Tehilliem: Psalm 37 - a Jewish explanation

King David advised his generations not to be jealous of the wicked because they would otherwise take over their bad manners. Have faith in God, let yourself be guided by integrity and God will take care of you. Psalm 37 is an acrostic: every verse or pair of verses follows the aleph-bet (the Hebrew alphabet) except for a few minor irregularities.

Psalm 37 text

Do not be annoyed by bad people, do not be jealous of those who do harm, they wither quickly as grass, they wilt as young green. Trust the Eternal and do the good, inhabit the land and live safely. Seek your happiness with the Eternal, He will give what your heart desires. Put your life in the hands of the Eternal one, trust in Him, He will do this for you: justice will bear as the morning light, justice will shine as the midday sun.


See the innocent, look at the upright: those who are peaceful have the future. But sinners are destroyed, there is no future for the bad man. The righteous find salvation with the Eternal, He is their refuge in times of need. The Eternal One has always helped and delivered them, He now also delivers them from sinners, He saves them, for they are hiding with Him.

Text of Psalm 37 in Hebrew

א לְדָוִד אַל-תִּתְחַר בַּמְּרֵעִים אַל-תְּקַנֵּא בְּעֹשֵׂי עַוְלָה. ב כִּי כֶחָצִיר מְהֵרָה יִמָּלוּ וּכְיֶרֶק דֶּשֶׁא יִבּוֹלוּן. ג בְּטַח בַּיהוָה וַעֲשֵׂה-טוֹב שְׁכָן-אֶרֶץ וּרְעֵה אֱמוּנָה. ד וְהִתְעַנַּג עַל-יְהוָה וְיִתֶּן-לְךָ מִשְׁאֲלֹת לִבֶּךָ. ה גּוֹל עַל-יְהוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ וּבְטַח עָלָיו וְהוּא יַעֲשֶׂה. ו וְהוֹצִיא כָאוֹר צִדְקֶךָ וּמִשְׁפָּטֶךָ כַּצָּהֳרָיִם. ז דּוֹם לַיהוָה וְהִתְחוֹלֵל-לוֹאַל-תִּתְחַר בְּמַצְלִיחַ דַּרְכּוֹ בְּאִישׁ עֹשֶׂה מְזִמּוֹת. ח הֶרֶף מֵאַף וַעֲזֹב חֵמָה אַל-תִּתְחַר אַךְ-לְהָרֵעַ. ט כִּי-מְרֵעִים יִכָּרֵתוּן וְקֹוֵי יְהוָה הֵמָּה יִירְשׁוּ-אָרֶץ. י וְעוֹד מְעַט וְאֵין רָשָׁע וְהִתְבּוֹנַנְתָּ עַל-מְקוֹמוֹ וְאֵינֶנּוּ. יא וַעֲנָוִים יִירְשׁוּ-אָרֶץ וְהִתְעַנְּגוּ עַל-רֹב שָׁלוֹם. יב זֹמֵם רָשָׁע לַצַּדִּיק וְחֹרֵק עָלָיו שִׁנָּיו. יג אֲדֹנָי יִשְׂחַק-לוֹ כִּי-רָאָה כִּי-יָבֹא יוֹמוֹ. יד חֶרֶב פָּתְחוּ רְשָׁעִים וְדָרְכוּ קַשְׁתָּםלְהַפִּיל עָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן לִטְבוֹחַ יִשְׁרֵי-דָרֶךְ. טו חַרְבָּם תָּבוֹא בְלִבָּם וְקַשְּׁתוֹתָם תִּשָּׁבַרְנָה. טז טוֹב-מְעַט לַצַּדִּיק מֵהֲמוֹן רְשָׁעִים רַבִּים. יז כִּי זְרוֹעוֹת רְשָׁעִים תִּשָּׁבַרְנָה וְסוֹמֵךְ צַדִּיקִים יְהוָה. יח יוֹדֵעַ יְהוָה יְמֵי תְמִימִם וְנַחֲלָתָם לְעוֹלָם תִּהְיֶה. יט לֹא-יֵבֹשׁוּ בְּעֵת רָעָה וּבִימֵי רְעָבוֹן יִשְׂבָּעוּ. כ כִּי רְשָׁעִים יֹאבֵדוּ וְאֹיְבֵי יְהוָה כִּיקַר כָּרִים כָּלוּ בֶעָשָׁן כָּלוּ. כא לֹוֶה רָשָׁע וְלֹא יְשַׁלֵּם וְצַדִּיק חוֹנֵן וְנוֹתֵן. כב כִּי מְבֹרָכָיו יִירְשׁוּ אָרֶץ וּמְקֻלָּלָיו יִכָּרֵתוּ. כג מֵיְהוָה מִצְעֲדֵי-גֶבֶר כּוֹנָנוּ וְדַרְכּוֹ יֶחְפָּץ. כד כִּי-יִפֹּל לֹא-יוּטָל כִּי-יְהוָה סוֹמֵךְ יָדוֹ. כה נַעַר הָיִיתִי גַּם-זָקַנְתִּיוְלֹא-רָאִיתִי צַדִּיק נֶעֱזָב וְזַרְעוֹ מְבַקֶּשׁ-לָחֶם. כו כָּל-הַיּוֹם חוֹנֵן וּמַלְוֶה וְזַרְעוֹ לִבְרָכָה. כז סוּר מֵרָע וַעֲשֵׂה-טוֹב וּשְׁכֹן לְעוֹלָם. כח כִּי יְהוָה אֹהֵב מִשְׁפָּט וְלֹא-יַעֲזֹב אֶת-חֲסִידָיו לְעוֹלָם נִשְׁמָרוּוְזֶרַע רְשָׁעִים נִכְרָת. כט צַדִּיקִים יִירְשׁוּ-אָרֶץ וְיִשְׁכְּנוּ לָעַד עָלֶיהָ. ל פִּי-צַדִּיק יֶהְגֶּה חָכְמָה וּלְשׁוֹנוֹ תְּדַבֵּר מִשְׁפָּט. לא תּוֹרַת אֱלֹהָיו בְּלִבּוֹ לֹא תִמְעַד אֲשֻׁרָיו. לב צוֹפֶה רָשָׁע לַצַּדִּיק וּמְבַקֵּשׁ לַהֲמִיתוֹ. לג יְהוָה לֹא-יַעַזְבֶנּוּ בְיָדוֹ וְלֹא יַרְשִׁיעֶנּוּ בְּהִשָּׁפְטוֹ. לד קַוֵּה אֶל-יְהוָה וּשְׁמֹר דַּרְכּוֹ וִירוֹמִמְךָ לָרֶשֶׁת אָרֶץבְּהִכָּרֵת רְשָׁעִים תִּרְאֶה. לה רָאִיתִי רָשָׁע עָרִיץ וּמִתְעָרֶה כְּאֶזְרָח רַעֲנָן. לו וַיַּעֲבֹר וְהִנֵּה אֵינֶנּוּ וָאֲבַקְשֵׁהוּ וְלֹא נִמְצָא. לז שְׁמָר-תָּם וּרְאֵה יָשָׁר כִּי-אַחֲרִית לְאִישׁ שָׁלוֹם. לח וּפֹשְׁעִים נִשְׁמְדוּ יַחְדָּו אַחֲרִית רְשָׁעִים נִכְרָתָה. לט וּתְשׁוּעַת צַדִּיקִים מֵיְהוָה מָעוּזָּם בְּעֵת צָרָה. מ וַיַּעְזְרֵם יְהוָה וַיְפַלְּטֵם יְפַלְּטֵם מֵרְשָׁעִים וְיוֹשִׁיעֵם כִּי-חָסוּ בוֹ.

