Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Early Morning Bialik

This morning, after waking up very early, I was reading Yehuda Mirsky's biography of Rav Kook. On page 35 he quotes a line from a Bialik poem, לא זכיתי באור מן ההפקר.[1]
I dutifully looked up the poem in my copy of Kol Kitvei Bialik and was quite taken by the short poem. A google search for the text brought to my attention that Miki Gavrielov (http://jazztimes.com/guides/artists/14267-miki-gavrielov) had actually put this song to music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8Th7oH5HUA
(These are all things that I’m sure any Israeli my age would know like the back of their hands—but, of course, I’m not Israeli.)
Being up so early, I felt motivated to translate this beautiful poem. After completing my translation, I discovered that I was not the first (nor, I’m sure the last) to have tried my hand at translating this poem (for example: http://www.soulandgone.com/2014/05/03/hayim-nahman-bialik-lo-zakhiti-be-or-min-ha-hefqeir/ this is also the site from which I stole the Hebrew with nikkud) but here’s my attempt:

H.N. Bialik
I Did Not Merit the Light from the Castoff
I did not merit the light from the castoff,
Nor did it come as an inheritance from my father,
But from my rock and my slab I cleaved it
And hewed it from my heart.

One spark is concealed in the flint of my heart,
A small spark—but it is all mine,
Neither borrowed from another, nor stolen
But it is from me and in me.

Under the hammer of my great sorrows
For my heart bursts, my strength’s rock,
The spark flies, it leaps into my eye,
And from my eyeto my verse.

And from my verse it escapes to your hearts,
And in the burning of your fire that I have ignited, it vanishes,
And I, with my flesh and my blood
Shall fulfill the burning-flame.

חיים נחמן ביאליק
לא זכיתי באור מן ההפקר

לֹא זָכִיתִי בָאוֹר מִן-הַהֶפְקֵר,
אַף לֹא-בָא לִי בִירֻשָּׁה מֵאָבִי,
כִּי מִסַּלְעִי וְצוּרִי נִקַּרְתִּיו
וַחֲצַבְתִּיו מִלְּבָבִי.

נִיצוֹץ אֶחָד בְּצוּר לִבִּי מִסְתַּתֵּר,
נִיצוֹץ קָטָן – אַךְ כֻּלּוֹ שֶׁלִּי הוּא,
לֹא שְׁאִלְתִּיו מֵאִישׁ, לֹא גְנַבְתִּיו
כִּי מִמֶּנִּי וּבִי הוּא.

וְתַחַת פַּטִּישׁ צָרוֹתַי הַגְּדוֹלוֹת
כִּי יִתְפּוֹצֵץ לְבָבִי, צוּר-עֻזִּי,
זֶה הַנִּיצוֹץ עָף, נִתָּז אֶל-עֵינִי,
וּמֵעֵינִי – לַחֲרוּזִי.

וּמֵחֲרוּזִי יִתְמַלֵּט לִלְבַבְכֶם,
וּבְאוּר אֶשְׁכֶם הִצַּתִּיו, יִתְעַלֵּם,
וְאָנֹכִי בְּחֶלְבִּי וּבְדָמִי
אֶת-הַבְּעֵרָה אֲשַׁלֵּם.




[1] Kol Kitvei Ch. N. Bialik (Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1947), 31.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Dreams of Destiny

