At this point, David is on the run from Avshalom. We talked about his teshuva and we know how this ends, but David is looking at the complete destruction of everything he has worked for. There is a pair of perakim of תהילים that deal with this. I will treat פרק ע and פרק עא as a single unit, since פרק עא does not start with a כותרת. The division of תנ״ך into chapters is a non-Jewish invention, and there is a fair amount of discussion in the gemara about where the divisions in תהילים are.
This is the psalm of old age, of looking back and trying to turn the details of life into a story.
Taken as a whole, the two chapters divide into two parts at עא:יג:
The first half is a sort of anthology of other perakim of תהילים; a look back at who he was and the troubles of his life. He says (פסוק ע:ו) אני עני ואביון. The second part is a look ahead: לשוני כל היום תהגה צדקתך.
We previously looked at the parallel psukim to this perek, in תהילים מ, in the essay The Pause that Refreshes. That dealt with the immediate reaction to the Bat Sheva affair, and David’s humiliation in the eyes of the public.
This is David’s prayer, 15 years later, almost identical.
The differences are slight: תהילים פרק מ has “יחד” and “לי” in the second and third verses. That was more personal. Here the nation is falling apart; there is no יחד anymore. And there is an extra חושה here. Time is running out.
And his prayer is not for the death of his enemies, just for יבשו ויחפרו. בושה, embarrassment, has a very specific meaning in תהילים. It refers to the shame of praying to ה׳ and not being answered (realizing that sometimes, “No” is an answer; the shame is in being ignored entirely). Thus (תהילים כב:ו) אליך זעקו ונמלטו; בך בטחו ולא בושו.
The psalm continues with a quote from תהילים לא, which was from when David was on the run from Saul; see The Valley of the Shadow of Death. This is almost 40 years later, but the words are the same.
The most prominent difference is that “צור מעוז לבית מצודות”, has become “צור מעון לבוא תמיד”. The image of G-d as a fortress has become the image of G-d as a temple. David’s priorities have changed, echoing the תפלה למשה:
And then, an original pasuk:
Radak notes that David has two enemies, Avshalom who is simply wrong, and Achitophel who is warped and חומץ. Radak translates this as חומס, ”violent“, but I think the literal meaning of חומץ works here: “soured”. Achitophel was David’s friend and confidant, who turns against him in the aftermath of the Bat Sheva affair.
And then he alludes to תהילים כב, which is the perek of despair (א־לי א־לי למה עזבתני). We looked at this in the context of David’s reaction to Amnon’s murder, in Father of Peace.
David feels his role in history was predestined. There has to be some significance to his life, because ה׳ created him for this role. And therefore, he adds, בך תהלתי תמיד, I will always tell of Your greatness, and I will be a living example for others. My existence is intended to be that of a character in the theological novel You are writing, the תנ״ך:
And now we get to the climax of the perek:
Here I was the great king of Israel, the founder of an empire, soon to be the fulfillment of all the prophecies of אחרית הימים, and now I have nothing. I could deal with the loss of the kingship, but losing the relationship with הקב״ה is unbearable: לאמר אלקים עזבו is the worst punishment of all. How can I say ימלא פי תהלתך if תרחק ממני?
And then he echoes the beginning of this psalm, forming an inclusio that sums up his feelings:
In the second part, David looks at what he sees as his role from now on, not to act as a model in his actual behavior (כמופת הייתי לרבים) but to be the author of ספר תהילים: הוספתי על כל תהלתך.
אבוא בגברות is ambiguous. Most מפרשים translate it as גברות of אדנ־י ה׳, but there is a hint of “I come בגברות , O אדנ־י ה׳”. גברות is a reference to old age, an age that David will not attain:
And the expression אדנ־י ה׳ is an allusion to the first time it was used:
Avraham was concerned about his legacy, what would happen to all his work after he is gone. David has the same concern:
David continues to look back, and look forward:
עד זקנה ושיבה is now a message of hope: עד אגיד זרועך לדור. I am part of a chain that stretches from generation to generation.
That chain of generations is important, because the very idea of praising ה׳ is a chutzpah:
David accepts all the trouble that he has endured:
We have discussed many times that the theodicy, the approach to the problem of צדיק ורע לו, of תהילים is that of “גם זו לטובה”. G-d will make sure that everything works out in the end. This is even stronger. This is the idea of יסורין של אהבה, that the suffering itself is of benefit. Similar to what we said in Where the Penitent Stand about תשובה מאהבה, it is part of what makes us who we are.
יסורין של אהבה, in my mind, is the idea of a נסיון, a divine “test”, or (יבמות סד,א) מפני מה היו אבותינו עקורים? מפני שהקב״ה מתאוה לתפלתן של צדיקים. It is an approach to suffering (not an explanation; there are no explanations) that ה׳ wants to see our response, not for His sake, but for ours.
David concludes with the description of his תהילים:
גם here doesn’t mean “also”; what is he adding to? I think it means “even”: “Even my ‘אני’, my ego and identity, sing to you”. It is like the pasuk:
“אני תפלתי” implies more than, “and as for me, may my prayer”, but “I am my prayer”; it expresses who I am.
And it can’t just be in my heart; I need to express the praise of ה׳. גם אני, גם לשוני will praise ה׳ all the time.
This is all possible because, at the end of the day, You listened to my prayer.
Bringing this back to the narrative of Avshalom’s rebellion, David can only be the נעים זמירות ישראל if he represent all of ישראל. ספר תהילים is meant to be the words of כנסת ישראל as a whole.
I want to go back to the expression in פסוק יד: ואני תמיד איחל; והוספתי על כל תהלתך. How can David add to “all” of ה׳'s praises? We already said, לגדלתו אין חקר.
Rav Hutner explains this in his discussion of תהלים ט:טו that says אספרה כל תהלתך:
David isn’t claiming to express all praise of ה׳, but all possible praise. He will use every aspect of his existence as a metaphor to help him verbalize the ineffable. And that forms the basis of our own