Dear Rabbi Klass,
As most of us know, now that it’s the month of Elul, we say the 27th chapter of Tehillim until Shemini Atzeret (“L’David Hashem Ori – [A Psalm] of David: The Lord is my light”). The second verse states: “Bikrov alay me’rei m le’echol et besarai… – When evildoers approach me to devour my flesh….” Why does it not say “reshaim – wicked ones” or “anashim raim – evil people?”
Synopsis: Last week we discussed the reasons we recite Psalms 27 as the conclusion of our daily prayers from the beginning of Elul through Shemini Atzeret. The chapter’s summation of King David’s yearning for closeness with Hashem (verse 4) and other allusions for a return to Hashem make it a very suitable conclusion to our prayers at this time of year. In Parashat VaYishlach, we see that Jacob is fearful as he prepares to confront the wicked Esau (Genesis 32:12): “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.” Rashi comments that Jacob uses double language to refer to “my brother, from the hand of Esau,” since his behavior is not that of a brother, but rather is that of the notably wicked Esau. But what was Jacob’s fear? Did he distrust Hashem’s tripartite promise to the patriarchs that their progeny will become a great nation?
* * * *
Answer: Somewhat of a solution to our dilemma might be found in the Gemara (Berachot 4a), where the following verses (Psalms 86:1-2) are expounded: “Tefillah l’David….Shamra nafshi ki chasid ani… – A prayer of David… Guard my soul for I am pious.” The Gemara finds a contradiction to King David’s statement from yet another verse in the chapter known as “L’David Hashem Ori” which, as we noted, we recite twice daily this time of year (Psalms 27:13) : “Would that I had trusted that I would see the goodness of Hashem in the land of the living [everlasting life – the world to come].”
How can King David proclaim his piety in the first verse we cited when we are faced with a verse in which he doubts his entry into the World to Come? The Gemara cites R. Yose, who taught: “Why are there dots upon the word ‘lule?’ [King] David said before the Holy One Blessed Is He: Master of the Universe, I am sure that You will pay a good reward to the righteous in the world to come, but I have no idea if I have a portion amongst them. [Why?] Perhaps I will be excluded due to some sin.” Rashi explains that the dots upon “Lule – would that I” diminish the intent of the verse, leaving King David’s reward as a matter that is questionable.
Similarly, the Gemara cites two difficult verses relating to Jacob. The first is, as we cited earlier (Genesis 28:15): “Behold, I am with you; I will guard wherever you go, and I will return you to this soil; for I will not forsake you until I will have done that which I have spoken about [promised] you.”
The other verse (Genesis 32:8) states: “And Jacob was very fearful…” What is he to be fearful of? He said,”Perhaps some sin will be the cause [of my not being the recipient of Hashem’s promise].
Thus we can explain Jacob’s further statement in his prayer as he beseeches Hashem (Genesis 32:12): “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.” Jacob had no doubt as to the ability of Hashem to save him from Esau but rather he was doubtful of his deserving such rescue.
Yet there would seem to be no comparison between David’s situation and Jacob’s, for David was contradicting himself in the two cited verses, for in the former cited verse he expresses confidence, while in the latter cited verse he expresses doubt. Jacob, on the other hand, was contradicting Hashem, for even in the face of some sin, should he really worry? As we find in the verse (Ecclesiastes 7:20): “For there is no man so wholly righteous on this earth that always does good and never sins.” Hashem knows the frailty of man, and consequently a promise made by Hashem, not only to Jacob, but also to his father Isaac and even to his grandfather Abraham, will surely not be forsaken. Especially since the promise in question relates to the future nation of Israel – the whole reason for Hashem’s creation of the world.
(To be continued)