Clarifying Tehillim (Psalms) Chapter 22

By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman ben Ya'akov © January 23, 2015 (updated April 14, 2017)

Recorded Live on Facebook

The various replacement theologies seek to usurp Jewish scripture, culture, and history in order to take possession of the Sacred Covenant we have with HaShem. Here we explore one commonly usurped text, Psalm 22. According to the Christian Gospel accounts Jesus/Y'shua quoted verse two (and Paul cites a few of the others). It makes sense that a Jew facing execution might utter these words, "Why have you forsaken me," but it makes no sense that God would (as Christians maintain). How and why would the Holy One abandon Himself and then, moreover, lament the loss? No, Psalm 22 is not a messianic prophecy nor is it about Jesus. Let's see what this tehillah (i.e. "song of praise" or psalm) is actually about.
22:1 For the conductor [or: Chief Musician], on the ayeleth hashachar, a song of David.

There is some debate about what an ayeleth hashachar is. Rashi says it may be a musical instrument, which seems most likely to me given the context. Rashi continues: Another explanation: 'Concerning the nation of Israel', which is a beloved hind (אילת אהבים). This latter possibility fits the context nicely as we will see.

Verse one tells us this is David speaking and so, if we read literally, he is the "My" of the next verse:

22:2 My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? [You are] far from my salvation [and] from the words of my moaning.

As discussed elsewhere (for instance in my study on Isaiah 52-54) the people of the Eternal Covenant are often referenced collectively as the singular Servant of HaShem. Here is another case of this as we will confirm as we continue. We know that the Redemption of the Jewish people will come through a descendent of King David and here his tehillah expresses the experience of the entire people. How often have the Jewish people cried out: My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?

And yet, He never has (Malachi 3:6 )!

22:3. My God, I call out by day and You do not reply, and at night I do not keep silent.
22:4 But You are holy; You await the praises of Israel.
Why has the Holy One seemingly forsaken His people Israel at times? Here is a partial answer. While many Jews have always cried out to HaShem in faith, too many have not. But there is more. Crying out to God in ours prayers, including Hitbodedut, prepares us for what lies ahead. If HaShem always answered immediately we would have less motivation to seek Him and less free will to question Him. As Rebbe Nachman explains:
A storekeeper will sell on credit, allowing the buyer to pay later.
Why not do the same with spiritual goods? Say a few Psalms, learn some Torah or carry out some other mitzvot so that they are put aside ready for some time of need.
The time will indeed come when you will need them. You will then be able to make use of your reward without having to ask the storekeeper for credit -- Sichot Haran #271
So as we cry out in the 'night' and seemingly receive no reply, it means that HaShem is blessing us to cry out even more! To store even more credits in His bank! He does this so that we can become ever more holy and merit ever more blessings. As Rashi says:
But You are holy: and You wait to hear the praises of Israel from time immemorial.
22:5 Our ancestors trusted in You; they trusted and You rescued them.
Now it is clear. The singular "My God" of verse two is in fact the collective voice of the Jewish people who now say "our ancestors trusted..." The singular Servant of HaShem is the complete body of Am Israel. WE sometimes feel forsaken but WE will be redeemed.
22:6 They cried out to You and they escaped; they trusted in You and they were not shamed.
And because of their righteousness, because they served and pleased You even in their imperfections, and because You saw fit to help them, we humbly ask for Your mercy because we too are Your Suffering Servant and we too require YOUR Mercy.
22:7 But I am a worm and not a man; a reproach of man, despised by peoples.
22:8 All who see me will mock me; they will open their lips, they will shake their head.
This is the lament of Isaiah in his chapters 52-54. Israel is a glorious people, a princely people, a kingdom of priests to the world (Shemot, Exodus 19:6, Psalm 82), and yet the world mocks us, condemns us, rejects us. They seek our destruction. It has always been so!

What shall we do? We must seek Him 'in the night' ever more diligently. We must clap our hands and increase our cries until He answers! We must know that His silence only means that HaShem is blessing us to cry out even more! To store even more credits in His bank!

Crying Out To HaShem!

22:9 One should cast his/her trust upon the Lord, and He will rescue him;
HaShem will save such a person because He delights in this. Of this verse Rashi notes: Hebrew גֹּל like לגל, lit. to roll. A person should roll his burden and his load upon His Creator so that He rescue him.

THIS is our hope.

22:10. For You drew me from the womb; You made me secure on my mother's breasts.
22:11. Upon You, I was cast from birth; from my mother's womb You are my God.
22:12. Do not distance Yourself from me, for distress is near; for there 22:is none to help.
22:13. Great bulls have surrounded me; the mighty ones of Bashan encompassed me.
22:14. They opened their mouth against me [like] a tearing, roaring lion.

