Posted on August 8, 2014 By Rabbi David Sykes | Series: | Level:

I remember that one morning a Jew who was among the “Tehillim readers” approached me. In one hand, he had a volume of Gemara that had a torn binding, as well as some torn pages. In the other, he had a small volume of Tehillim. The man extended the Gemara to me and said to me: “Please tell your father (My father was the Gabbai in the synagogue) to give this large torn Gemara to a bookbinder so that he can, at my expense, cut it up and make a number of little Tehillim books. The man removed the little Tehillim from his other hand, and, using it, measured the number of Tehillim books it would be possible to prepare from the large torn volume of Gemara.

At first, I thought the man was joking, and, hearing his words, I smiled together with my friends. Only later, when I matured, did I understand that this man was in fact unlearned to the point that he did not know how to distinguish between a Book of Tehillim and a volume of Gemara. For him, they differed only in their external dimensions, and, for that reason, in his ignorance, he thought that it would be possible to prepare several little books of Tehillim from one large volume of Gemara. He was illiterate. He would hold the Tehillim book in his hand, but he would say the Tehillim by heart. It is doubtful whether there are such ignorant Jews today as there once were. However, it is even more doubtful whether there are, today, simple and pure Jews like these, whose faith was so deeply rooted, “Tehillim Jews”, who grew up and were educated with the Book of Tehillim. These Jews served God with all their heart and might, without great comprehension, without intellectual expectations and pleasure, but with loyalty, honesty of heart, and devotion.

These Jews never studied Tehillim, just as they did not study Gemara or Chumash. The difficult circumstances of their lives made it impossible for them to study in Cheder and to know Torah. Sometimes, they were orphans, having no father or mother, or their parents disappeared for various reasons. Nonetheless, they found their place in the study hall, before the morning prayers, and, together with many others, said a “Day of Tehillim” (It was customary to say the entire Book of Tehillim over the course of each week. To this end, the Book of Tehillim was divided into seven parts, with each part to be said on the same day every week.), and only after that did they say the morning prayers and go out to seek their food for the day. These are the “Tehillim Sayers” who expressed through the verses of Tehillim the bitterness of their hearts, their longings, their distress, and their strivings. They uttered before the Master of the universe everything that concerned them, and the words were the same words David, King of Israel, had composed for them.

These were not Jews of the mind; they did not know how to serve God with their minds. Therefore, they served Him with their mouths, and, mainly, with their warm and loving hearts, as the Tehillim provided them with the passionate words.

This power of “saying Tehillim” is the special power of this book, which has no analog in the other books of the Torah. And it may be postulated that, because of this strength, the Book of Tehillim became the inheritance of the masses, and everyone found in it a brother and a friend for his heart, all the way through the long years of our exile.

King David said, “At midnight I rise to thank You for Your just laws.” The Gemara (Berachos 3b) says that Rabbi Ashi elaborated: “David involved himself with the study of Torah until midnight, and, after that, with songs and praises of God.” As is well-known, the night is always a symbol of the exile of Israel. Therefore, in the first half of the night, which symbolizes the first half of the exile, when the Jews were still strong and strengthened themselves through Torah, King David, peace be upon him, studied Torah; he knew that, through the power of the Torah, they would be able to withstand the difficulty of the servitude. In those days, even when severe decrees were poured out upon the Jews, the Torah filled the heart of the Jews; there were mighty Torah scholars among them, and the entire nation was strongly bound up with the Torah and its students. But in the second half of the night, which corresponded to the second half of our exile, when a consoler and restorer of the soul has become far from us, and the yoke of the exile has become progressively heavier, and the forgetting of the Torah has become greater and greater, the heart of David became filled with trepidation for his people: What can the son do so as not to be lost? How will faith remain in their hearts? How will the Torah and the love of Torah survive? How will the glowing coal be preserved until there comes “the time to favor her”, the time of the Redemption?

Because of this, King David, may peace be upon him, rose at midnight to involve himself with songs and praises, with the Book of Tehillim he composed, for the sake of his nation, for the sake of the sheep of his flock dispersed and exiled among the nations, so that they would be able to withstand the distress of the times. An analogy may be drawn to a very wealthy man who lost his money. In the first years, he still sells his many objects — his furniture, his silver vessels, and everything in his house — in order to feed his children. However, slowly and gradually, all of his possessions are exhausted, and he has nothing else to sell, or even to pawn, to bring even dry bread to his hungry family.

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