Apr 15 2008
This commentary is by David Kimhi, a famed Jewish commentator of the Middle Ages.
Happy the man! The word happy (Hebrew: asre) is always used in the plural, the reason being that man is not pronounced “happy” for one good which is found in him, or for one piece of good fortune which befalls him, but for many good things which are found in him, “happy is he!” And David includes in the Psalm the law of man and a description of what it is proper for him to do in this world, with a reference also to the good reward there is for the righteous and the punishment for the wicked. It is an exceedingly important Psalm, and therefore he opens his book with it and says:
Who doth not walk in the counsel of the wicked: He first recounts the evil way as he also says likewise elsewhere: “Depart from evil and do good” (Ps 34:15), because man first learns, from his youth up, the way of the desires of this world, to eat and drink and to be merry, and in them grows up, as it says: “for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 3:21). So and then when a man arrives at years of discretion and begins to distinguish good and evil, he warns him to depart from the way of the wicked and not to follow their advice. Now the wicked are those who are feverishly anxious to amass wealth and the desires of whose heart are in the world, who do not distinguish between right and wrong, but for money’s sake steal and plunder and murder because of the exceeding restlessness of their heart. For the root meaning of “wickedness” is “restlessness,” as “when He giveth quietness who then can disquiet” (Job 29:29); “and withersoever he turned himself he disquieted them” (1 Sam 14:47); “neither shall disquiet deliver its masters” (Eccl 8:8); “Be not overmuch disquieted by worldly matters” (Eccl 7:17).
It is on this account that he conjoins “walk” with “wicked”; and with these he joins “counsel”, for they counsel the children of men to listen to them and they show them specious counsel to the effect that it is a fine thing to gather riches and to be merry. And man is largely deceived in this, for the good which is visible to his eyes appears best to him and he does not look to its end. And he (that is, the Psalmist) says:
Nor stand in the way of sinners: For a man commits sin while he is in his place at rest, in deed and in word and in thought. And the interpretation of “and in the way” is not the way of walking, but the habit and occupation of the man and his work, as “and shalt show them the way wherein they must walk” (Ex 18:20); and “Yet shall the righteous hold on his way” (Job 17:9); “not doing thy own ways” (Is 58:13); “I declared my ways” (Ps 119:26), and passages like these. So the interpretation of “nor stand” is: he does not linger with, nor does he devote himself to them, neither does he remain in their company, lest he should learn of their works.
Nor sit in the seat of the scornful: The scornful are those who are crafty in the knowledge of evil, who boast, and speak evil of the children of men, and slander and blame them, and who reveal secrets one to another. And this expression refers to “idlers who sit at the street-corners,” and for this reason he says: “nor sit in the seat of the scornful.” Notice that in these three are comprised all of man’s positions, either he walks or stands or sits. And lying down is included in sitting; and further (such) lying down is chiefly to sleep, and while man is asleep he does neither good nor ill. When he says, “Happy the man!” ect., behold, it is as if he warns him against doing according to their works, for he declares the man happy who withdraws from their way and separates himself from their works. And the interpretation of our teachers of blessed memory have placed upon it is represented by what they have to said: “Inasmuch as he has not walked how has he stood? And inasmuch as he has not stood how has he sat? And inasmuch as he has not sat how has he scorned? It is simply to tell you that if he has walked he will finally stand, and if he has stood he will finally sit, and if he has sat he will finally scorn, and if he has scorned, of him the Scripture says: “And if thou scorns thou alone shall bear it” (Prov 9:12).
But his delight is in the law of the Lord: He says: if he has departed from the evil way and yet has not done good, behold, he has not performed his work completely and it is not said of him, “happy is he!” And so it says: “Depart from evil and do good” (Ps 24:15). And although our teachers of blessed memory have said “if a man sits and has not committed sin, he is rewarded as one who performs a mitzvah (pious duty, command),” they have also interpreted it as applying to the case of him to whom transgression has come and who have been delivered from it, as it is said, “Depart from evil and do good,” i.e., Depart from evil for the sake of doing good. And so it says (Ps 119:3) “Yea, they do no unrighteousness; they walk in His ways.” And they hold they he who has conquered his inclination in regard to an action is as one who performed a mitzvah, when the temptation has befallen him, and so it is as said, “yea, they do no unrighteousness, ect.; although they have done no unrighteousness, still it is necessary that they should walk in His ways and do a good work. And so he says, “Happy is the man that walks not.” But what does he do? “His delight is in the law of the Lord.” And included in “delight” is oth learning and doing, as (in the text) “from doing the delight’ )Is 58:13); and doing apart from learning is not sufficient.
And in His law: He repeats “in His law” as “Noah, Noah” three times in one verse (Gen 6:9), and “Israel” five times in one verse (Numb 8:19) and other instances besides, for such is the usage of the Hebrew language. And they say (i.e. the Grammarians and Commentators in innumerable places) that it is by way of elegance (in diction). And our teachers of blessed memory comment: first it is called “the law of the Lord,” and lastly, when one is firmly established in it by study, it is made “His law” and is called by his name. The interpretation of
doth he meditate in his heart is “the meditation of my heart in Thy sight” (Ps 19:15); for he has already spoken of learning and doing, and now he speaks of the intention and purpose of the heart, that day and night his purpose should be fixed upon the Law and Commandments. And therefore an injunction is given concerning them in every action which he shall perform, as they say, “And let all thy actions be to the name (for the sake of Heaven.” And (as a matter of fact) “in His law doth he meditate day and night” because he occupies himself in study. In the Haggadic interpretation they say: “And how is it possible to meditate day and night? His work and his trade-how and when should he accomplish these? (Answer) But everyone who fulfills the commandment of the phylacteries, the Scripture gives him credit as if he had studied day and night.” And some say: “Everyone who recites the Shema morning and night.” But we say, following the literal sense, if we explain “doth meditate” of learning y rote, then the interpretation of
day and night will be: every time that he shall be free from his business occupations, whether of the day or the night.
