Tehillim and our Relationship with Hashem – Part Two by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


This week, we shall continue to present a portion of the learning that was conducted at TABC’s fourth annual Tanach Kollel.  Last week, we pointed out that Tehillim 117 is illustrative of the need to delve into the meaning of the Tehillim that we recite.  We noted that the more that one studies Sefer Tehillim the more meaningful his Tefillah will be.  This week, we will continue this theme with a study of Mizmor 30 that we recite daily.  We again acknowledge the influence of the outstanding Daat Mikra commentary to Tehillim and the Shiurim of Rav Hayyim Angel (recorded by TABC graduate and Kol Torah editor-in-chief (’00-’01) Avi-Gil Chaitovsky).

This summer the Tanach Kollel will focus on Sefer Daniel, the most fascinating yet overlooked Sefer in Tanach.  Visit www.tabc.org for details.

The Introductory Pasuk to Mizmor 30

Most of the Mizmorim in Sefer Tehillim include an introductory Pasuk, which usually informs us of its author and purpose.  The introductory verse to Mizmor 30, “Mizmor Shir Chanukat HaBayit LeDavid,” seems to be saying (as Rashi and Radak explain) that it was written by David HaMelech for the ceremony of the dedication of the Beit HaMikdash.  Indeed, this seems to be the basis for the Nusach Ashkenaz practice to recite this Mizmor immediately after completing our recitation of Korbanot and before the beginning of Pesukei DeZimra.  It serves as a bridge between the Korbanot and the “Songs of David” that we use to praise Hashem in Pesukei DeZimra.

One might ask how David HaMelech could have written this chapter if he was not alive for the dedication of the Beit HaMikdash.  An answer might be that David HaMelech made every possible preparation for the building of the Beit HaMikdash in order to insure that his son Shelomo HaMelech would build it.  Sefer Shemuel concludes with David’s purchase of the land upon which the Mikdash would be built.  He even built a Mizbeiach (altar) upon which he offered Korbanot.  (David seems to set a precedent for offering Korbanot on the Mizbeiach at the site of the Mikdash even though the Mikdash is not built – see Ezra chapter three, Eiduyot 8:6, and Rambam Hilchot Beit HaBechirah 6:15).  Divrei HaYamim I (chapters 22-29) describes how David organized the Kohanim and Leviim into the groups (Mishmarot) which would alternate in their duties in the Mikdash.  He amassed all of the materials (gold, silver, copper, wood, etc.) necessary to build the Mikdash, and even drew up all the architectural plans of the various sections of the Mikdash.  Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that David also composed a Mizmor to be sung at the dedication of the Mikdash.

A second possibility is that the word “LeDavid” might not mean that the Mizmor was written by David HaMelech.  It could mean that it was written in honor of David HaMelech, who made every effort to insure that the Mikdash would be built (as we explained).  Indeed, the Ibn Ezra explains that Mizmor 20 (whose introductory Pasuk also states that it is a “Mizmor LeDavid”) was written in honor of David.  Similarly, Tosafot (Bava Batra 15a s.v. VeAl Yedei Shelomo) explain that Mizmor 72 (which is introduced as “LiShlomo”) might be addressed to Shelomo as opposed to being written by him.

A Challenge to Rashi-Radak’s Explanation of Mizmor 30

Many commentaries challenge Rashi and Radak’s assertion that this Mizmor was composed for the dedication of the Beit HaMikdash.  They note that the Mizmor seems to focus on one who has recovered from serious illness.  They argue that recovery from illness has nothing to do with the Chanukat HaBayit.

Rashi, in turn, defends his opinion by noting that the Mizmor also celebrates overcoming one’s enemies.  He explains that the building of the Beit HaMikdash by Shelomo, son of Bat Sheva, represents David HaMelech’s triumph over the challenge to his legitimacy posed by those who argued that David’s actions regarding Bat Sheva and Uriah HaChiti rendered him unworthy of the royal throne.  Rashi explains that the sickness referred to in this Mizmor is the sickness of sin and Teshuva is the recovery from his sin (see Megillah 17b for a similar explanation of Yeshaya 6:10).

A proof to this approach might be that this Mizmor is written in the singular, indicating that its focus is on a personal issue that relates to the dedication of the Beit HaMikdash.  One wonders why David focuses his attention on a personal matter at a time of momentous celebration for our nation. An answer might be that David sought to establish his recovery from the Bat Sheva-Uriah debacle as a model of Teshuva for posterity (as he states in Tehillim 51:15).  The Radak notes that the Beit HaMikdash is a center for Teshuva, and thus David’s successful Teshuva is an appropriate event to celebrate at the dedication of the Mikdash.

Ibn Ezra

The Ibn Ezra cites an alternative view that explains that this Mizmor is prophetic in nature and was written for the dedication of the second or third Beit HaMikdash. The sickness referred to in this Mizmor is that of Galut (exile).  The advantage of this approach is that it explains the transitions between recovery from illness and overcoming enemies in this Mizmor.  Release from illness and overcoming enemies are used interchangeably since the end of our exile represents a recovery from a “national illness” and the defeat of our enemies who have kept us in Galut.  Another benefit of this approach is that the focus at the great moment of dedicating the Mikdash is on Bnei Yisrael, not merely the personal redemption of David HaMelech.

