Tuesdays, 12:15 pm Eastern September 22, 2020 to April 13, 2021
Rabbi Dr. Beni Gesundheit will take you on a journey through the story of Tehillim where you will gain a new perspective based on the power of contextual interpretation beginning with the Davidic kingdom and its development through the time of the First Temple destruction, reconstruction of the kingship and return of the Exiles to Israel. This story influenced the lives of those who built the Second Temple and is a lesson that reverberates through history and our lives today.
Lecture 1: Location, Location, Location: The Power of Contextual Interpretation -Tehillim overview
Many commentaries have been used to understand each of the 150 songs of Tehillim; few relate to the meaning of their order and placement in the book. Contextual interpretation is an amazing tool that helps deepen our understanding of Tehillim based on this systematic method of analysis. The building blocks for the series are introduced in this lecture.
Lecture 2: Preservation of Nature – Human responsibility -The structure & story of Book I (1-41)
Tehillim 3-14, the first unit in Book 1, form a chiastic structure around its central mizmor, Tehillim 8. This mizmor describes the place of man in relation to God and the creation. The contextual interpretation will be used to show how parallel verses in proximal chapters surrounding this mizmor reinforce the concept that the respect given to man places upon him the responsibility to take care of creation.
The overall structure and story of Book 1, mizmorim 1-41, are presented using contextual interpretation.
Lecture 3: Creating a Model Society: Torah and the Davidic Kingdom -Tehillim 15-24
The second unit in Book 1, form a chiastic structure around its central mizmor, Tehillim 19. These mizmorim also provide a response to the problem of evil expressed in unit 1. Tehillim 19 poetically praises the Torah and its contribution to man. The contextual interpretation will be used to show how parallel verses in proximal chapters surrounding this mizmor reinforce the concept of our commitment to God, from nature which sings and praises God and the psalmist who describes his responsibility to Torah.
Lecture 4: Redundancy in the Tanakh? Tehillim 18, its parallels in Shmuel II 22 and its location in Sefer Tehillim
Why would the same chapter be repeated in two places in the Tanakh? What can we learn from the differences between these two almost identical texts? David’s song of thanks following his rescue from King Saul and his enemies and for the establishment of the future Davidic dynasty are repeated almost word for word in both II Samuel 22 and Tehillim 18. The contextual interpretation will be used to deepen our understanding of the seeming redundancy by its placement in Tehillim. The role of Mizmor 18 in the narrative of Unit II (15-24) is summarized.
Lecture 5: Man in God’s Kingdom Unit III, Tehillim 25-34
What structural elements define a pair of psalms as fraternal twins? How does such a framework help us better understand the mizmorim that are located between them? Tehillim 25-34, the third unit in Book I, form a concentric circle around its central mizmor, psalm 29, which serves as the turning point between the adjacent previous and following mizmorim. Tehillim 25 and 34, fraternal twin mizmorim, frame the intermediate psalms which describe the gradual process experienced by the psalmist. Tehillim 25–28 describes the psalmist’s troubles coupled with his desire to become close to God and be in His presence. Tehillim 30-34 describes salvation, thanksgiving to God and a description of God’s dominion in the world.
Lecture 6: A Student’s Guide to Confront Evil from Within and Without Unit IV, Tehillim 35-41
Does contextuality always have to use chiastic structure? Tehillim 35-41, the last unit in Book I, close both the unit and the entire first book. The spiritual development of the individual is shown in a linear progression through these mizmorim. Once David recuperates from his illness and is saved from his enemies, he works to correct wrongdoings and build the world, internalizing the teachings of the Torah and of Tehillim 1-34, so that he can do God’s will and live a Torah life. As a servant of God, he wants to influence all those listening to be involved in Tikun Olam.
Lecture 7: Thank You Hashem for My Mission to be Your Servant!, Mizmor 40, Intertextuality and a Summary of Book I
How do words in one mizmor fit with other books in the Tanakh? What messages can we learn for ourselves?Psalm 40 at the end of Book I is rich in words and phrases that are common to those in other books in the Tanakh, especially Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The methods of contextuality with Unit IV (35-41) and intertextuality will be used to explore these similarities and nuances which will enrich our understanding of the mizmor. A summary of Book I will also be presented.