3. And he shall be like a tree: He compares the good man to a tree planted over the streams of water: and says that the man who departs from evil and does good, lo! he is as a tree planted upon streams of water which is continually in his portion whether he have little to eat or much. And the interpretation of “streams of water” is that there is a stream of water on this side and a stream of water on that side, and they will be passing under it and it will be always over them.
That bringeth forth its fruit in its season: for the tree that is in a thirsty spot and that longs for rain does not bring forth its fruit in its season so long as the necessary rain does not descend, but is late and backward in putting forth its fruit because of its parched condition; but the tree that is planted upon the streams of water brings forth it fruit in its season.
His leaf also shall not wither: For the leaf wither from dryness, but in the case of this tree that is planted over the streams of water-its leaf does not wither. And the phrase “in its season,” which he has mentioned already, is to be supplied here, as if he said: “its leaf shall not wither in its season;” and this is the hot season when the children of men need its shade. Notice that the children of men need its shade. Notice that the children of men who are crossing backwards and forwards find in it a source of refreshment, and rest beneath if for the shade of its leaves, and drink from the water under it, and eat of its fruit, for in the rainy season the leaves fall from most of the trees. Or it may be taken hyperbolically; for even in the rainy season its leaf does not fall, as is the case with some trees, from the nature of the large amount of sap in them. And as it says, “its leaf shall not wither nor fail” (Ezek 47:12); it says also, “And the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for healing,” so from the good man the children of men get his fruit and his instructions, and it is from him they learn his religion and his good works. “Whose leaf shall not wither,” for they will take refuge in the shadow of his good ways. Our teachers have expounded “Bringeth forth its fruit in its season” as meaning that he teaches when he has attained the right to teach and not before his time; but when he has attained his time he does not old back from the office. And the interpretation of “in its season” is in the time for learning, learning, and in the time for work, work. And further our teachers of blessed memory have interpreted “whose leaf also shall not wither” as meaning that even the conversation of the wise must be studied, as though to say that even from their ordinary conversation a man can learn instruction in the affairs of the world and proper human conduct in intercourse one with another.
And whatever he produces shall prosper: If a cutting is taken from a tree it flourishes and becomes like it; so also in the case of the good man, his children and his descendants shall be like him. And our teachers have interpreted thus: “and whatsoever he produceth shall prosper”-if he “busies himself with Torah-study his worldly affairs shall prosper.” It is possible also to interpret this verse by way of blessing and peace and good reward; for if he departs from the evil way and does good his recompense will be that he shall be “like a tree planted upon the streams of water.” The learned Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra of bleesed memory has interpreted thus: “his fruit” is the wise soul which shall be full of Torah and divine wisdom, so as to recognize her Creator and His works which abide forever; and will cleave to the world above on her separation from the body, like fruit which when it ripens on the tree separates itself from and has no further need of it; for the tree exists for the sake of fruit. “Whose leaf also shall not wither”-i.e. his good memorial, in accordance with the text “the memory of the just is blessed” (Prov 10:7). “And whatsoever he getteth shall prosper”-i.e. wealth, children, and honor.
4. Not so the wicked! But they are like chaff which the wind driveth away. He say that the wicked, and in these the sinners and the scornful are included, are not so, for the children of men are not profited by them and by their good fortune, but they only do them harm. their impulse also for evil is like “the chaff”-that is, the light stubble in the straw, which is no use to the sons of men, which “the wind driveth away” very quickly, and which does harm in its movement, for it strikes passers-by in the face and eyes; or “the wind driveth” it into houses or gardens, and it does harm there. And according to the latter interpretation which we have adopted of the previous verse-of requital and good reward-the interpretation of this verse will be, that the wicked will perish very quickly like “the chaff which the wind drives away.”
5. Therefore wicked men shall not rise up: Therefore, since the wicked walk in an evil way in this world, they shall rise up.
In the judgment: He maens to say, in the Day of Judgment, and that is the day of death, they shall have no rising again.
Nor sinners likewise; and it is the judgment of the scornful-they shall have no rising again.
in the congregation of righteous men: for the righteous, when they die, shall have a rising again; but as for the wicked, for them there is none, ut their soul shall perish with their body in the day of death. And he says “in the Congregation” for when the righteous dies his soul is the souls of the righteous rejoicing in the glory of the Most High.
6. For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: This verse is an explanation of the preceding; for he says “in the congregation of the righteous men” without explaining in what sense the congregation of the righteous after death is to be understood; therefore he interprets and says “that the Lord knoweth;” and the meaning of “knoweth” is “looks upon and considers with a view to doing them good.” And so in the passage “What is man that Thou takest knowledge of him?” (143:3); “Whom the Lord knew” (Deut 34:10); “for I know his sorrows” (Ex 3:7); “Thou hast known my soul in adversities” ((Ps 31:8); “I did know thee” (Hos 13:5). In this way too we understand “there is no man that will recognize men” (142:5); “blessed be he that did recognize me” (Ps 142:5); “blessed be he that did recognize thee” (Ruth 2:19). He says that God who is exalted gathers the souls of the righteous to Himself, and knows them, and recognizes them to do them good and satisfy them with His goodness and knowledge and care; for this is the greatest good and the best recompense, as it is said: “and the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the soul of the Lord thy God” (1 Sam 25:29).
But the way of the sicked shall perish: for at their death they have no rising again, as he has said “they shall not rise up;” but their souls shall perish and go to perdition, as it is said: “and the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as from the hollow of a sling.”