Rav Elchanan Samet
59: Psalm 122 – "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Part
A Song of Ascents of David.
I was glad when they said to me:
We are going to the house of the Lord.
feet were standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem that is built.
It is like a city that is united together.
(4) For the
tribes went up there, the tribes of the Lord,
a testimony to Israel, to give thanks to the name of the
there they sat on thrones for judgment,
the thrones of the house of David.
for the peace of Jerusalem.
May they prosper who love you.
peace be within your walls,
prosperity within your palaces.
(8) For my
brothers' and companions' sakes
may I now say: Peace be within you.
(9) For the
sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.
THE FOUR STANZAS OF THE PSALM
Joel Brill, at the end of his short commentary to our psalm,
adds an unusual comment:
pleasant and becoming is this short poem
is wholly delightful, entirely sweet
the intelligent reader will perceive.
goes without saying that this heartfelt comment does not substitute for a
systematic analysis of the psalm. Only the "intelligent reader" – who invests
his finest intellectual powers in reading the psalm – will merit to taste the
sweetness of "this short poem."
Our psalm, as we presented it at the beginning our study, is divided into
four stanzas. The first stanza is comprised of three lines (three verses),
whereas the rest of the stanzas are comprised of two lines/verses in each
This division is based first and foremost on the style of the psalm.
Apart from the first stanza, which we shall discuss below, the rest of the
stanzas are built around a striking doubling in the two lines of each stanza. In
each stanza, one or more words are repeated in each of the two lines of the
stanza in a fixed place. In some of the stanzas, the two lines also have a
similar grammatical structure, which creates parallelism between the two lines
of the stanza.
Let us illustrate this with regard to stanzas 2-4:
Jerusalem. May they prosper who love
within your walls, prosperity within your palaces.
the sakes of
brothers and companions
I now say:
be within you.
the sake of
house of the Lord our God
Stanza 1 clearly differs from the three stanzas that follow it: it
consists of three lines which exhibit no doubling or parallelism. On the
contrary, they follow one upon the other in logical and chronological
succession. The stylistic connection between the lines in this stanza accords
with this character. It is a linking connection; that is to say, the end of one
line is connected to the beginning of the line that follows.
The connection between the end of the first line and the beginning of the
second line is based on linguistic contrast:
are going / Our feet were standing
this means is that after "going" from the city of the psalm's speaker, he, along
with many other people, arrive at the gates of Jerusalem. When they reach that
place, close to their final destination (the house of the Lord), "our feet were
standing" for a short period, so that they could take in the view of the city
unfolding before them and so that they could prepare for the welcome that they
would receive (see the mishna brought in the previous section and note
connection between the end of the second line and the beginning of the third
line is the repetition of the word "Jerusalem." This means that while their feet
are standing at the gates of Jerusalem, they contemplate the city that reveals
itself in its entirety before them, and from their mouths issues forth the cry:
"Jerusalem that is built."
structure of the psalm is based primarily on the psalm's style (only regarding
stanza 1 did we go a little bit into its contents). The question that rises now
is whether this division into four stanzas also has substantive meaning. Is the
doubling that is characteristic of stanzas 2-4 a means for expressing a certain
idea, and is it the same or a similar idea in all of the stanzas? And is there
continuity of any kind between the stanzas? Before we attempt to answer these
questions, let us make several exegetical comments about the four stanzas of the
EXEGETICAL COMMENTS REGARDING THE FOUR STANZAS
Stanza 1: Two stylistic phenomena call for our attention in the
first two lines of this stanza. First, there is the past tense of the verbs
"samachti" ("I was glad") and "omedot hayu" ("were standing").
proposes two possible ways to understand this past tense
This statement is made as if by someone who has gone on pilgrimage to Jerusalem
and on his return he describes how he felt and what he saw there… According to
this explanation, "samachti" is a past tense, and the meaning of
"hayu" is also past tense.
to another explanation, "samachti" is a present tense: "I am glad," and
the statement was made at the time the pilgrims set out on their journey to
Jerusalem. "Omedot hayu" – here too it is a present tense: "Behold, they
the body of his commentary, Amos Chakham adopts the first explanation, and in
the conclusion to the psalm he clarifies the difference between the two
explanations with respect to the rest of the psalm:
our commentary, we have adopted the interpretation that the psalm reflects the
language of pilgrims who have completed their visit to Jerusalem and are
about to leave the city and return to their homes. The psalmist begins by
describing his joy when he and the members of his group began walking to the
house of the Lord… and he ends with a blessing of farewell, a prayer for
the peace of Jerusalem.
to the second interpretation, it is possible that the whole psalm was recited by
pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem, while they were traveling toward it
and when they stood at the gates of the city as they were about to enter it.