Lecture 8: Theory vs. Reality; The Davidic Kingdom from Construction to Destruction: Structure & Story of Books II-III
Why would the mizmorim of Asaf, the sons of Korach and David be presented in separate collections in Books II and III of Tehillim? Wouldn’t it make more sense for psalms by the same author to be presented together in one place and not divided between books? Books II and III in Tehillim, comprised of collections of mizmorim attributed to several different authors, can also be considered to be one unit. Contextual interpretation shows that these books move along three axes; 1) the destruction of the Temple and kingdom of Israel which lead to Exile; 2) in contrast, David is the epitome of the ideal kingdom under God and longing for the Temple and; 3) using this model to breathe life into the vision of the redemption of Israel which includes the rebuilding of the Temple in Zion, ultimately to include all the nations of the world. Unfortunately, this vision does not come to fruition due to the realities of the Exile (Book III). The structure changes for the better in Book IV.
Lecture 9: Universal Recognition of God’s Kingdom on Israel and the World: The Rosh Hashanah Mizmor; Mizmor 47, its Context with 46-48 and the 1st Korach collection (K1)
What are the unique messages of mizmor 47? (And how to understand its role for Rosh Hashana immediately prior to the blowing of the Shofar)? Mizmor 47 is part of the first Korach collection K1 (42-49). The internal narrative of this group of mizmorim presents the nostalgia to Zion, mourning its destruction and hope for the future vision when all nations will recognize God in Jerusalem. The text, context and intertext of mizmor 47 are presented (and compared to the themes of Rosh Hashana).
Lecture 10: It’s Not Enough to Say that You’re Sorry: Psalm 51: A Paradigm for Repentance
What thoughts went through King David’s mind after being rebuked by Natan the Prophet? What did he say to show that he truly regretted his actions? What can we learn from this and apply to our personal lives when we are truly sorry for something that we have done wrong? Following the prophet Natan’s rebuke, mizmor 51 describes David’s confession after his sin with Bat Sheva. In this mizmor, David asks God for forgiveness so that he can teach sinners the ways of God. He pleads to be saved from murder so that he can praise God.
Lecture 11: The Thread of the Davidic Dynasty: Mizmor 50 and the 2nd David collection D2 (51-72) – its Structure and Story
Why would the mizmorim of David be presented in separate collections from the 1st David collection (D1) in Book I? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just compile all of David’s mizmorim together in the book of Tehillim? The analysis and context of Mizmor 50, the first mizmor of the Asaf Collection (50; 73-83), offer meaningful insights into the structure of Book II. Mizmorim 51-72 comprise the 2nd “for David” collection (D2). Insights from intertextual comparison with II Samuel 11-12 and contextual reading of D2 will reveal the overall structure and narrative, beginning with the moral foundation required for royalty (51) and continuing with events that occurred during David’s reign, including David’s old age (71, 9) when he passed his kingdom on to his son Shlomo (72). Differences between the D1 (3-41) and D2 collections are discussed.
Lecture 12: The King is Dead, Long Live the King!: Psalm 72, “For Shlomo”
The ending of this mizmor is dramatic. How appropriate is it to serve as the closing of D2 and the ending of Book II? And how does it fit into the overall structure of the Book of Tehillim? Mizmor 72, the first of only two mizmorim with the header l’Shlomo, concludes Book II of Tehillim with the sentence that “the prayers of David the son of Yishai are ended”. The contextual interpretation provides a powerful reason for the specific placement of this mizmor here in Sefer Tehillim. Intertextual comparison to the book of Zechariah also reveals further insights for understanding this mizmor.
As we light the Chanukah candles this week and recall the miracle of the oil lasting for 8 nights - join us in understanding the mizmorim of Tehillim that focus on the Beit HaMikdash and the proper approach to worshipping Hashem.
Lecture 13: Destruction, Exile and Reflection: God’s Justice in the World Asaf Collections (50, 73-83); Focus on 77-79
How are the Asaf collections connected to each other and what is their structure? How are they embedded in the adjacent mizmorim and in Books II and III? What can we learn from their serving as the envelope around the second David collection?
As discussed in previous shiurim, Asaf and his family were singers in the first Temple with King David; their tradition and legacy leads Am Yisrael through the Babylonian exile and then to the second Temple. Accordingly, their locations in Books II and III of Tehillim teach the proper approach to worshipping God in the Temple and the consequences if not followed. God is a just God to the Jews and to the nations who persecute His people. Mizmorim 77-79, in the center of the Asaf collection, are also the middle of the entire book of Tehillim. Our analysis will present and discuss their messages.
Second Asaf Collection A2 (73-83) and Mizmor 72
The second Asaf collection paints a depressing picture of the destruction of the Temple, the exile of the Jews and the victory of their enemies. How could these mizmorim have been put to music and even be called songs?
The second Asaf collection A2 (73-83) remembers King David (72) and the history of the Jewish people in order to face the destruction and the exile. Influenced by Megilat Eicha and the prophet Isaiah, Asaf builds new hope for the future as reflected in Books IV and V.
