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November 29, 2015 / 17 Kislev, 5776
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Q & A: L’David Hashem Ori (Part I)


Question: In “L’David Hashem Oriwhich we recite from the beginning of Elul until Shemini Atzeret – we read the following: “Bikrov alay me’reim le’echol et besarai – When evildoers approach me to devour my flesh.” Why does the verse use the word “me’reim”? Why not use “resha’im” or “anashim ra’im” instead?

Tzila Kleinbart

Brooklyn, NY  

Answer: First let us quote the entire verse you ask about (Psalms 27:2): “Bikrov alay me’re’im le’echol et be’sari, tzarai ve’oyvai li heimah kashlu ve’nafalu – When evildoers approach me to devour my flesh, my tormentors and my foes against me, it is they who stumble and fall.”

Considering the content of this verse, it would seem that your question has little basis. “Me’reim” means those who wish to cause me harm (lit. “do me bad”). The word “resha’im,” on the other hand, is more generic, referring to wicked people in general. Nevertheless, there is ample reason to elaborate on the prayer of “L’David Hashem Ori,” especially this time of year.

The question arises: Why do we say this chapter at the conclusion of our daily prayers this time of year, morning and evening, from the beginning of Elul through Shemini Atzeret? What does it add to our prayer? We understand that the sounding of the shofar during this period serves as a catalyst for teshuvah, as the Rambam states (Hilchot Teshuvah 3:4): “uru yeshenim mi’shinatchem venirdamim hakitzu mi’tirdamchem – awake, you who are asleep and those who are in a trance, from your slumber.” But what does “L’David Hashem Ori” accomplish?

Many see in the fourth verse of this prayer (27:4) a summation of King David’s yearning (and ours) for closeness with Hashem: “Achat sha’alti me’et Hashem otah avakesh shivti b’veit Hashem kal yemei chayyai lachazot be’noam Hashem u’levaker b’heichalo – One thing I asked of Hashem, that shall I seek: Would that I dwell in the House of Hashem all the days of my life, to behold the sweetness of Hashem and to contemplate in His Sanctuary.”

Others see in some of the later verses of this psalm allusions to returning to Hashem. Thus, this prayer serves as a very suitable conclusion to our morning and evening prayers at this time since, as a general rule, it is the last words one hears or recites that linger on in a person’s psyche. Indeed, I remember once hearing Hagaon Rav Pam, zt”l, Rosh Hayeshivas Torah Vodaath, being introduced at an Agudath Israel convention as the “ta’am afikoman” since he was the last speaker and it is the last item that one tastes at a meal that remains on one’s taste buds. Truer words could not have been said in describing Rav Pam, zt”l, whose humility and sincerity came across to all, and whose words were received in such a manner that they left a lasting impression.

Regarding the particular wording use by King David in “L’David Hashem Ori,” let us seek comparisons from elsewhere in Tanach. Perhaps we will chance upon a suitable answer.

In Parshat Vayishlach, our father Jacob, on his way back from Aram to the land of Canaan, is fearful as he prepares to confront the wicked Esau. Esau had not kept secret his desire to cause Jacob’s destruction and so Jacob beseeches Hashem (32:12): “Hatzileini nah miyad achi miyad Esav ki ya’rei anochi oto pen yavo ve’hikani em al banim – Rescue me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him lest he come and strike me down, mother and children.”

The commentaries find this prayer somewhat troubling. Why does Jacob say “from…my brother, from Esau”? Why the double language? Everyone knew (and certainly Hashem knew!) that Esau was his brother and that “my brother” could refer to no one other than Esau (since Jacob had no other brothers). Rashi explains: “From the hand of my brother, whose behavior is not that of a brother, rather it is that of the wicked Esau.”

This entire passage is difficult to understand in light of the tripartite promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that their progeny will become a great nation. What rescue, then, does Jacob seek? Hashem promised him (Genesis 28:15): “V’hineh anochi imach u’shmarticha b’chol asher telech v’hashivosicha el ha’adama hazot ki lo e’ezave’cha ad asher im asiti eit asher dibarti lach – Behold I am with you: I will guard you wherever you go, and I will return you to this soil, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken about [promised] you.”

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.

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