The Ibn Ezra himself prefers a less dramatic interpretation, arguing that this Mizmor was not composed for the dedication of any of the Batei Mikdash.  Rather, it refers to the dedication of David HaMelech’s palace in Jerusalem (see Shemuel II 5:11).  Ibn Ezra explains that at that time David had recovered from serious illness, and he composed this Mizmor as an expression of thanks to Hashem for his recovery from consequent ability to build and dedicate his palace.

Rabi Moshe Ibn Jikitila

The Ibn Ezra also cites Rabi Moshe Ibn Jikitila, who suggests that the Mizmor celebrates David HaMelech’s recovery from the serious depression he suffered when he was informed that he would not build the Beit HaMikdash (Shemuel II chapter 7), his greatest ambition (see Tehillim 27:4 and Radak’s explanation of Tehillim 3:5).  Ibn Jikitila explains that David recovered from this depression when he was informed that his son would build the Mikdash.  Accordingly the building of the Mikdash is coupled with David’s recovery from psychological illness.

An important implication of this approach is that Ibn Jikitila regards depression as a legitimate illness.  The ramifications of this comment are profound both Halachcially and socially (see Rav J.David Bleich’s Contemporary Halachic Problems (3:299) for a long list of Poskim who discuss this and related issues).  Specific applications include the recitation of Birkat HaGomel upon recovery from depression (similar to Mizmor 30 according to Ibn Jikitila’s approach) and permission to take medications on Shabbat that treat depression. In the social realm, one who suffers from depression should not be dismissed as “abnormal,” just as we do not regard someone with a broken leg as “abnormal.”  Similarly, one who suffers from depression should not feel ashamed anymore than he would with a broken arm.

One might suggest a combination of the explanations of Ibn Jikitila and Rashi.  It is clear from Shemuel II chapters 13-15 and Tehillim chapter 51 that David HaMelech suffered from depression because of the guilt he felt over the Bat Sheva-Uriah affair.  Shemuel II records that David HaMelech was lethargic in his response to various crises that arose in his family, and Avshalom was able to stir up anti-David sentiment among a large segment of the nation without any resistance.  Only at the last moment (as Avshalom was advancing on Yerushalayim) did David HaMelech muster up the strength to organize his supporters and escape and eventually overcome Avshalom.  Accordingly, David HaMelech’s redemption from the Bat Sheva-Uriah incident is associated with recovery from illness.  David’s recovery from depression was therefore a matter of national importance to celebrate at the dedication of the Mikdash (according to the Rashi-Radak approach to Mizmor 30), as he regained his ability to lead the nation on the path to building the Mikdash.  In addition, his recovery inspires those who suffer from depression that there can be light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Another possible interpretation (a combination of Rashi and the first opinion cited in Ibn Ezra) is that after the Pelishtim defeated Shaul and his army at Har Gilboa (recorded in Shmuel I chapter 31), Bnei Yisrael were left in a total shambles.  Shaul and Yehonatan were killed in battle, the army was decimated, and the Pelishtim had advanced from their base in the Southwest of Eretz Yisrael all the way to the Northeast (Har Gilboa lies in the Eastern portion of the Jezreel Valley; also see Daat Mikra to Shemuel II 28:4).  Under David’s leadership, Bnei Yisrael were able to rise from such a low point (similar to a Galut) to become a regional superpower to the extent that Hashem deemed it appropriate to build the Beit HaMikdash (see Devarim 12:10-11), a truly spectacular turnaround.  Perhaps this is how Mizmor 30 is appropriate for the dedication of the Mikdash; it can be understood as a thanksgiving for Bnei Yisrael’s rise from ruin to the pinnacle of joy at the dedication of the Beit HaMikdash.


The Malbim presents a variation of the approaches of Ibn Ezra and Ibn Jikitila.  He writes that Mizmor 30 is simply a celebration of recovery from illness.  Malbim explains that the “Bayit” that is referred to in the introductory Pasuk to this Mizmor refers to the body, the house of one’s soul.  He cites Iyov 4:19 as another Pasuk in which the word “Bayit” may refer metaphorically to the body.  Thus, Malbim explains that this Mizmor offers thanks Hashem for recovery from illness and the ability to rededicate the body to His service.


The fact that there are at least seven viable explanations of the role of Mizmor 30 underscores Chazal’s assertion (Midrash Tehillim chapter 18, which we cited last week) that David wrote Tehillim for himself, for all of Bnei Yisrael and for all times.  Our discussion demonstrates the remarkable versatility of the Mizmorim of Tehillim.  Indeed, Chazal (see Megillah 4a) also apply this Mizmor to the Purim miracle, as it describes the swing from a stable time when we perceived ourselves as invincible to near annihilation, recovery from the brink of disaster and the resultant outpouring of joy.  This Mizmor additionally serves as the Shir Shel Yom of Chanukah because it describes a time when we rose from near cultural extinction at the hands of the Syrian-Greeks to the rededication of the Mikdash.  Finally, this Mizmor is recited when Bikkurim are brought to the Beit HaMikdash (see Bikkurim 3:4), for it is then that we thank Hashem for having brought us from the gloom of Egyptian slavery to the glory of life in Eretz Yisrael (see Devarim chapter 26).  Tehillim’s versatility facilitates every Jew’s discovery of a connection to Hashem, especially when he or she understands and appreciates what is being said.

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