Lesson 15: Hitting Rock Bottom; the Only Way to Go is Up
2nd Bnei Korach Collection K2 (84-85, 87-88) and Mizmor 89
How are the Korach collections in Book II (42-49) and Book III (84-85; 87-88) connected to each other and what is their overall structure and message? What can we learn from their placement adjacent to mizmor 89, which concludes Book III of Tehillim?
The 1st Bnei Korach collection K1 (42-49) precedes and sets the stage for the 2nd David collection (51-72), which closes the Kingdom of David at the end of Book II. The 2nd Bnei Korach collection K2 (84-85; 87-88) in Book III repeats the nostalgic hope, concepts and messages for the Temple expressed in the K1 collection; the striking similarities between K1 and K2 also introduce new aspects for the post-David era. Mizmor 89 at the very end of Book III is not only a dramatic closing of King David’s era but also serves as the foundation for the new chapter of the return to Zion and the building of the 2nd Temple in Books IV and IV. The crisis at the end of Book III prepares the new historical chapter of returning from the diaspora to Zion.
Lesson 16: The Rehabilitation of Am Yisrael – Back to the Torah of Moshe!
Structure & Story of Book IV (90-106) and its opening with Mizmor 90
What can we learn from the placement of Moshe Rabeinu’s prayer as the interface between the destruction described at the end of Book III and the rehabilitation presented in Book IV?
After Book III and the destruction of David’s Kingdom in Mizmor 89, Book IV opens a new chapter of the spiritual restoration and response to the destruction described in Mizmor 89. Book IV consists of three units, all related to the advancement of God’s sovereignty in the world. Mizmor 90, Moshe’s prayer, which introduces Book IV, asks for compassion for the Jewish people and for success in what they do. This mizmor leads the process of rehabilitation; the goal of which is to restore God’s sovereignty to Israel and the nations (95-100), to the renewal of David’s Kingdom (101); these historical changes (102-106) pave the way to the return from the diaspora and ingathering of the exiles (Book V). A historical review of the twin mizmorim 105-106 closes Book IV with a thesis and antithesis, while Mizmor 107, which opens Book V continues with the synthesis of these twin chapters and a message that continues to resonate with us, the generation that has merited to see the return to Zion.
Lesson 17: God’s Creation Restored: Reflections on Good and Evil, the Righteous and the Wicked, Success and Failure
Mizmor 92: The Shabbat Mizmor and the First Unit of Book IV as a response to Mizmor 89
It is obvious from the header of this mizmor, why it was chosen as the song of the day for Shabbat. But how does its content fit into the overall narrative and messages of Book IV?
Mizmor 92 has an outstanding poetic structure, rich contextual and intertextual connections which contribute substantially to its messages. Mizmor 92 informs us of the rehabilitation of the generation who returns from the exile. Mizmorim 90-94, starting off with Moshe’s prayer (Mizmor 90), is a literary unit that provides a response to Mizmor 89. Contextual interpretation aids in developing the story of Book IV.
Lesson 18: Paving the Way to God’s Kingdom over Israel and the Nations
Mizmorim 95-100: The Second Unit of Book IV
How does God’s sovereignty affect the Jews, all the peoples of the world and their relationships? Will there be changes in the world order?
Mizmor 95 is a song of praise and warning. Mizmorim 96-99 serve as the internal axis for Book IV , while 96-97 primarily address the nations and 98-99, Am Yisrael. Mizmor 100 expresses thanks to God in the past and future. Contextual interpretation of the unit will show the progression of God’s kingdom in the world as part of the rehabilitation of Israel from the terrors of the exile. In the closing Mizmor (100), all nations will join Am Yisrael in accepting Hashem’s Kingdom and eventually thanking and praising Hashem for being together with Am Yisrael in the Temple. Contextual interpretation also sheds a fascinating light on the inclusion of Mizmorim 95-99 together with Mizmorim 92-93 by the Kabbalists in the weekly Kabbalat Shabbat prayers.
Overview of Mizmorim 101-106, Focus on Mizmor 102
How do we transition between exile, rehabilitation and revival in Eretz Yisrael? What are the stages in the redemptive process?
Mizmor 101 describes the return of King David, 102 the return of the Jewish people from the Exile and Mizmorim 103-104 praise Hashem for these developments. Chapters 105-106 give a historical review resulting in the prayer at the end of Book IV to return from the Exile. Contextual interpretation will be used to help unlock the psychological and philosophical world of Mizmor 102.