Rashi makes an insightful connection here: a tearing lion: Nebuchadnezzar.

Nebuchadnezzar's Babylonian system is a frequent metaphor. Once again our enemies, like Nebuchadnezzar, are seeking to ensnare and imprison us for their own ends. Again these 'Babylonians' are demanding that we bow before gods our ancestors -- who pleased HaShem -- did not know. Yet just as HaShem delivered them from Babylon despite their imperfections, so too He will deliver us when we lift up our praises and commit ourselves to Him (as in verse 6 above). We must have active faith in this truth! Not for our sakes, but for theirs and for those who will come after us!

22:15 I was spilled like water, and all my bones were separated; my heart was like wax, melting within my innards.
My strength became dried out like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my palate; and You set me down in the dust of death.
And as our enemies assault us it sometimes seems as though HaShem has abandoned us! Our 'tongues cleave to our jaws' (as the Koren Jerusalem Bible translates this). How can we even cry out to God due to our losses and our weaknesses? It is as if the Holy One had laid us down to the dirt to die! And so collectively we cry: My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? [You are] far from my salvation [and] from the words of my moaning.

But HaShem is teaching us something important! We have trusted in money, in beauty, in popularity, in reasoned intelligence, in military might, in lands and allies... but what did these get us? Those who trust in anything other than HaShem will be without hope at such times! But those who rely on His Divine Province will be blessed no matter what happens! Rashi gives us a hint:

You set me down: Heb. תשפתני You set me down, an expression of setting a pot, as (in Ezekiel 24:3, II Kings 4:38): “set on (שפת) the pot.” Menachem (p. 179) interprets every expression of שפיתה as an expression of placing.
Those who trust in HaShem have joy! They understand that such difficult times are only HaShem preparing a nourishing and delicious stew for our enjoyment! This is why we say Baruch HaShem! for the pleasant and the unpleasant. He has placed us according to His will! So bless HaShem with everything within you (Psalm 103:1)! Especially during difficult times.
22:17. For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers has encompassed me, like a lion, my hands and feet.
22:18. I tell about all my bones. They look and gloat over me.
22:19. They share my garments among themselves and cast lots for my raiment.
Rashi: like a lion, my hands and feet: As though they are crushed in a lion’s mouth, and so did Hezekiah say (in Isa. 38: 13): “like a lion, so it would break all my bones.”
I tell about all my bones: The pain of my bones.
They look: They rejoice at my misfortune.
and cast lots for my raiment: They plunder our property.
This has been the history of the Jewish people like none other.
22:20. But You, O Lord, do not distance Yourself; my strength, hasten to my assistance.
22:21. Save my soul from the sword, my only one from the grip of the dog.
22:22. Save me from the lion's mouth, as from the horns of the wild oxen You answered me.
22:23. I will tell Your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise You.
Rashi elaborates on this: I will tell Your name to my brothers: when any of my assemblies gather, and so I will say to them, “You who fear the Lord, praise Him.” This refers to the proselytes [converts], and “all the seed of Jacob.” And because of the experiences, the suffering, the sorrows, and the faith and the service of the Jewish people:
22:28. All the ends of the earth shall remember and return to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall prostrate themselves before You.
22:29. For the kingship is the Lord's, and He rules over the nations.
22:30. They shall eat all the best of the earth and prostrate themselves; before Him shall all those who descend to the dust kneel, and He will not quicken his soul.
Rashi gives an interesting insight here: He will not quicken: Lit. He did not quicken. Our Sages (Mid. Ps. 22:32) derived from this verse that the dead, before their death, at the time their soul is taken, see the countenance of the Shechinah. Our sufferings matter! Through them the Jewish people experience the countenance of the Shechinah!
22:31. The seed that worships Him; it shall be told to the generation concerning the Lord.
22:32. They shall come and tell His righteousness to the newborn people, that which He has done.
And so now we can understand that throughout the generations the Jewish people have never been abandoned. HaShem has constantly been working with and through His Elect to bless the world entire and to prepare them for their ultimate service, and to merit their ultimate benediction. As Rashi explains:
The seed that worships Him: The seed of Israel, who constantly worship Him.
it shall be told to the generation concerning the Lord: Transpose the verse and explain it thus: It shall be told to the last generation in the name of the Lord and in His praise what He did for that seed.
They shall come: The first ones shall come and tell His righteousness to the newborn people, for He performed righteous deeds for them.
And so we come full circle. Through hardships and trials the Elect of HaShem will fulfill their purpose as did our ancestors, despite our all too obvious weaknesses. In time, from among the Jewish people HaMashiach will arise to reign and then HaShem's glory will spread throughout all the worlds.

May that day be soon! in Exile

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