Who was אָסָף? When David conquered Jerusalem and moved the ארון there, he appointed אָסָף as the chief musician:
And he was more than a singer; תנ״ך calls him a נביא:
12 chapters of תהילים are attributed to him, and they tend to be critical, lesson-oriented psalms. This one is no different.
It is a review of Jewish history from Egypt to contemporary times, going over the miracles that ה׳ did and the mistakes that the people made:
And the example of the sin of the people comes from this week’s parasha:
Here is how the Torah presents it:
And Asaf’s summary:
I would read לכן שמע ה׳…ואש נשקה ביעקב as a reference to the previous incident of תבערה: ”Thus ה׳ had heard and sent a fire“. Asaf is saying that בני ישראל ignored the fact that they had just gone through the punishment for complaining. Therefore וימטר עליהם כעפר שאר, ה׳ sent them the flesh they demanded, then ויהרג במשמניהם.
It’s an accurate, if poetic retelling. But why this story? Of all the times that בני ישראל rebelled, why this? Why not the Golden Calf or the Spies?
I think that what is striking about קברות התאוה is the fact that it is immediately preceded by the incident of תבערה. They complain, get punished, and learn nothing. They immediately start complaining again.
As Asaf puts it:
And that continues in the cycle of Jewish history. The Jews forget ה׳, suffer, call out for mercy, ה׳ forgives them, but then they sin again. That is the message of פסוקים לב-לז. It’s the central theme of ספר שופטים:
And this is the message of תבערה and קברות התאוה. They just got out of one fire and they go and provoke ה׳ again. They never learn. That’s what Asaf wants his audience to hear: ולא יהיו כאבותם דור סורר ומרה.
And that’s where the pasuk of וְהוּא רַחוּם comes in. It’s the halfway point of the perek, the turning point, the volta:
וְהוּא רַחוּם is the statement that ה׳ won’t destroy us completely even when we deserve it, over and over again: וְהִרְבָּה לְהָשִׁיב אַפּוֹ.
And the perek goes on (and on…), ending with the destruction of משכן שילה and addressing David and his new sanctuary in Jerusalem:
It sounds very positive for David, but there is a veiled warning: if you do not stray from ה׳'s word, Jerusalem will be destroyed as well. And this is echoed by ירמיהו 400 years later, with an explicit warning:
So וְהוּא רַחוּם isn’t all that comforting. ה׳ promises לֹא יָעִיר כָּל חֲמָתוֹ, but a lot of death and destruction can come before all of ה׳'s anger is awakened.
This is a harrowing lesson for those of us who consider ourselves Religious Zionists, who say בָּרֵךְ אֶת מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל,
רֵאשִׁית צְמִיחַת גְּאֻלָּתֵנוּ.
There are a number of sources for Rav Herzog’s certainty that there will be no more חורבן. One is from הושע:
But it’s not clear whether וְנִחְיֶה לְפָנָיו is a promise or a condition. We cannot take Israel for granted.