Psalms are the 150 poems which praise, beseech, thank, or express intense fear and love for G-d. Psalms depicts in majestic and flawless Hebrew real, yet great, people living their real lives. These great people are described as growing, learning, and coming to grips with a world under the rule of a perfect and all-knowing G-d.
How does one recover from a spiritual fall?
How should we react to our enemies' attacks?
Where does personal initiative leave off and faith take over?
How does one train oneself to appreciate how much one owes one's G-d... and how does one properly thank Him?
These are some of the questions that are dealt with in the pages of Psalms.
Who wrote Psalms? King David, right? Partly right. Our rabbis tell us (see Talmud Bavli, Bava Basra 14b) that David wrote the book based on his own experiences along with the contributions of other great Jewish figures (including Adam - the first man - and Moses).
Who was David? It would be very unfair to paint the builder of Jerusalem and the author of Psalms with the same brush you'd use for any other warrior-king. In other words, the popular image of David as a great fighter and lover doesn't seem true in light of the evidence:
Our rabbis tell us that David was the greatest Torah scholar of his generation. He was the man to whom the most complicated legal questions were brought. This king pushed away sleep and personal physical enjoyment and rose each night at midnight to pray privately to G-d and then to study His Torah. When he was needed at court or in some meeting, we are told that King David would start out with the best of intentions, but instead his feet would carry him to the place of his first love: the hall of Torah study. King David was also the man chosen by G-d to lead the Jewish nation to the spiritual heights of Divine service. One of his descendents is destined to be the Messiah. This is a different David from the popular image...
Given the qualities of the author/editor of Psalms, the intense personal nature of the poems and the beauty of the Hebrew, it's no wonder that Psalms is as popular as it is. For centuries, Jews have turned to Psalms to give voice to their deepest feelings, both in times of great trouble and of great happiness. Psalms can unlock our hearts and draw us up towards their exalted greatness. This is a book worthy of our attention; both academic and emotional!
Rabbi Boruch Clinton teaches at the Ottawa Torah Institute yeshiva high
school and Machon Sarah high school for girls (both in Ottawa, Canada).
You may reach him with comments and questions at
You can now read some of Rabbi Clinton's essays on Torah life at
You can also buy his collection of essays on
the Book of Shmuel (Samuel) in printed form at
Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi
Clinton and Project Genesis, Inc.