When we looked at the “song” of the cows that brought the ארון back to Israel, we mentioned that the Midrash listed a number of possibilities that we associated with the שירה of the משכן, written by Moshe himself. One of these תהילים in particular is associated with that incident:
That’s part of the message of this פרק: ה׳ takes care of His own. It’s different from the other ones we looked at (צג, צז and צט are ה׳ מלך psalms; צו is another שירו לה׳ שיר חדש) that are more generic messages.
And there’s one other way that תהילים צח is different from the others: this one has a כותרת, an introduction. But that introduction is unique:
So let’s look at this “orphaned song”.
This is strikingly similar to תהילים צו. It starts with a call to all the nations to sing to ה׳, and ends with nature itself singing to ה׳, and the acknowledgement of ה׳'s reign in the world, לפני ה׳ כי בא לשפט הארץ. But it is a little different. This is a מזמור.
עיקר שירה בפה וכלי לבסומי קלא הוא דעבידא (ערכין יא,א). A שיר is vocal; מזמור is associated with כלי זמרה and is appropriate for ימות משיח. According to the gemara, music with instruments should be forbidden entirely after the חורבן:
David implemented שירה with instrumental accompaniment, anticipating that he would build the permanent בית המקדש.
So this perek is a מזמור, a שיר of the future, but it is anonymous. We still don’t know who will have written it, as it were.
תהילים צו that we looked at last time is a שירו לה׳ שיר חדש about the future. This is the song to be sung in the future, when לעיני הגוים גלה צדקתו. And that’s why it’s different from תהילים צו. This is all about the instruments, more than the voice:
There is another difference: תהילים צו never mentions the Jews. It is meant for the entire world. This perek is very clear: ראו כל אפסי ארץ את ישועת אלקינו. The salvation that ה׳ has revealed is that of his people, בני ישראל.
So while this seems to be simply a variation on the theme of Psalm 96, it actually has a different message, one aimed at us rather than the whole world.
When we looked at the 11 תהילים attributed to Moshe, we noted that 90 and 91 were associated with the building of the משכן, 92 and 94 were associated with the slavery in Egypt, 100 was associated with the קרבן תמיד, and 93, 96, 97, 98 and 99 were associated with the daily עבודה. That leaves צה, לכו נרננה. Where does that fit in?
From the text, it clearly cannot have been written for use in the משכן originally; it mentions ארבעים שנה אקוט בדור. I think it was written at the end of those forty years, as a sort of introduction to תהילים צו, the original שיר של יום, שירו לה׳ שיר חדש. This starts very similarly, except it’s addressed to “us”—לכו נרננה—rather than “you”—שירו.
We (the author, Moshe, and the audience) all praise ה׳, with almost the same words as תהילים צו, גדול ה׳ ומהלל מאד; נורא הוא על כל אלהים.
But the tone changes in פסוק ז. It’s no longer an invitation to celebrate but an exhortation: Don’t mess this up like you did last time. הוא אלקינו ואנחנו עם מרעיתו…היום אם בקלו תשמעו.
He brings up the sin of מסה ומריבה:
It’s important to note that at מסה ומריבה, both Moshe and the people sinned. The people by questioning G-d’s providence (היש ה׳ בקרבנו אם אין), and Moshe by questioning the people’s faith (עוד מעט וסקלני).
This was the first time Moshe as the leader of בני ישראל demonstrates the impatience that will lead to his fate. He will not lead them into ארץ ישראל; אשר נשבעתי באפי; אם יבאון אל מנוחתי applies to him as well.
Thus this psalm is aimed at himself as well; נקדמה פניו בתודה. We all need to express our appreciation and gratitude to ה׳.
And reading this perek as an introduction to the next gives שירו לה׳ שיר חדש a very different meaning. ה׳ was angry with us and swore not to give us מנוחה. Now we need to sing a different tune, a שיר חדש in our relationship with Him, that will allow the אחרית הימים that was lost in the 40 years in the wilderness.