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So over these last couple of weeks we've been talking about Psalm 90 and I suggested to you that Psalm 90 resonates with this week's Parsha; V'zot HaBerachah. The opening words of Psalm 90; Moshe Ish Ha'Elokim. The only time Moses is called that is in the beginning of V'zot HaBerachah. There were a number of other connections too. The theory that I'm going to sketch out to you is that Psalm 90 is a kind of portrayal of Moses almost in terms of what's going through his mind at the moment that he's blessing the people in V'zot HaBerachah. He's going to bless them and then ascend the mountain to die, to go up to G-d, and what gives him the strength to do that, to let go of his dream of taking the people into the land? He's able to do it because he looks back at a time not when he blessed the people but when he prayed for them in the aftermath of the Golden Calf. When he looks back on that sometimes he finds peace.
Let me begin this final leg in our journey through Psalm 90 by asking you a theological question. Does man have the power to change the Divine plan for history? If G-d has some sort of plan that's dear to His heart that He wants realized in human history, do we human beings have the influence the Almighty, to get Him to, so to speak, change His mind about how that plan comes about? Is prayer powerful enough to do that?
My own instincts on this matter would have been to say no, but that's before I read Psalm 90 carefully. What I want to suggest to you today is that the answer to this question is in fact a resounding yes, human beings can have that kind of almost unimaginable influence on nothing less than the way the Divine plan actually plays out in human history. Where you see clear evidence of this, I think, is in how Psalm 90 portrays for us Moses' prayer to G-d in the aftermath of the Golden Calf, what that prayer was really all about and how G-d responded to it.
Let me take you on a journey through this prayer, through this argument that Moses makes to G-d as Psalm 90 seems to articulate it. The Psalm begins with the words; Hashem ma'on atah hayita lanu b'dor va'dor - G-d, You have been our habitation, our abode, the Being in whom we reside, from generation to generation, forever, going back all the way into the infinite recesses of time. So here in these first couple of verses we get this portrayal of G-d, the infinite Being, the Master of all, who encompasses everything.
But after this we hear about something very different, we hear about man, the finite, limited being, the being who dies. Tashev enosh ad dakah - You return us to the dust, G-d and in so doing You say in effect; Shuvu bnei odom - return o you children of men. In other words, death is something of an impetus for us to get our affairs in order in this world, without it we could procrastinate forever and forever and never get around to doing anything useful in our lives. Death really is G-d's way of saying; Shuvu bnei odom - return to Me, you children of men, live a good life, you only get one chance.
Okay, so right at the beginning of the Psalm we get the infinite nature of G-d and then we get the very finite and limited nature of human beings. Now the psalmist becomes interested in a problem, a kind of issue, which is how do these two beings relate to one another, because they really are so very different. One of the most striking differences between them perhaps is how each of them experiences time. Ki elef shanim b'einecha k'yom etmol ki ya'avor - a thousand years G-d, in Your eyes, it's like yesterday. Zeramtam sheina yiheyu - the flow of our whole life it seems so long to us but it's like a dream, we die and then it just goes away. You see what's happening here? We're hearing about the contrast between the way You G-d, an infinite being, and us people, a finite being, experience everything. Existence might be permanent for You but not for us, a long time for us, it's a blink of an eye for You.
Okay, so now as the Psalm continues it's going to illustrate some problems that arise from this contrast. So for example, let's talk about anger, G-d's anger at human misdeeds. So G-d, what You might see as just a regular, ordinary display of justified anger, well guess what, we're more fragile than You are, we are consumed by Your anger, terrified by Your wrath. And, while we're at it, let's talk about we each experience human failing. You see with us, you know we sin one day and the next day you move on, that's our human perspective, but You G-d, You're an infinite being, so You look at it differently.
Shatah avonoteinu l'negdecha - You establish our sins before Your eyes; Alumeinu - our evil is illuminated by the eternal light of Your gaze. You see G-d, You're just too permanent a being for us, we do something in our finite realm and once it passes into Your infinite realm it's always there for You to look at and remember. When we committed the sin, we didn't experience it that way, we just did it and then we moved on. But that's not how You experience it, it's more permanent for You, after all in Your infinite world everything is permanent.
Therefore G-d look where this gets us. There You are up in heaven and You're going to be angry and it will seem to You like You're angry for a reasonably short time, but for us it's our whole lives. Kol yameinu panu b'evratecha - all of our days will pass in Your wrath, so is that really the way You want it to be, G-d, that our whole lifelong, 70, 80 years You were mad at us? Is this really how You want us to remember You? These are just the problems that come with the territory when an infinite being like You has to relate to finite, fragile beings like us.
