The psalm that David wrote for the dedication of the אוהל הארון (דברי הימים א טז:ח-לו) is composed of three parts. The first and last correspond to תהילים קה-קו, and we’ve looked at them in detail. They are all about the history of the Jewish people and ה׳’s protection of them. The middle part corresponds to תהילים פרק צו, שירו לה׳ שיר חדש, and it is very different:
It’s a nice sentiment, but it doesn’t seem to belong with the rest of דברי הימים א טז. Where does it come from?
We’re going to have to put a few pieces together. Let’s start with the return of the ארון from its Philistine captivity, a return that would not be complete until our story of David bringing the ארון to Jerusalem:
(The gemara in עבודה זרה כד,ב brings this discussion and adds ר׳ שמואל בר נחמני אמר: (תהילים צג) ”ה׳ מלך גאות לבש“.)
Now, this is aggadic, so, to paraphrase Salma Zito, we need to take it seriously but not literally.
This idea, of the wordless שירה of nature, comes from תהילים:
רבי שמואל בר נחמן felt that the “song” of the cows represented the שירה of the Levites from the time of Moshe. The purpose of the miracle of the cows was to restore the service in the משכן that was unfortunately delayed for 20 years. Their actions were a שירה. David Hirschhorn had asked, when we looked at הודו לה׳ קראו בשמו, whether David wrote it at that time or just used the older song in his new אוהל. I think this Midrash reflects that question. In the reading of רבי שמואל בר נחמן, what the Jews heard in the lowing of the cows was the restoration of the service in the משכן. Each Tanna had an opinion about what that original שירה was. There had to have been some sort of שירה:
What were these different opinions? שירת הים was clearly a שירה written by Moshe. The last opinion, of a song that appears nowhere else, I will not deal with now. The opinion of הודו לה׳ קראו בשמו would say that the psalm of David in דברי הימים א טז, in its entirety, existed previously. The other opinions include תהלים צג and צו through צט.
Why would we claim that Moshe wrote those chapters of תהילים? The only one that is explicitly attributed to him is תהלים צ, תפלה למשה. But it seems that there are more:
Rashi gets this from the midrash:
(I think that דברי נבואה shouldn’t be taken literally; ספר תהילים is in כתובים. Moshe sometimes writes ברוח הקרש, not at the level באספקלריא המאירה.)
These are the eleven:
תפלה למשה איש האלקים
ישב בסתר עליון
מזמור שיר ליום השבת
ה׳ מלך גאות לבש
א־ל נקמות ה׳
לכו נרננה לה׳
שירו לה׳ שיר חדש
ה׳ מלך תגל הארץ
מזמור שירו לה׳ שיר חדש
ה׳ מלך ירגזו עמים
Note that our perakim, 93 and 96 through 99, are included.
The midrash explains that each of these eleven were intended for a different audience:
I have to admit that it’s a stretch to see each of these תהילים corresponding to a specific tribe. I would rather (based on Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky) understand them in the context of a specific purpose. תפלה למשה and ישב בסתר עליון (which really are one unified psalm) was a prayer for the inauguration of the mishkan:
But what about the rest?
For that, we have to go back even further, to שעבוד מצרים:
פרעה tells Moshe that he won’t let the people go; they are just lazy and should not spend time (ישעו) with lies.
The verb ישעו appears in תנ״ך as a noun, שעשע, pasttime, often associated with Torah:
The midrash connects these uses of the word:
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky speculates on these מגילות:
In this reading, מזמור שיר ליום השבת is literally true; it was a song for שבת, their only day of rest. And it doesn’t talk about the halachic שבת since that wasn’t relevant then; it’s all about hope. “Things get better”. The Jews needed that in the depths of their slavery, and then Pharaoh took it away from them.
So Moshe is seen as writing these samizdat scrolls, to keep the Israelites' hopes up in the depth of their oppression. This explains מזמור שיר ליום השבת. It is also a powerful way to read א־ל נקמות ה׳, as a call for divine vengeance. But the other perakim don’t fit this model.
So we can understand perakim 90, 91, 92 and 94. Perek 100 is explicitly the מזמור לתודה, the שירה of the קרבן תודה. What about the rest?
So I’m going to speculate. The middle perakim, 93 and 96-99, were written for the original עבודה in the משכן. Whether all or some, or different ones on different days, I don’t know. That’s the essence of the argument in the midrash (which also appears in עבודה זרה כד,ב). That’s why, in this model, David stuck תהילים צו in the middle of his עבודה: it was the original שירה and David composed a sort of prelude and coda for it.
I’m going to look at 96 now, the שיר חדש psalm, and 98 (the other שיר חדש psalm); 93, 97 and 99 are all ה׳ מלך psalms, celebrating the rule of G-d over all the world. We’ll have to look at those later.
As we said above, תהילים צו is a universal song, a call to the entire world to serve ה׳.
It explicitly calls for a שיר חדש, a “new” song. Previously, only בני ישראל recognized ה׳; Moshe is now calling on the entire world . This is in fact the mission of the מקדש; as Isaiah says:
When the משכן was built, this was still the goal. בני ישראל would enter ארץ ישראל in the next month and then the מקדש would be established for all eternity:
So what is a שיר חדש? What makes this (the “song of משיח”) different?