Thus, the blessings of peace were blessings expressed on the arrival of the
pilgrims, and not blessings of departure.
The second stylistic phenomenon that requires explanation is the
transition from first person singular in the first line – "I was glad
when they said to me" – to first person plural in the second line –
"Our feet were standing."
The beginning of this transition is found already at the end of the first
line, in the citation of the words of the "sayers," whose words the speaker was
glad to hear: "We are going to the house of the Lord." Here lies the
explanation of the transition: the tidings about the imminent going to the house
of the Lord reached each and every individual, and therefore "I was glad when
they said to me;" but the going itself was done in a large group, and therefore
"we are going to the house of the Lord" and "our feet were standing."
The most serious exegetical difficulty in our psalm is found in the third
line of stanza 1:
that is built.
is like a city that is united together.
is "a city that is united together"? Various midrashic expositions have been
offered to explain these words, and several explanations have been proposed for
them that adhere to the plain meaning of the text. Let us first examine the
Meiri's understanding of the verse:
that is built – that is to say complete with adorned and elaborate
is like a city that is united together – there being no empty space, but rather
it is all built up and all filled in.
Amos Chakham offers a similar explanation:
her buildings appear to be joined together and to form a unity, without gaps and
empty spaces. The psalmist says "as a city," using the letter kaf as a
comparative prefix… [because] in truth a city cannot exist without streets and
courtyards that separate the buildings.
Another explanation of our verse was recently proposed. The city of
Jerusalem is united together by way of the joining of the western hill – the
upper city (which includes what is called today Mount Zion and the Jewish
Quarter of the Old City), to the eastern hill – the lower city (the City of
The question regarding the time that biblical Jerusalem spread out to the
western hill has been the subject of disagreement among archaeologists for
several generations. Until the Six Day War, the dominant view (supported by the
famous archaeologist Kathleen
maintained that throughout the biblical period, Jerusalem was restricted to the
eastern hill in the City of David. After the war, however, when the upper city
was opened to Israeli archaeologists, Nachman Avigad uncovered in 1970 in the
heart of the Jewish quarter a portion of a very broad wall, which has been
identified as the wall of Jerusalem in the days of Chizkiyahu, putting a final
end to the disagreement.
the upper city and the lower city united together within a single shared wall
even earlier? This question cannot yet be answered with certainty.
way, this attractive explanation explains the pilgrim's excitement about what he
sees before him. It would appear that the project of connecting the two parts of
the city, an enormous and complicated engineering undertaking,
had only recently been completed, and the pilgrim coming to Jerusalem lifts his
eyes in great animation to the city which had spread out over an area
immeasurably greater than its earlier borders. The unification project had
brought the city up to the high ridge towering above the City of David. The city
was filled with new buildings and encompassed by a long, broad wall that turned
the two parts of the city and the valley between them into a "city that is
Six Day War and its consequences have provided a basis for this explanation.
Now, the explanation that we offered on the 28th of Iyyar 5727, that
"like a city that is united together" is united Jerusalem – east and west, that
have become one - is no longer so far from the plain sense of the text. It is
merely an updated version of the other explanation that we have brought. And
since this homiletical explanation preceded the archaeological discoveries that
followed it, we can say that the homiletical explanation has paved the way to
the plain sense of Scripture.
words in the first line, "edut le-Yisrael," require explanation. The Ibn
Ezra seems to have captured their plain sense:
the statute and commandment to come three times.
The word "edut" appears in another four places in the book of
Tehillim in the similar sense of statute and commandment.
And the word "edot" in the sense of laws and commandments appears in
dozens of other places in the book of Tehillim and elsewhere in
It stands to reason that there is a connection between these two words when they
appear in this sense.