Therefore G-d, Moses, as the psalmist portrays him, continues; I have some proposals I'd like to make. Here we get to the psalmist's paraphrase of Moses' final supplication at the Golden Calf. Shuvah Hashem - return please; Ad matai - how long do You really want to be angry for? V'hinachem al avadecha - please change Your mind about Your servants, don't do away with them because of this terrible sin of the Calf. And if You do keep them around, as I request, then also don't allow Your anger at this sin to define Your relationship to generation after generation of Your servants.
If you really look at the language carefully here by the way, you'll see something very beautiful and subtle going on. The first verb in that line, Shuv - return, here it's something that Moses is asking G-d to do but earlier in the Psalm that same word got used differently. You see the first time around it was G-d who was saying Shuv to mankind. Tashev enosh ad dakah vatomer shuvu bnei odom - death was G-d's way of saying 'return to Me'. You only get one chance you human beings, you better not mess it up. Now Moses in a daring kind of way is actually taking G-d's words and turning them on their head. You know G-d if we only get one life around here, well then it's not just us who should return, You should return too. As You Yourself said, we only get one time around at this world, it's all so fleeting our life, don't allow Your anger to define our whole experience of life.
V'hinachem al avadecha - return please, reconsider how You're relating to Your servants. Instead of just expressing anger; Sabeinu ba'boker chasdecha u'neranenah v'nismecha b'kol yameinu - satiate us with Your kindness G-d so that we can have some happiness in our lives.
Now we come to the Psalm's great, unexpected climax. Yeira'eh el avadecha pa'alecha - let Your work, let Your project be visible, be seen by Your servants - whatever this means, we'll explore it in a minute. Vihi no'am Hashem Elokeinu - let Your pleasantness, let Your presence, descend upon us; U'ma'asei yadeinu konenah aleinu - and establish the works of our hands. What does all this mean? What is the psalmist talking about here? Well, as it turns outs, all of this language, it actually comes from somewhere; the psalmist is making one, last intertextual leap, bringing us back to one, last story in the Five Books of Moses. This time the story is the Song at the Sea after Pharaoh's chariots were destroyed by the waves.
Here, back in Psalm 90, look at these three elements which we just read; Yeira'eh el avadecha pa'alecha - the notion of G-d's works, what G-d has done, His project. Put that together with the idea of; U'ma'asei yadeinu konenah aleinu - the works of one's hands being established. Take all of these three elements together, it's actually an echo of the very end of the Song at the Sea. After the song expresses thanks for the immediate triumph over the armies of Pharaoh it looks to the future and here's what it says. When You G-d, when You ultimately bring these people into the land; Machon leshivtecha pa'alta Hashem - You're going to make a place for Yourself where You can reside; Mikdash Hashem konenu yadecha - this holy place G-d, You, Yourself, with Your hands, You will establish it. Those are the three words that get echoed again in Psalm 90. Psalm 90 is harking back to this, but why?
Well if you think about the Song at the Sea it was actually painting a vision of the future that never came to be. The Song at the Sea suggested that the grand climax of the exodus from Egypt, when the people were going to be established in the land, was that after the people were established, G-d would establish a place for Himself. We call it the Beit Hamikdash - the Temple. Now if you think about the Song at the Sea and what it's really saying here, and you think about the construction of this place for G-d in this world, what we're really talking about is the convergence of the finite and the infinite once more, which has really been the whole theme of Psalm 90.
You see here was the plan that the Song at the Sea was talking about, the way history should have unfolded. The infinite being was going to come into this finite world and make Himself a place that would have like an infinite quality to it. It would last, it would endure from generation to generation. That's; Mikdash Hashem konenu yadecha - the Mikdash, G-d, that Your hands would build, You would establish it. Do you see what's happening here? G-d was supposed to make the Mikdash, that was the plan, but it's not what actually happened. The plan changed. When did it change and why did it change?
The psalmist tells you. It changed because Moses asked G-d to change it. He did that in the aftermath of the Golden Calf. The psalmist in Psalm number 90 takes all of those words from the end of the Song at the Sea and recombines them to form the end of the psalmist's elaboration of Moses' prayer. The words are the same but recombined they have an entirely different meaning. Yeira'eh el avadecha pa'alecha - G-d, allow us to see the realization of this grand, Divine, architectural project, but don't let it be something that You build; Ma'asei yadeinu konenah aleinu - we're going to make it for You. Let it be the works of our hands that You establish.
Moses is arguing that the Golden Calf changes everything. You might have had a nicer house G-d if You had built Yourself, but now, I have to ask You to settle for something else, allow us to be the ones to build Your home. Why? Why do You need to settle for that? It's the only solution to the problem I've been describing to You, G-d. Because we built something with our hands it only lasted a short time and it was destroyed, this terrible calf, but in Your eyes; Shatah avonoteinu l'negdecha - You see it in infinite time forever. It degrades our relationship with You. If that vision of the terrible thing we made will always infinitely be with You and I can't erase it from Your gaze, then I need to ask You to allow us to build something else with our own hands that can be a counterweight to that vision in Your eyes. Give us the opportunity to make something else. Give us the opportunity to make something You love that You can always look at. Give us an opportunity to make a place for You and us. That was Moshe's plea.