I don’t want to get too mystical, but the later Kabbalists were sensitive to the nuances of the language of תהילים and used that language to describe their elaborate mystical systems. It’s important to note that “masculine” and “feminine” here have nothing to do with real men and women; men are not more “masculine” and women not more “feminine”. חסד is masculine, דין is feminine. It is using biology as a metaphor for other concepts, like the terms ”male“ and “female” for pipes or electrical connections.
In terms of our שיר, masculine is the infinite potential of the עתיד לבא. Feminine is the limited reality we live in now. A song of the potential future is a שיר. This is the song of ביאת משיח, the end of history. ה׳ will be the acknowledged ruler of all humanity and we will live in a perfectly just society.
בשרו מיום ליום ישועתו
גדול ה׳ ומהלל מאד
David borrows this phrase for his תהילה לדוד:
We previously explained this idea of לגדלתו אין חקר: David wants to praise ה׳ every day and forever, but it’s impossible. ה׳'s greatness is incomprehensible. The solution is to look at how previous generations praised ה׳: דור לדור ישבח מעשיך. David has to quote older sources (like our perek) to justify his own תהילים.
כל אלהי העמים אלילים
Moshe is addressing the nations of the world, who have to first give up their idolatry, the idea that there are other powers in the world.
But is it really necessary for the nations to give up their idols? Is monolatry, or even polytheism, acceptable for non-Jews?
How can we say that ה׳ ”אינו חושש“ about non-Jews worshiping other gods? Isn’t the prohibition of עבודה זרה one of the שבעה מצוות בני נח?
The question is a complex one, but the Rama concludes that the halacha is that it is acceptable for non-Jews to believe in שיתוף, believing G-d has “partners” in running the universe:
And even in the times of משיח, when the entire world will recognize that ה׳ is the one true G-d, it may be that other religions will still exist (the Rambam is much more חמור on this issue, but the רמ״א certainly has some authority).
When we have an ambiguous pasuk in תנ״ך, we usually understand that both meanings are implicit in the text, that the ambiguity is intentional. I would propose that the same is true here. We, as believing Jews, are required to put the pause between אלהי העמים אלילים and וה׳ שמים עשה. But the nations that will come to know the sovereignty of G-d, ספרו בגוים כבודו, may be allowed to read it all together. One part of the Messianic future is לֹא יִשְׂאוּ גּוֹי אֶל גּוֹי חֶרֶב, and part of that will be the religious tolerance implied in כָּל הָעַמִּים יֵלְכוּ אִישׁ בְּשֵׁם אֱלֹהָיו.
הוד והדר לפניו
As I said in the shiur on תהילים פרק קד, הוד והדר is a common phrase, with as many translations as there are commentators on תהילים and the סידור. I would start from Rav Schwab’s explanation in Rav Schwab on Prayer, p. 118: הוד is from the word הֵד, “echo”, and הדר comes from the root meaning “returning” or “reflecting”. Thus the words that JPS translate as “glory and majesty” refer to the reflection or echo of ה׳’s power in the world around us. We cannot experience it directly; we only see its reflection (I’m not going to go into the distinction between הוד and הדר now; I will just take it as a merism). Here, that reflection is in מקדשו, as manifest as עז, strength,and תפארת (in תהילים) or חדוה (in דברי הימים).
ויתעצב אל לבו is interpreted as, “G-d was saddened about his heart, the heart of humanity”. Mankind had free will (לבו) and made bad choices, but ה׳ waited for 10 generations (the עז) and even then there was חדוה, joy, for the potential that remained. In the version in תהילים, the word is תפארת, which in kabbalah corresponds to the heart and the balance of דין and חסד.עז ותפארת במקדשו reflects the idea that ה׳ will judge the world, as the perek ends, כי בא לשפט הארץ.
עז ותפארת במקדשו is used in עלינו today as a reference to the rebuilding of the בית המקדש:
Rabbi Eisemann in the Artscroll Divrei Hayamim (p. 434) explains the difference between the wording in תהילים and the wording in דברי הימים based on the difference in context. David in דברי הימים was reciting this when the ארון was brought to Jerusalem. There was no מקדש yet and no manifestation of תפארת. All he could talk about was G-d’s joy in the potential, in the place that would become the מקדש,מקמו של הקב״ה. The version in תהילים was intended for use in the actual בית המקדש, so it makes sense to talk about תפארת במקדשו.
הבו לה׳ כבוד ועז
David will borrow these words for תהילים כט:
Just as today, we declare ה׳ is מלך, in the future all the nations will acknowledge His dominion, לתקן עולם במלכות ש־די.
In the moment that ה׳ is acknowledged king over all mankind, He will judge the nations but all will agree that his judgment is fair, במישרים. And it’s important to note that תבל means “the inhabited world”; תכון תבל בל תמוט does not refer to the planet being fixed in space, but to society being stable:
It’s interesting that the earliest versions of עלינו read לתכן עולם במלכות ש־די, not לתקן. The second paragraph is not about “repairing the world” but about establishing the rule of ה׳, taken from our phrase.
ישמחו השמים ותגל הארץ
And when G-d is Judge, the physical world celebrates as well.
The physical world, the earth and the heavens, will rejoice כי בא לשפט…תבל בצדק because that is what they were created for. When human society reaches its potential, then the universe reaches its potential. And that is the purpose of the מקדש that Moshe would have built.