Accordingly, the tribes' going up to Jerusalem is "a statute in Israel,"
the reference of course being to the mitzva of making a pilgrimage three
times a year to the place that God will choose.
In the second line of the stanza, the question arises whether the
expressions "thrones for judgment" and "thrones of the house of David," refer to
the same thrones - the words "thrones of the house of David" standing in
apposition to the words, "thrones for judgment" – or whether we are dealing with
two different institutions, the court and the royal house.
The parallelism between the two lines that comprise stanza 2, which we
noted earlier, alludes to the answer. In the first line as well, the subject of
the sentence is repeated:
the tribes went up there, the tribes of the Lord.
Just as the words, "the tribes of the Lord," explain the term "tribes,"
so too the words "thrones of the house of David" explain the words "thrones for
The role of the kings of the house of David to judge those who come to
them for judgment is mentioned in several places in Scripture.
Stanza 3: The speaker in the two clauses of verse 6 directs his
words at two different addressees. In the first clause, he addresses the
pilgrims who came with him to Jerusalem and calls to them, "Pray for the peace
of Jerusalem." In the second line, he directs his words to Jerusalem (about
which he spoke in third person in the previous line), and calls out to it, "May
they prosper who love you." How do these two parts of the verse combine to form
a unified statement?
Rashi, the Ibn Ezra, and the Meiri explain that the words "May they
prosper who love you" constitute a realization of the cry, "Pray for the peace
of Jerusalem." In other words, this is a citation of the words that are supposed
to be (or that are actually) said by the pilgrims in Jerusalem.
This understanding, however, is difficult: Is the peace of the city identical
with the peace of those who love it (apparently the pilgrims arriving for the
festival)? Surely when they say, "May they prosper who love You," they are
praying for themselves, and not for Jerusalem!
More persuasive, then, is the understanding offered by the Radak that we
are dealing here with two separate statements:
– to God for the peace of Jerusalem… and afterwards he says regarding Jerusalem:
May they prosper who love you.
But what is the connection between these two
It seems that the connection between them is one of cause and effect.
Praying for the peace of Jerusalem, should that prayer be accepted, will bestow
benefit upon those very people who offer that prayer. This is explicitly stated
in the words of Yirmiyahu (29:7):
seek the peace of the city…
and pray to the Lord for it [Seek the peace of Jerusalem]; for in its peace
you shall have peace [May they prosper who love
The actual praying for the peace of Jerusalem appears in the second line
of stanza 3, where the pilgrims respond by saying:
peace be within your walls (be-cheilekh),
within your palaces.
The word "cheil" appears several times in Scripture together with
the word "choma,"
and so it stands to reason that it is connected to the city wall, and that it
too serves the city as a means of protection.
The meaning of the prayer, then, is that peace and prosperity – inward
and outward, security and social - should rule in Jerusalem.
Stanza 4: Praying for the good of Jerusalem, "for the sake of the
house of the Lord," is understandable. The good of Jerusalem, the security and
the prosperity that will reign in its midst, guarantee that the house of God
will fulfill its role as the center of Divine service, both on ordinary days and
on the special occasions when the people of Israel make pilgrimages to the
Temple. But the wishing of peace for Jerusalem "for my brothers' and companions'
sakes" requires clarification. How does the peace of Jerusalem impact upon the
speaker's "brothers and companions"?
Tz.P. Chajes explains the words "for my brothers' and companions' sakes"
– "because of my brothers who reside within it, so that no enemy should
come upon them." This limitation, however, is
Amos Chakham suggests that "'my brothers and my companions' are all
the people of Israel, whom the love of Jerusalem unites and makes brothers
and companions." It is more reasonable, however, that "my brothers and my
companions" are the pilgrims, to whom he had previously directed the call, "pray
for the peace of Jerusalem." Here again the words of Yirmiyahu cited above
clarify our verse: "For in its peace [that of Jerusalem] you shall have
Our psalm gives expression to a similar idea. The peace of Israel depends
upon the peace of Jerusalem.
Therefore, "For my brothers' and companions' sakes may I now say, ‘Peace be
by David Strauss)