So this is how it happened that we came to build the Tabernacle, and ultimately the Temple. It wasn't the original plan. Mere mortals would now build His house. It's an enduring testament to the unimaginable power of prayer.
I hope this series has given you a bit of an insight into what the study of the Book of Psalms can be like. It can illuminate the spiritual back-story of great, climactic events in the Torah in marvelous ways. As for Psalm 90, it in the end tells a story, it's the story of the Ish Ha'Elokim and his prayer. Back at the Golden Calf when Moses was first a man of G-d, he had saved the people and he had done so by making a brazen request that G-d actually granted, by asking G-d to let them build Him a home. And in so doing he not only saved the people, he allowed the relationship between G-d and the people to remain warm and vibrant.
Now in V'zot HaBerachah that man of G-d would part from the people, crossing into heaven even as they crossed into the land, but he would part from them knowing that his prayer was successful. The people arrayed as the stars of the heavens, they would endure and their relationship with G-d would endure too. It would not be dominated forever by the angry memories of the Calf, instead, G-d would bring this people into Israel, their home, and once there the people would make a home for the Master of the Universe Himself, the one who brought them there.
Hey, it's Rabbi Fohrman again, thanks for watching this video. If you have comments, thoughts, questions, observations, feedback, I would love to hear about it. Just comment in our little comments section below. I don't get a chance to respond to all of them, but I do like reading them and will actually respond now and then. So have a great Shabbos, look forward to hearing what you have to say.
1. Bereishit: Thank You, God...For Not Making Me A Woman?
2. Noach: Why Aren't Dinosaurs In the Torah?
3. Lech Lecha: The Battle For Abraham's Legacy
4. Vayeira: Abram, Sarai, Hagar, Ishmael and...Exodus?
5. Vayeira: Epilogue
6. Chayei Sarah: Eliezer and Samuel's Surprising Connection
7. Toldot: What Is Isaac's Legacy?
8. Vayeitzei: Understanding Rachel's World
9. Vayishlach: From Jacob to Israel
10. Vayeishev: Does God Speak To Us Today?
11. Miketz: Reversing the Sale of Joseph
12. Vayigash: Understanding Pharaoh's Dream
13. Shmot: Does God Really "Love" Us?
14. Va'era: Seeing God in Science
15. Bo: God's Justice In Action
16. Beshalach: Fruit Trees In the Sea?
17. Beshalach: Epilogue
18. Yitro: Seeing Ten Commandments in the Burning Bush
19. Mishpatim: Does Our History Become Laws?
20. Mishpatim: Epilogue
21. Terumah: Angels In the Tabernacle? Part I/2
22. Tetzaveh: Angels In the Tabernacle?- Part 2/2
23. Ki Tisa: A Closer Look At Kiddush
24. Vayakhel-Pekudei: God In Space, God In Time
25. Pekudei: A Giant Chiasm In Sefer Shmot
26. Vayikra: How Can We Relate To Sacrifices Today?
27. Tzav: A Deeper Look At The Priestly Role
28. Tzav: Epilogue
29. Shemini: What Does Aaron Teach Us About Loss?
30. Tazria-Metzora: Rejoining the Community
31. Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: Social Justice...and Sacrifices?
32. Emor: An Epic View of Jewish Holidays
33. Behar-Bechukotai: Walking With God
34. Bamidbar: Why We Count
35. Beha'alotecha: Where It All Went Wrong
36. Shelach: How Can We Relate To Such a Vengeful God?
37. Korach: Why Did Korach Rebel?
38. Chukat: Why Did Moses Hit The Rock?
39. Balak: What Is Israel's Purpose In The World?
40. Pinchas: What Is True Leadership?
41. Matot-Masei: The Art of Negotiation
42. Devarim: What Did Moses Do Wrong?- Part 1/2
43. Va'etchanan: What Did Moses Do Wrong?- Part 2/2
44. Eikev: Why Does The Nation Of Israel Merit The Land?
45. Re'eh: Why Do We Need Both Oral and Written Law?
46. Shoftim: The Significance of Saving Private Ryan
47. Ki Teitzei: How To Merit Long Life
48. Ki Tavo: The Pursuit of Happiness- Part 1
49. Nitzavim: The Pursuit of Happiness- Part 2/2
50. Vayeilech: Moses' Farewell To Israel, Part 1/3
51. Ha'azinu: Moses' Farewell To Israel, Part 2/3
52. V'Zot Habracha: Moses' Farewell To Israel, Part 3/3
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