Text Based Learning

A Deeper Look at Tehilim: ‘I Lift up my Eyes’ Part 2 (Psalm 121)
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Thursday 17th July 2014

(Green Siddur, p.510)

Last week, we began an analysis of this psalm, considering its place as part of the Shir Hamaalot section of Tehillim.
The psalm commences in the first person:
“I lift my eyes up to the hills; from where will my help come?”

It is not clear if the hills are the reason for looking for help, due to their vastness and threat; or perhaps they allude to the fact that no natural structure, even the mighty mountains, can provide real protection from looming danger.

The Midrash suggests that harim (hills) can also be read as horim, our ancestors, by changing the vowels around the word. This refers to our forefathers and mothers, to whom we would naturally turn for help in difficult times. Yet it is ultimately G-d who is our true protector.

The psalm refers to G-d as being the “Maker of the Heaven and Earth” in the present tense. G-d continually creates, as reflected in the words of our morning prayers: “He constantly renews in His goodness the act of creation every day” (see Green Siddur, p.62).

In the third verse the structure changes. It is as if another person is speaking from outside assuring me:

“He will not let your foot stumble”. So too later the verse reads: “The Lord is your Guardian”.

Throughout the psalm, G-d is referred to in the third person. He guards from afar.

The Jew can become dejected in his state of exile. Yet the Psalmist assures us “Behold the Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps”. These words are a declaration of faith. Even though we do not always see it, G-d is watching and His providence looks down from above.

Who is the person who historically lifted up his eyes to the hills?

Could it be King David, surrounded by enemies, yet who sees assurance in G-d as the Guardian of Israel?

Or perhaps, as the Midrash relates, it refers to Ya’akov when working for and then fleeing from Lavan. Indeed, Ya’akov told Lavan: “by day scorching heat consumed me, and frost by night” (Bereishit 31:40). This finds resonance in the words “the sun will not strike you by day, nor the moon by night”.

Or maybe it refers to the Jew who would set off on a dangerous pilgrimage to the Temple, relying on G-d for his safety throughout his journey.

Or perhaps it refers to all of the above. Indeed the greatness of this psalm is that it acts as an eternal mouthpiece of prayer in the face of the trials and tribulations of the Jew.

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