This is the derasha I gave on Shabbat at BCMH:
These past few months have been difficult ones for the Jewish people. It feels as if not a day passes without being confronted by some horrific event that leaves us feeling depressed and wondering: what’s next?
Three times each Shabbot before Birkat HaMazon we sing the words of David Hamelekh in Tehillim:
שִׁיר, הַמַּעֲלוֹת: בְּשׁוּב ה', אֶת-שִׁיבַת צִיּוֹןהָיִינוּ, כְּחֹלְמִים.
A song of ascents. When the L-rd restores Zion’s fortunes, we were like dreamers.[1]
Like a dream, the events that play themselves out before our eyes seem unreal. We sense there is a meaning, a purpose, to all of our sufferings, but it alludes us. We are desperately in need of a Yosef who can discern the inner truth that lies hidden beneath the horror.
I believe that a deeper understanding of Yosef and his dreams can teach us how to approach these difficult times as we await the final dream of redemption.
The Gemara in Berakhot (55b) relates a fascinating story:
R. Bizna bar Zavda said in the name of R. Akiba, who said it in the name of R. Panda, who said it in the name of R. Nahum, who said it in the name of R. Biryam, who said it in the name of a certain elder — and who was this? R. Bana'ah: There were twenty-four interpreters of dreams in Yerushalayim. Once I dreamt a dream and I went round to all of them and they all gave different interpretations, and all were fulfilled, confirming that which is said: “כל החלומות הולכין אחר הפה”—“All dreams follow the mouth.” But is the statement “all dreams follow the mouth” Scriptural?  Yes, as stated by Rebbi Eleazar. For Rebbi Eleazar said: From where do we know that all dreams follow the mouth? Because it says, “וַיְהִי כַּאֲשֶׁר פָּתַר-לָנוּ, כֵּן הָיָה “—“and it was, as he interpreted to us, so it was.”[2]
Those, as we will read in next week’s parasha, were the words of the Minister of Butlers when he was describing Yosef to Pharaoh.
But does this not contradict the words of יוסף himself who says quite clearly (B’reishit, 40:8): הֲלוֹא לֵא-לֹהִים פִּתְרֹנִים—do not interpretations belong to G-d?[3]
So which one is it? Did Yosef (and other interpreters) determine the outcome of dreams or does G-d?
I believe Rav Ovadia Seforno’s comments on this verse offer a novel solution to this problem. He suggests that Yosef was not saying that G-d would directly provide him with an interpretation[4] but that the science of dream interpretation was something within man’s grasp, in so far as he is created בצלם א-לוהים, in the likeness of G-d.
Let me take a moment to explain what the Seforno means. א-לוהים is the name of G-d used in the first chapter of B’reishit—it expresses G-d’s dominion over creation; that by His word everything came into being and by His word all is sustained. When man is described as being created בצלם א-לוהים, it means that man himself is endowed with a creative capacity—first and foremost expressed in his ability to speak[5]—which can be exercised to shape his own future. Saying that interpretations belong to א-לוהים is identical with saying that man has been given the capacity to interpret and shape his future.[6]
I believe this idea can be brought into sharper focus by a beautiful distinction Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, זצ"ל, made in his famous essay, Kol Dodi Dofek, The Voice of My Beloved Knocks—between what he calls the “I of fate” and the “I of destiny.”[7]
Let me explain.
There are times in life when I feel like I have no control. I did not chose when I was born, where I grew up, who my parents were. Numerous circumstances outside of my control have led me to my job, my spouse, my community. I have very little impact on the political climate. I have no say over the economy, whether my country is at war, disease, the list goes on and on. I am like a ship tossed and thrown on the waves of fortune—carried aloft and then cast back down into the depths. This is the “I of fate.”
On the other hand, I realize that I need not take this position. No matter what faces me, I am endowed with creativity. I am able to choose my path; to make out of what gets thrown my way what I will. However, this takes tremendous patience. I must be reconciled with the fact that I may never see the fruits of my labors—that freedom lies not in the ability to reach a certain end, but in the ability to choose the path. This is the “I of destiny.”
With this distinction in hand, I believe we are ready to see Yosef and his dreams in a whole new light. Let us start by going back to the beginning of the Parasha and draw our attention to Yosef’s dreams: first, the bundles of grain bowing to his bundle and then, the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing to him.
The meaning of these dreams was so obvious to the brothers that they nearly murdered Yosef and ultimately sold him into slavery. He was a בעל החלומות, a dreamer, and therefore dangerous. Yosef thought that he was not only superior in the realm of the economic (their bundles of grain prostrated before his own) but in the celestial realm as well (the sun, moon and 11 stars bow to Yosef himself)—he was not just arrogant, but delusional. This dreamer could bring about nothing but ruin and tyranny for the House of Yaakov: he was a threat—he had to be stopped.
