Last week we cited the siddur of Rav Shabtai Mei’Racksho, the Mateh Efraim, and the Chida. The all concur that the twice daily saying of L’Dovid Hashem Ori is a powerful segulah to emerge victorious in judgment, to cancel harsh and evil decrees, and to live out our years in a wholesome way.
At what juncture in Dovid HaMelech’s life did he compose this psalm? The Medrash Rabbah in Vayikra Rabbah [21:3] cites the great Reb Yehoshua ben Levi, that Dovid HaMelech said this kapital when he was attacked by the Amaleikis.
Here’s the story: Dovid HaMelech left the town of Tziklag with his 600 soldiers to aid Achish, the king of the Plishtim. While he was away, the Amaleikis attacked the undefended city of Tziklag. They plundered it, burned it to the ground, and took all the women and children as captives, including two of Dovid HaMelech’s wives, Avigayil and Achinoam. When Dovid and his men returned, they saw to their horror what had transpired. Dovid HaMelech was confronted by dual despair: Firstly, the worry over the wives and children including his own wives, and secondly the anger of his own men who, as Shmuel testifies [in Shmuel 1, chapter 30], wanted to stone Dovid for his mistake of leaving the women and children of Tziklag abandoned and undefended.
Dovid HaMelech, instead of succumbing to despondency and despair, reacted in the correct Jewish way. As the pasuk declares, “Tzarah v’yagon emtzah uv’Shem Hashem ekra – If I find myself in distress and grief, I call out in the Name of Hashem.” And this is how Dovid HaMelech reacted in this situation. As the verse testifies, “Vayichazek Dovid b’Hashem Elokav – And Dovid took strength in Hashem his G-d.” He then summoned Ev’yasar, the Kohen Gadol, and commissioned him to inquire of the Urim v’Tumim which was concealed in the folds of the choshen, the breastplate worn by the Kohen Gadol. Dovid asked whether he should engage in a kamikaze rescue mission against the Amaleikis. The Urim v’Tumim answered in the affirmative and assured him that he would be successful. He embarked on the mission, defeated the Amaleikis without the loss of even one soldier and, Baruch Hashem, recovered all the women and children without any loss of life.
(The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, zy”a, has a critical caveat to this fascinating story. He explains that if Dovid HaMelech would have asked the Urim v’Tumim the question before he staunchly put his trust in Hashem, its answer would have been different.)
Thus, it is regarding this period and this episode that Dovid composed this psalm. In the psalm, Dovid proclaims, “Hashem Ori v’yishi,” Hashem was my light and my salvation. “B’krov alai m’rei’im, when they came close to me, the evil ones, namely the Amaleikis, “L’echol es besari,” to eat of my own flesh, referring to the terrifying capture of his two wives, yet he said, “Im tachane alai machane,” if they camp out against me, “Lo yirah libi,” my heart is not afraid. “Im takum alai milchama,” if they stand up against me in battle, “B’zos Ani botei’ach,” in this (Hashem ‘s protection) I do trust.
The chapter concludes with the resounding declaration of putting our trust in Hashem. With a mantra that pulses through the millennia, “Kavei el Hashem, hope to Hashem (and when things look daunting and desperate), “Chazak vya’ameitz libecha,” be strong and courageous of heart, “V’kavei el Hashem,” and redouble your prayers and hope to Hashem.
Now with this backdrop of understanding, how fitting is this message for the days of Awe? Many of us, after making an honest and blunt cheshbon hanefesh, a personal reevaluation of our behavior during the past year, might be filled with despair and despondency at our chances for a good judgment. We might be correctly worried about our meager Torah output, our paltry tzedakah, our shabby prayers, our faulty interpersonal relationships. In this great psalm, twice daily we remind ourselves to put our trust in Hashem’s mercy and compassion, to be strong and courageous of heart, and pray again and again to Hashem to grant us another chance for the year 5784.
In the merit of our prayers, may Hashem bless us with a gmar chasima tova, and a very healthy, happy, and wonderful New Year.
Transcribed and edited by Shelley Zeitlin.