Explanation of Psalm 37

Do not compete with the wicked

Never compete with the wicked. Their hollow existence is not worth our sorrow and pain. Their success is an illusion. When the grass is cut off from the root, the grass is no longer greener on the other side. They must be fed by others and cannot live their own lives.

Act in faith

Doing good while evil is around is acting in faith. Trust God as the Jews in the desert trusted God in their booths. This belief only strengthens faith. When we focus on God we will be rewarded.

Sukkah

When Jews are in the sukkah during the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) they are not distracted. They only look at pictures of the tzadik germ (righteous ones) on the walls that paved the path for them. Everything is possible if we focus on what we really need.

Hashem is always with us

We do not have to grieve for what seems unreasonable. God has given us his greatest gift: He is always with us. If we do the right thing - the will of HaShem - then our integrity will be visible to everyone.

Test

The most difficult test is to remain steadfast against the success of the wicked. Our sukkah seems fragile to the sturdy houses of the wicked. But they miss Hashem's mitzvot. We have a vision, they lack it.

Further explanation of the Jewish comments above

The wicked is successful. He must always score to caress his ego. As soon as he is no longer materially successful, he becomes depressed. For him, life is then only a hollow existence. Should we be jealous of the success of these wicked people? No! The purpose of existence is not to be successful. Of course it is nice to live a happy life, but true happiness only comes from God. He wants us to become happy by serving Him (serve God in joy). This can be done by living His laws. For the Jews these are the 613 mitzvot and for the non-Jews the Noachidic commandments. These guidelines are valid forever and lead to a perfect world. It is not about our ego but about Creation as a whole. What could be better than creating a perfect world in which every person is happy? We do not achieve this by pursuing our own success or acting egoistically, but by altruistic behavior. Successful people are people who follow God's laws and thus restore the world (tikkoen olam). The world can only be restored when we start with ourselves (tikkoen atsmo). By constantly working on ourselves, transforming ourselves into a perfect human being in God's image, we will be successful. Comply with God's laws and be a partner in God's Creation. That is the purpose of existence. And that is anything but a hollow existence.

Video: Psalm 45, Jewish Yemen Tradition, Aharon Amram - תהלים מ"ה למנצח על שושנים, תימן, אהרן עמרם (April 2020).

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