What is truly startling is that no one ever explicitly interprets these dreams—and this, I believe was the problem. If only they had taken a moment to truly consider what the dreams might be saying beyond the surface—if they had only talked it out, perhaps they would have reached a different conclusion. When things are left unsaid, unspoken, they are not subject to our creativity, our insight—the I of Destiny cannot express itself when silence prevails: וַיִּשְׂנְאוּ, אֹתוֹ; וְלֹא יָכְלוּ, דַּבְּרוֹ לְשָׁלֹם—the brothers hated him and could not speak to him peaceably (37:4).
Yosef, in his naiveté—והוא נער, he was a lad, immature—shared his dreams with his brothers. He did not perceive the danger—he didn’t see the hatred that was stirring in their hearts. What he hoped to gain by sharing his dreams we can only speculate. Perhaps he thought he could win them over. Perhaps he thought he could impress them. Perhaps, as the Ohr HaChayim (37:5) suggests, he thought that if his brothers knew that his appointment of leadership was ordained by Heaven, they would cease to hate him.  
Whatever the case may be, what none of Yaakov’s sons could perceive was that, perhaps, there was nothing fatalistic about these dreams. Perhaps they offered a glimmer of the future—but what that future would be was not yet determined. How they chose to interpret those dreams was truly in their hands.
Only Yaakov is described as not rushing to any conclusions about the dreams.
וְאָבִיו, שָׁמַר אֶת-הַדָּבָר
And his father, guarded the matter. (37:11)
Yaakov held onto the dreams. Certainly, he was repelled by the dream of the sun, the moon and the stars—would he, his wife (who has already passed away) and his sons come to bow down to him? But, Yaakov took dreams seriously. It was a dream that provided him succor during his many years of exile—during cold frost-bitten winter nights and long summer days of thankless labor under the burning sun tending to Lavan’s flocks. He knew that the G-d of his fathers would protect him and return him, one day, to the Promised Land. It was a dream that protected him from the schemes of the duplicitous Lavan and another dream that ultimately encouraged him to return to the place of his birth.
Yaakov knew that a dream never spelled out one’s fate—it could only point out the way. Yaakov’s dreams did not give a precise prediction—it is hard to find anything in Yaakov’s life that worked out the way he expected it to. His dreams bid him to take hold of his destiny and dig deep—into his inner resources—and courageously move forward.[8]  
When Yosef encountered the שר המשקים, the minister of the butlers, and the שר האופים, the minister of the bakers, he had finally made the breakthrough. Clearly, his own dreams did not spell out a glorious fate. As quickly as he had moved up the ladder in the house of Potifar, he had been cast back down. Now he was both a slave and a prisoner.
He realized—ממעמקים, from the depths—that לא-לוהים פתרונים—to G-d belong interpretations. That the only choice for man—no matter how dire the circumstances—is to shape his own destiny. That nothing, no matter how much it might seem to be, is inevitable. With this insight he was more than ready to interpret the ministers’ dreams.
Interpreting these dreams (as many have pointed out) was a simple matter of observation: the minister of butlers spoke first, his dream radiated confidence, he was an actor, Pharaoh’s cup was in his hand, he took the cluster of grapes, he squeezed them into his cup, and he placed the cup onto Pharaoh’s hand—he was a man of destiny.[9] The minister of the bakers was a passive victim. He spoke second, he was clearly more worried by what he saw. In his dream he has no agency whatsoever. The baskets rest on his head, the bird eats from the basket as he does nothing. He was the ultimate man of fate.
Yosef saw that we can either seal our fate, like the minister of the bakers, with passivity and inaction or, we can take our fate in our own hands, and live a life of destiny.[10]
So why did he remain in jail for another two years? Because he played the victim card. He tried to appeal to the minister’s pity. He was stolen from his land! He was in prison, but had committed no crime! He shifted from a man of destiny, creative and full of vitality, into a man of fate.[11]
These are the choices that are before us when we face tragedy and suffering. We can bemoan the horrible situation we find ourselves in. We can cry out that we are victims—we have been wrongly accused. But that will gain us no sympathy. The only choice is to act resolutely, with confidence in our creative capacity to face our destinies with pride and dignity. We must embrace the motto of the man of destiny so beautifully expressed by Rav Soloveitchik: “על כרחך אתה נולד ועל כרחך אתה מת, אבל ברצונך החפשי אתה חי”—“Against your will you were born and against your will you shall die, but by your free will you shall live.”