Lesson 20: Thesis (105) - Antithesis (106) – Synthesis (107): Historical Responsibility
What can we learn from the connection between 2 historical overviews (105-106) and giving thanks for salvation (107)? What does this relationship, which is also the bridge between Books IV and V, come to teach us?
Mizmorim 105-106, which close Book IV, present 2 historical reviews. Mizmor 105, the thesis, contains God’s blessed leadership for the people. Mizmor 106, the antithesis, focuses on the people’s disobedience which results in the Exile and their prayer to return to Zion at the end of Book IV. Mizmor 107, the synthesis which opens Book V, is filled with thanks by 4 groups of people saved from difficult situations and their return from the Exile after they called upon God. Contextual interpretation will explore the interface between the mizmorim at the end of Book IV and the beginning of Book V which request for and begin to describe the realization of the dream of redemption and revival in Eretz Yisrael. With these insights at the end of the chapter, Mizmor 107 serves as a meaningful opening for Book V, which will be discussed in the next lecture.
Lesson 21: When You Call Out My Name, You Know That Wherever I Am, I’ll Come Running
Structure & Story of Book V - Opening Mizmor 107 - Structure & Context & Intertext
How can contextual interpretation be used to help our understanding of Mizmor 107, its opening of Book V and its recitation on Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim?
Book V details the vision and the program for the revival of the Jewish people in Israel in various steps which will deepen the connection to the land, Jewish history and the people. Jews of the Diaspora and all nations will eventually be part of this process under King David’s leadership. Three Hallel units appear in Book V (113-118, 135-136; 145-150) with similar but different messages; they provide the structure of the narrative of Book V.
Mizmor 107 is the ideal opening for this process, as we shall see from analysis of its text, context and intertext. Therefore, it was chosen to be recited also on Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim.
Lecture 22: God and the Righteous: Two-Way Communication
The Twin Mizmorim 111-112 and Comparison to Mizmorim 1 and 119
What can we learn from the special structure and contents of the adjacent Mizmorim 111 and 112? How can these be compared to other mizmorim in Tehillim?
Mizmorim 111 and 112 are arranged in the same manner and appear to have a similar message, and therefore, they are considered to be “twin” mizmorim. While Mizmor 111 praises God’s manifestation in the world, Mizmor 112 describes the qualities of the Zadik who walks in His ways (“imitatio Dei”). These two mizmorim demonstrate that God and the Zadik function as twins.
Contextual interpretation will be used to compare the twin chapters 111-112 to Mizmor 1 and to Mizmor 119, which are all similarly structured. This comparison reflects a fascinating spiritual, religious and psychological journey.
Lesson 23: The Exodus From Egypt: Relevance for All Time
Mizmorim 113-118 (The Egyptian Hallel)
Why is this entire group of 6 Mizmorim referred to as the Egyptian Hallel even though the Exodus is only mentioned in Mizmor 114? What is the role of Mizmor 114 in the story of Mizmorim 113-118 which focus on Hallel (praise) and Hodaah (thanks)?
The Exodus from Egypt is presented in Mizmor 114 as if the poet was actually present at this historic event. The other mizmorim in the unit highlight various aspects of the Exodus and subsequent journey, ending with the entry to the Temple in Yerushalayim (118).
At the Pesach Seder, the Egyptian Hallel in the Haggadah serves as a basic Biblical text that tells the Exodus from Egypt in two parts; 113-114 before the meal and 115-118 after the meal. Insights into the narrative of the Egyptian Hallel according to the Contextual Interpretation explain the logic and the meaning of its division during the Seder.
Lesson 24: 176 Verses?? How to Identify the Narrative of the Longest Mizmor in Tehillim
Mizmor 119: Structure, Meaning and Context
This long Mizmor praises the Torah in an 8-fold alphabetic order which seems to be very repetitive and monotonous. Is there a structure and a message or is this just a long collection of verses with the same ideas? And why is it placed between the Egyptian Hallel and the Shirei Hamaalot collection?
Contextual interpretation, as has been shown through the course, will be applied to identify the story and messages of this mizmor, comprised of 22 units each composed of 8 verses. In addition, contextual interpretation will show how well positioned Mizmor 119 is between the adjacent Egyptian Hallel (113-118) and the Shirei Hamaalot (120-135) and how it correlates with the beginning and end of the entire book of Tehillim.
Lesson 25: Standing on the Steps of the Holy Temple
Shirei HaMaalot (Mizmorim 102-134): Their Structure and Story
What characterizes these 15 short songs and what connects them? Contextual interpretations shows the structure of 3 units (120-124; 125-129, 130-134), describing the return of the Jewish people from the exile to Jerusalem, building of the city and establishment of religious life in the Temple. The entire collection of these mimzorim is well integrated into the narrative of Book V as a bridge between Mizmor 119 and the Great Hallel (135-136).
