PSALM 22: TEXT AND INTERPRETATION

 

Donald Tam

 

 

The Text

 

  1. To the chief Musician upon Ayelet Hashchar, A Psalm of David.
  2. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my loud complaint?
  3. O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and I have no rest.
  4. But thou art holy, O thou that art enthroned upon the praises of Yisrael.
  5. Our fathers trusted in thee; they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
  6. They cried to thee, and were delivered; they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.
  7. But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
  8. All that see me laugh me to scorn; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying:
  9. He trusts in the Lord that he will deliver him!  Let him deliver him, seeing he delights in him.
  10. But thou are he that took me out of the womb; thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.
  11. I was cast upon thee from the womb; thou art my God from my mother’s belly.
  12. Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
  13. Many bulls have compassed me; strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
  14. They gape upon me with their mouths, like a ravening and roaring lion.
  15. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint:  my heart is become like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
  16. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; and thou layest me down in the dust of death.
  17. For dogs have compassed me:  the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me:  they seize my hands and my feet like lion.
  18. I can count all my bones:  they look and stare upon me.
  19. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.

 

  1.  But be not thou far from me, O Lord:  O my strength, haste thee to help me.
  2. Deliver my life from the sword; my only one from the power of the dog.
  3. Save me from the lion’s mouth; for thou has answered me from the horn of the wild oxen.

 

 

  1. I will declare thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee.
  2. You who fear the Lord, praise him; all you the seed of Yaakov, glorify him; and fear him, all the seed of Yisrael.
  3. For he has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has he hid his face from him; but when he cried to him, he heard.
  4. My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation:  I will pay my vows before those who fear him.
  5. The meek shall eat and be satisfied:  those who seek him shall praise the Lord:  may your heart forever revive!
  6. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord:  and all the families of the nations shall worship before thee.
  7. For the kingdom is the Lord’s:  and he is ruler over the nations.
  8. All the fat ones of the earth shall eat and worship:  all they that go down to the dust, and he that cannot keep alive his own soul, shall bow before him.
  9. Their seed shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation. 
  10. They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness to a people that shall be born, that he has done this.

 

 

 

Commentary

 

 

2.My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art Thou so far from helping me, from the words of my loud complaint?

3.O my God, I cry in the daytime, but Thou hearest not; and in the night season, and I have no rest.

I stand in the context of my people’s history.  I cannot extricate myself from that context even to survive, for to survive only as an individual cut from the branch of my people is to become a leaf driven in the wind; in the end desiccated and shriveled, separated from the sap which feeds its life.  I am caught with my people in the jaws of a trap, not of my making and from which there is no escape.  I am utterly left to my fate in a world filled with wolves.  I cannot defend myself nor those whom I love.  Their suffering is my suffering.  And to what purpose are these sufferings?  The terrors and torture are beyond endurance and undeserved.  I cry out to You O God for my sake, for the sake of my own loved ones and for the sake of my community.  Where are You in Your awesome and terrible silence?  You have deserted this world.   

 

4.But Thou art holy, O Thou that art enthroned upon the praises of Yisrael.

“Just as one is obliged to bless the Almighty for the good, so is he obliged to bless Him for the evil.” (Berachot 54a)  Even now I accept the obligation to praise you God.  Even in the midst of an excremental world, I praise you.

 

5.Our fathers trusted in Thee; they trusted, and Thou didst deliver them.

6.They cried to Thee, and were delivered; they trusted in Thee, and were not confounded.

Where now is the voice that once answered us?  I hope in you now as my people did in ancient days, but unlike the generation which witnessed your saving power at the Sea of Reeds neither are my cries for help heard by You, God, nor do You hear the cries of my people.

 

7.But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.

8.All that see me laugh me to scorn; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head,   saying:

9.He trusts in the Lord that He will deliver him!  Let Him deliver him, seeing he

delights in Him.

Our enemies, who torture and murder us, degrade us first.  We are an object for “fun making:” tearing out old men’s beards, marching us naked to the killing pits, we have less value than the cockroaches that scurry along the floorboards of our slime filled barracks.  They drown us for fun in trenches of our own excrement, laughing at us with words of deliverance delivered as a mockery of the Deliverer.  “It’s Passover Jews, call out to your God for deliverance!  Tell Him to part the shit so you can walk through it onto dry ground!”