[1] I use Rober Alter’s (2007) translation with one alteration. Where he has “we should be like dreamers” I have put “we were like dreamers.” This reflects an ambiguity of meaning in this verse. Different commentaries have interpreted this verse in accordance with both translations. See, for instance, Meiri, who presents both possibilities.
[2] Rebbi Eleazar surely was noting the use of a unique choice of words: וַיְהִי—and it was; כֵּן הָיָה—so it was—a formula previously found (and repeated 6 times) only in מעשה בראשית, the story of creation: וַיְהִי-כֵן—and so it was.
[3] See Ibn Ezra (40:8) who notes and dismisses the contradiction: וכל החלומות הולכים אחר הפה דברי יחיד הם.
Compare to Seforno (ibid.):
הֲלוא לֵא-להִים פִּתְרנִים. הִנֵּה חָכְמַת הַפִּתְרון הִיא בְּאָדָם מִצַּד מַה שֶּׁהוּא "בְּצֶלֶם אֱ-להִים", וְלָזֶה יִתָּכֵן שֶׁתִּהְיֶה גַּם בִּי, אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאֲנִי עַתָּה עֶבֶד וּבְבֵית הָאֲסוּרִים, וּמִפְּנֵי זֶה אֶפְשָׁר שֶׁלּא צְדַקְתֶּם בַּמֶּה שֶּׁאֲמַרְתֶּם "וּפתֵר אֵין אתו". 
For Seforno there does not seem to be a contradiction between the gemara and the verse. I am following the approach of the Seforno.
[4] Cf. to Ibn Ezra, Ramban and Netziv (ibid.).
[5] See Onkelos and Rashi (2:7).
[6] It is also the name used for G-d from the beginning of chapter 40 until the end of B’reishit. The only exception being 49:16, where the שם הויה is used once in the blessing of Dan. It should also be noted that beginning with 32:11, the only two chapters that use the שם הויה are 38 and 39, the stories of the Yehuda and Yosef’s respective descents. This absence is conspicuous considering that the שם הויה is used 153 times (if my count is correct) in the first 32 chapters of B’reishit.
[7] See especially p. 12 in Divrei Hagut v’Ha’arakha, 1982.
[8] See Berakhot 55b: א"ר לוי לעולם יצפה אדם לחלום טוב עד כ"ב שנה מנלן מיוסף דכתיב (בראשית לז) אלה תולדות יעקב יוסף בן שבע עשרה שנה וגו' וכתיב (בראשית מא) ויוסף בן שלשים שנה בעמדו לפני פרעה וגו' מן שבסרי עד תלתין כמה הוי תלת סרי ושב דשבעא ותרתי דכפנא הא כ"ב
[9] This might explain the מדרש (מ"ר פ"ח:ה) the interprets the שר המשקים’s dream as relating to the גאולה:
ויספר שר המשקים והנה גפן לפני 
אלו ישראל, שנאמר (תהלים פ): גפן ממצרים תסיע.
ובגפן שלושה שריגים, משה אהרן ומרים.
היא כפורחת, הפריחה גאולתן של ישראל.
עלתה נצה, הנצה גאולתן של ישראל.
הבשילו אשכלותיה ענבים, גפן שהפריחה מיד הנצה, ענבים שהנצו מיד בשלו. וכוס פרעה בידי 
מכאן קבעו חכמים ד' כוסות של לילי פסח.
[10] His mistake was that he lost his confidence. He became desperate and presented himself as a victim of circumstance to the minister of the butlers. It would be two more years until he had his next opportunity. When he stands before Pharaoh he is ready. Note the echoing back to the שר המשקים in Pharaoh’s pronouncement: על פיך ישק כל עמי—by your mouth all of my people will be provided for.
[11] See Rashi, 40:23.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Real Angels