Lesson 26: A Tale of Two Hallels: Similarities and Differences Creating the Narrative in Book V
Mizmorim 113-118 (Egyptian Hallel) and 135-136 (Great Hallel)
Why are there two Hallel collections and why are they not placed together as one unit? What can we learn from their specific locations before and after Mizmorim 119-134?
The Egyptian Hallel describes the Exodus and anticipated journey to Yerushalayim; the Great Hallel reflects the universal dream of Israel’s life in the Land of Israel amidst the nations of the world. The break between these wonderful Hallels by the praise of the Torah (Mizmor 119) and the Shirei HaMaalot (120-134) precisely emphasizes the progression from particularity of the Jewish nation to its universal messages for other nations. The entire collection of Mizmorim from 113-136 tells the story of the revival of the Jewish people in Zion following their return from the exile.
Additionally, the two Hallel units are an important part of the Pesach Seder. Contextual interpretation will be used to understand the significant messages of the two Hallels and contribute to our Seder experience.
Mizmor 137 and the Last David Collection (138-145): Unit II of Book V
How do the wish for punishment for Babylon and the last David collection complete the picture for Jewish survival? What are the connections between this mizmor, the previous units of Book V and the last David collection which envision the restoration of the Davidic kingdom and hope for world-wide redemption?
Mizmor 137 describes the sad state of the Jews in exile by the rivers of Babylon, their eternal allegiance to Jerusalem and calls for revenge on the enemies responsible for the destruction. The complex inter-connections between this and the eight mizmorim in the last David collection may be elucidated by contextual interpretation which reveals the flow of the narrative of Book V and its role in the entire Book of Tehillim.
Mizmor 145 (Tehila l’David/Ashrei)
Mizmor 145, Ashrei, is said three times on a daily basis every day and on all holidays. What is the special message contained in this mizmor that justifies its multiple recitations and its unique heading "Tehila l’David"?
In this mizmor, the psalmist first blesses God on his own (1-2), in the middle he invites others to join him (10) and in the last line (21) "all flesh" will join King David to praise God. In addition, Mizmor 145 is located at a critical junction in the book of Tehillim; it is the final mizmor in the last David collection (138-145) and, it is also the opening mizmor of the final Hallel unit (145-150). Contextual interpretation will aid in the understanding of this mizmor and its location at the end of the entire Book of Tehillim: While the Egyptian Hallel (113-118) experienced the new exodus from the Exile, and the Great Hallel (135-136) celebrates the Jewish people living in Zion, in the final Hallel (145-150) at the end of this process, David invites all Jews and Gentiles in the world to sing a new song and praise Hashem with him (145); and indeed, this happens gradually in the final Hallel unit which concludes the entire narrative of the book of Tehillim.
Lesson 29: The Ultimate Hallel: Praising God in Zion by All Peoples and Creation
Pesukei deZimra: the Concluding Mizmorim of Tehillim (145, 146-150)
How do these concluding Mizmorim of the Book of Tehillim contribute to the narrative of the book? And why were they chosen to be an integral part of the daily Shacharit prayers?
In Tehila 145 David praises God for the last time and invites the entire world to follow him; indeed in 146-150, that is what King David's audience does. The final Mizmorim that conclude the Book of Tehillim display a subtle tension between God’s unique covenant with the Jewish people and the universal vision for the future of the world. Intertextual and contextual observations reveal the historical background of the 2nd Temple period and the philosophical messages of this final unit of the entire book of Tehillim: everybody - Jews and Gentiles alike - are encouraged to join King David's praise of God in the rebuilt city Zion; all citizens of Zion and all nations will join till the entire universe and every soul will praise God - HALLELUYAH
Lesson 30: Tehillim as a Religious Journey: Where Do We Go From Here?
Throughout this course of 30 lectures, we have learned how use of contextual interpretation adds to the multi-layered and relevant messages of Tehillim to each of us as individuals, as part of the Jewish people and as citizens of the world, from the early days of Jewish history through the current redemption. Today’s final class will include concluding remarks by Rabbi Dr. Beni Gesundheit and others responsible for the 929 English project, Torah in Motion and additional sponsors who enabled this wonderful opportunity to teach. In addition, Professor Egbert Ballhorn, a prominent expert in Psalm Research and its contextual reading who studied in Bonn, Vienna and Jerusalem will share his research, insights and love for Sefer Tehillim with us. And finally, there will be some surprises for all attendees.
May we all continue to say Halleluya for many years to come!