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Psalm 89

Psalms are not for sissies. Harsh are the accusations against God: “You spurned the covenant of Your servant; You profaned to the ground his crown” (verse 39). Ibn Ezra, the great Spanish commentator of the 11-12th century said that he knew a pious Jew who could not bring himself to read this Psalm. Ibn Ezra held that these were not the complaints of the Psalmist, but the repetition of the insults hurled upon him. In contrast, Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi of France in the 12-13th century) held that these are the Psalmist’s protestation against God in order to prompt God to fulfill God’s oath.

At 53 verses, this is the third longest Psalm. Its focus is the longing for King David’s kingship. Psalm 89 evokes the prophet Nathan’s promise to David on behalf of God that David’s descendants would continue to rule as God’s anointed (II Samuel 7:5ff). Unity would end during the lifetime of David’s grandsons. In the ensuing generations wars would cause much suffering in the Holy Land. We do not know when this Psalm was written, whether in David’s lifetime, during the First Temple, or even later. And yet, all Psalms for two-thousand years were read by Jews in exile as descriptions of their yearnings and faithfulness despite degradation.

Psalm 89 contains a phrase in verse three that in recent years was put to music and expanded by Rabbi Menachem Creditor, then the Conservative Rabbi of Berkeley, as words of hope: Olam Hesed Ye’baneh– “I will build this world from love.” Click here or Scroll Down to watch video.

We will explore how verse three is parsed in a variety of ways and share my translation of the 53 verses. In doing so, we will conclude the third of the five books of Psalms.

Our study today is dedicated to the 8th day of Shira and her Savta, Cantor Shula Kalir-Merton.