To review the shiur from last time, I interpreted the pasuk וישנו את טעמו בעיניהם in terms of the midrash, that David complained to ה׳ about the fact that madness exists in the world. I said that it was not a general complaint, but specifically about the madness that had befallen Saul. ה׳ responded that not only would David come to understand, but that he would actually need that very ailment. When David was faced with the danger of becoming a פלישתי mercenary, he prayed for madness rather than have to face the unbearable reality.
Part of the reason I felt it necessary to incorporate the midrash is תהילים לד, which is described as בשנותו את טעמו לפני אבימלך, but the climax of that perek is מי האיש החפץ חיים…נצר לשונך מרע. Without the midrash, it is hard to see the connection between our story and לשון הרע.
The Gemara understands our perek this way, as being a lesson in לשון הרע:
The מהרש״א explains that even the next psukim, סור מרע ועשה טוב וכו׳, are also about לשון הרע:
ויקרא רבה has a more poetic version of this story:
The כלי יקר on ויקרא יד:ד expands on this. He points out that it should be impossible to do תשובה on לשון הרע, since there is no way to take back words that have been said or undo the damage that has been done. Think of the old Chassidic story of the man who wanted to do תשובה for his act of לשון הרע. He was told to cut open his feather pillows and scatter the pillows to the wind…then gather them all up.
The protagonist of the midrash is a רוכל, literally a peddler but connected to the word רכילות, tale-bearing. He was a רוכל who discovered the cure for his sins, and spread the word around צפורי, a city in northern Israel but a reference here to tweeting birds, spreading rumors (רש״י brings this metaphor to explain why the מצורע has to bring birds for his sacrifice) (the connection to the modern “tweeting” is entirely intentional). The רוכל told ר׳ ינאי that he didn’t need the cure; he didn’t speak לשון הרע. He shows ר׳ ינאי a ספר תהלים מכורך, a bound ספר תהלים, that had never been used, since people never bothered to read the words of our pasuk. ר׳ ינאי exclaimed that he had read the words, but read them the way רבי אלכסנדרי in the gemara did, as advice to prevent לשון הרע, not as means of תשובה. The תשובה is in the next pasuk, בקש שלום ורדפהו. The לשון הרע can’t be taken back; the only recourse is to work to prevent future לשון הרע, actively chasing after peace between people.
Looking at the rest of the perek, it starts with the historical introduction, then David’s statement that he will praise ה׳ at all times, now that he knows that He can save even when everything looks hopeless. בה׳ תתהלל נפשי means something different from תהלתו בפי. It means “my spirit will praise itself, with ה׳”; ה׳ gives me the self-confidence to go on.
The question came up last time when David is described as ויתהלל בידם, he acted the fool in their hands. What exactly does ויתהלל mean? Rav Hirsch points out in his commentary to תהילים ה:ו, לא יתיצבו הוללים לנגד עיניך that it is the Kal form of הלל. It is spelling without the דגש: וַיִּתְהֹלֵל בְּיָדָם. The הלל we are used to is Piel, spelled with the דגש: תִּתְהַלֵּל נַפְשִׁי. The Piel often represents an intesified verb; thus סָגַר, close, vs. סִגֵּר, lock. Rabbi Phillip Ginsbury had an interesting article in Jewish Bible Quarterly contrasting דוׁבֵר and מְדַבֵּר: מְדַבֵּר, the more common verb, means voicing a specific speech. דוֹבֵר, usually implying a spokesman, means speech that is not specified, saying whatever needs to be said.
Here, הָלַל means praise that has no basis: boasting or hypocrisy. הִלֵּל means real praise, something that has a factual basis.
גדלו לה׳ אתי
David then addresses his audience, the ענוים who need to hear his message and be happy. They all should praise ה׳ with him, since זה עני קרא וה׳ שמע. David refers to himself as עני, which as we have seen is used interchangeably with ענו. He is one of those ענוים, and he was saved.
In פסוק ט, David uses the term טעמו, which calls to mind his שנותו את טעמו. He looked to change his טעם to be saved, but the only טעם he needed was כי טוב ה׳.
We dealt with the middle part of the perek, where David reveals the secret of his success (or his realization of what he should have donw to succeed). The perek then goes back to the ענוים, that ה׳ saves them, who are righteous but punishes the wicked. Hirsh sees פסוק יח as still referring to those wicked: צעקו וה׳ שמע. They (the עשי רע) call out in תשובה, and they can too be saved, as long as they are נשברי לב (note: not the same as “broken-hearted” in English) and דכאי רוח. In that case, לא יאשמו כל החסים בו.
The theme of the perek thus becomes one of תשובה, as in the midrash cited above. David praises ה׳ for saving him and realizes what happened was a result of his bad-mouthing both Saul and ה׳. The way forward is to accept that (ברכות ס,ב) כל דעביד רחמנא לטב עביד. We’ve said before that this philosophy is the theodicy of ספר תהילים; I think that this incident marks the start of that attitude.