 

10.But Thou are He that took me out of the womb; Thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.

11.I was cast upon Thee from the womb; Thou art my God from my mother’s belly.

12.Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.

But even in this Hell, there are many who do not despair.  Did You not take this people of mine out of a world of idol worshippers to declare Your truth among the nations?  You took us into the world as a baby is cast from the womb.  We were compelled to become Jews in the world by some mysterious force not of our own creation.  Some can still hope in You.  I still hope in You.  I beg You, don’t be far from us.  Trouble is near.  Why are you so far?

 

13.Many bulls have compassed me; strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.   14.They gape upon me with their mouths, like a ravening and roaring lion

15.I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint:  my heart is become like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.

16.My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; and Thou layest me down in the dust of death.

17.For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me:  they seize my hands and my feet like lion.

18.I can count all my bones:  they look and stare upon me. 

19.They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.

            The dogs that met us on the platform snarled and growled in fury.  Some of them were set upon us for a joke.  The evil doers surrounded us as we stood in two lines, terrified and numbed at the same time.  Our bowels gave way in fear.  We soiled ourselves.  Not even animals do such.  Marching the children with their mothers and the elderly to the fires of Hell while I and my brothers are taken to the entrance gates of Hell, where I am stripped of my garments so that they may be sent “home” to warm the “bulls and cows of Bashan” in a hundred German cities.

 

  1. My praise shall be of Thee in the great congregation:  I will pay my vows before those who fear him.
  2. The meek shall eat and be satisfied:  those who seek Him shall praise the Lord:  may your heart forever revive!
  3. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord:  and all the families of the nations shall worship before Thee.
  4. For the kingdom is the Lord’s:  and He is Ruler over the nations.
  5. All the fat ones of the earth shall eat and worship:  all they that go down to the dust, and he that cannot keep alive his own soul, shall bow before him.
  6. Their seed shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation. 
  7. They shall come, and shall declare His righteousness to a people that shall be born, that He has done this.

But still I carry Your image into the world as long as I remain part of my people, no matter their fate.  So have I been commanded to do through the cords of a hundred generations.  So I insist that the Lord is ruler, not the wolves in human form that set their dogs on me and those whom I love more than life.  Still I insist it is the Lord God of Israel who stamps his image upon humankind, not the ancient child eating gods of human perversions.  Still I insist the Lord is ruler over the nations, not Himmler and Hitler.  And so I “sanctify your Name,” even now.  I sanctify your Name with the slaughter pits before us, while the smokestacks of the crematoria fart into the air the weightless remains of their eaten prey.  I sanctify your Name with the kapos beating me with their clubs for sport and in the midst of the killing labor which pours out my blood like water.  I sanctify your Name when the illnesses I suffer turn my bowels to water and my bones to dust. Who shall reflect Your image among humankind – the Ukrainian guards who break our bones for sport, or those like the sainted Satmir Rebbe who shares his small piece of bread with little Moretz?

            Our rabbis taught us we have a choice in the manner in which we accept and prepare for our death.  Rabbi Nechemya Alter, at a meeting of rabbis in the Lodz Ghetto, underscored the foundation of “the sanctification of your Name:”  “not to degrade ourselves before the gentiles.”  The preparation of some of the Hassidic leaders as the Brezner, Grodzisker, and Zaloshizer rebbeim reflect the calming influence they had on our terror, as they themselves faced death with dignity (Irving J. Rosenbaum, The Holocaust and Halakhah, Ktav, 1976, p.62).  So it is that while I may die with Your silence, the seed of my murderers will come one day to acknowledge the God for whom I have lived and on whose account I and my people die.  If our lives will not be saved, at least Your name and our righteousness and the true image of humanity will someday be vindicated.  In this I must hope, or lose my humanity before I lose my life.  If our murderers win in the end, then You God have lost the world.  This I cannot believe will be the final word.  The final word of humanity, Your Face in this reality, will be that of the Satmar Rebbe in the starving Hell of Auschwitz: “Here Moritz, come, take a little of my bread.”