Everything we’ve done recently seems to be overwhelmingly tragic for David, but we have this image of him as always optimistically trusting in ה׳'s providence, never despairing. I think that’s true, and I think that image of him comes from תהילים. As Henry Biberfeld says:
In that spirit, I’d like to cheer us up in זמן שמחתנו and not focus on the tragic but in David’s poetic and religious response.
We have a triptych of short poems:
As Hirsch points out, this is one of two psalms written in the second person addressed, not to ה׳, but to David:
He’s looking in the mirror, talking to himself (or to some abstract leader of Israel).
And he is reassuring that leader that ה׳ will fight for him:
The king is reassured that all his people will volunteer to serve. Hirsch explains that is applies to the adults in the army, but because of the king’s הדרי קדש (”reflections of holiness“), even the youth are his (טל is a metaphor for Torah: (דברים לב:ב) תזל כטל אמרתי).
David compares the king of Israel to the original king of Jerusalem, מלכי צדק:
But that is only true as long as the king is a כהן לא־ל עליון. כהן doesn’t necessarily mean a religious priest; David’s sons are called כהנים in the sense of leaders in the service of the king:
The king of Israel must still be second-in-command to G-d.
The other, more subtle thing that David is doing by calling the king מלכי צדק is establishing a history. David is really the first leader of Israel in Jerusalem but he’s connecting himself to an 800-year history. The kings of Jerusalem were commonly named מלכי צדק or similar:
It’s like NationsBank merging with the bankrupt Bank of America just for the name, or Southwest Bell buying AT&T.
א־דני על ימינך
The metaphor changes. Instead of the king being at ה׳'s right hand, now ה׳ is at his right hand. G-d will do the fighting but the king is still seen as being the leader.
G-d will destroy the blood-thirsty nations (גוים מלא גויות) and their leaders (ראש על ארץ רבה).
מנחל בדרך ישתה
Hirsch interprets מנחל בדרך ישתה as referring to the enemy, “the one who proudly lifts his head”, but most commentators understand this as a metaphor for ה׳. The נחל is a common symbol of the times of משיח, when the word of G-d will flow from the מקדש:
The next perek is a praise of ה׳, arranged in א-ב order.
סוד ישרים ועדה
David is promising to praise ה׳ in two arenas: סוד ישרים and the עדה. סוד doesn’t necessarily mean “secret” but more “private meeting”:
I would read this as referring to two ways of understanding G-d: the exoteric and the esoteric, the hidden truth only known to the elite. David is arguing against the esoteric. The only thing human beings can understand is the greatness of מעשי ה׳, and they are דרושים לכל חפציהם. A similar sentiment is expressed in אשרי:
The psalmist praises ה׳'s actions in general, then specifies:
טרף נתן ליראיו
טרף is an odd word. It means “prey”, “something torn or snatched”:
The pasuk is literally saying “G-d will serve treif to those who fear Him”!
But the usage is intentional. The true ירא sees even his prey, that which he himself caught, as a gift from G-d.
כח מעשיו הגיד לעמו
In addition to ה׳'s providence for the entire world, ה׳ has a special relationship with Israel (and that is also esoteric knowlege):
צוה לעולם בריתו
The perek ends with our duty: now that it has been established that ה׳'s greatness is publicly known; what do we do with that?
Hirsch emphasizes the difference between שלח לעמו and צוה:
קדוש ונורא שמו
The bottom line is that ה׳'s true essence (שמו) is קדוש ונורא; utterly unknowable. There is no esoteric truth to be discovered since we can’t handle the truth. Our חכמה has to start from יראת ה׳ and manifest in עשיהם, fulfilling G-d’s commandments:
אשרי איש ירא את ה׳
This perek continues the theme of the end of the previous one. We praise the ירא ה׳: he will be happy! His children and descendants will be strong and blessed; he will be rich (הון ועשר).
What is a ירא ה׳? He is one who imitates G-d as described in the previous perek: a בעל צדקה: צדקתו עמדת לעד (in context, referring to the ירא). The next pasuk goes back to הקב״ה. ה׳ (who is called חנון ורחום וצדיק) brings light to the righteous, but the pasuk is ambiguous. חנון ורחום וצדיק may also refer to the ירא.
Our purpose is imitatio dei:
טוב איש חונן ומלוה
The perek the goes into detail about what it takes to be a ירא ה׳. The בעל צדקה doesn’t only give; he also lends:
The ירא is also described as פזר נתן לאביונים; פזר means “spread out, scattered”. This teaches us how to give צדקה:
And צדקתו עמדת לעד, just like G-d: (תהילים קיא:ג) וצדקתו עמדת לעד.
רשע יראה וכעס
David’s approach to theodicy was גם זו לטובה: everything is really for the best. The apparent success of the wicked will “melt away and be lost”. It’s the righteous who will עמד לעד.
David would read all the tragedy in ספר שמואל as only temporary. ה׳ has a plan; it will work out in the end.