonyms in psalm 112, which describes man, is, however,
somewhat surprising: "Man that is born of a woman is of a few days, and full of
trouble" (Iyov 14:1). How is he connected to the eternality expressed in
the words "la-ad" and "le-olam"?
juxtaposition of psalms 111 and 112 and the stylistic similarity between them
come to teach us precisely this: The reward of the God-fearing man who walks in
God's ways ("Just as He is gracious, you too be gracious…") is that an element
of the eternal is conferred upon him by the Eternal one.
we can understand the paradoxical connection between the matching clauses
beginning with the letter vav in the two psalms. God's works in the world
that He created are eternal and endure forever. But it is only creation as a
whole that is eternal, for the particulars constantly change. Man, too, is one
of the particulars of creation; he comes from dust and ends in dust. He himself
is temporary and his works are temporary, lacking any
one realm, however, man can imitate his Creator and "create" something eternal;
his good traits and deeds – "his righteousness" – endure forever. Through his
good deeds, a person can remove himself from the category of transient beings
and acquire for himself a place in God's eternal house.
turns out, then, that God's "righteousness" in psalm 111 is the material world
that He created from above to below (as explained by the Radak), whereas man's
"righteousness" in psalm 112 is his clinging to the path of God, which bursts
forth from earthly man in the lower world and climbs upwards to the region of
eternity. Regarding both of them it says that they endure
by David Strauss)
We refer to verse 4 in its entirety, "He shines light in the darkness for the
upright, the gracious, and the merciful, and the righteous," for if we
understand the second clause as referring to the righteous man, it is reasonable
to understand that the subject of the first clause is also the righteous man,
and that the word "zarach" is a transitive verb. See our comments on this
verse in the previous lecture.