This piece was originally posted in 2009 here. Here it is again with some minor changes.

There is a famous Rashi in Parashat Vayishlach (Chapter 32) on the following verse:
ד וַיִּשְׁלַח יַעֲקֹב מַלְאָכִים לְפָנָיו, אֶל-עֵשָׂו אָחִיו, אַרְצָה שֵׂעִיר, שְׂדֵה אֱדוֹם
4. Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau, to the land of Seir, the field of Edom.

And here is the Rashi:
ד וישלח יעקב מלאכים—מלאכים ממש.
Jacob sent messengers (Heb. מַלְאָכִים)—they were actual angels (Gen. Rabbah 75:4).

I have always wondered what this Rashi means. 

In the book of Shmuel I (Chapter 23) there is a similar Rashi on the following verse:

כז וּמַלְאָךְ בָּא, אֶל-שָׁאוּל לֵאמֹר: מַהֲרָה וְלֵכָה, כִּי-פָשְׁטוּ פְלִשְׁתִּים עַל-הָאָרֶץ
27. And a messenger came to Saul, saying, "Make haste and go, for the Pelishtim have spread out over the land!"

Rashi:
ומלאך בא אל שאול—מלאך ממש, כדי להציל את דוד.
And a messenger (Heb. מַלְאָךְ) came to Shaul—an actual angel, in order to save David.

As far as I know, (and based on a Bar-Ilan query) these are the only two instances in which Rashi makes the point that malakh is referring to an angel as opposed to a more mundane messenger of the human variety. The context in the book of Shmuel is highly instructive. David has been surrounded by Shaul (who wants to kill David) and his men—his fate is certain, there is no escape.

At the moment when all hope has been lost for David, a messenger comes to Shaul sending him off to defend his nation from an onslaught of their worst enemies, the Pelishtim (perhaps this was also G-d’s way of reminding Shaul who his true enemies really were, i.e. not David).

A sensitive reader knows that the verse could just have easily told us that a man came. The reason for saying a malakh came is clear. David was saved, not by chance, but by divine intervention. The 'messenger' is an 'angel'—this is the text's way of telling us to not view this event as mundane.  As David sings in Tehillim:
ה' אֱ-֭לֹהַי בְּךָ֣ חָסִ֑יתִי    הֽוֹשִׁיעֵ֥נִי מִכָּל־רֹֽ֝דְפַ֗י וְהַצִּילֵֽנִי׃
Hashem, my G-d, I take refuge in you; save me from all those who pursue me and rescue me!
With this in mind, one should consider what Rashi means in Parashat Vayishlach.  Shabbat Shalom!







Friday, September 11, 2015

Beyond Paradox: A Sense of Wonder

The following is the speech I will be giving this Shabbat at Sephardic Bikur Holim, Seattle, WA.
I asked to speak this week in memory of my beloved mother-in-law, Esther Alfi, ע"ה, whose yahrtziet was on Friday. She possessed a simple piety and ahavat Hashem (love of Hashem) that will always be an inspiration to my family. Sefer Tehillim never left her side and rarely was there a moment that it left her lips. I hope the following words convey something of her spirit which, for me, breathes through every word of the songs of David.
In this week’s Parasha we are presented with a simple instruction (with obvious relevance to the upcoming yamim noraim):
הַֽעִדֹ֨תִי בָכֶ֣ם הַיּוֹם֮ אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָרֶץ֒ הַֽחַיִּ֤ים וְהַמָּ֨וֶת֙ נָתַ֣תִּי לְפָנֶ֔יךָ הַבְּרָכָ֖ה וְהַקְּלָלָ֑ה וּבָֽחַרְתָּ֙ בַּֽחַיִּ֔ים לְמַ֥עַן תִּֽחְיֶ֖ה אַתָּ֥ה וְזַרְעֶֽךָ׃
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: that I have set before you life and death; the blessing and the curse; choose life, so that you may live, you and your children.
Simple and straightforward advice. But yet, underlying this verse is one of the most fundamental problems in Jewish philosophy: how to reconcile man’s free-will with G-d’s foreknowledge. Quite simply put, if G-d knows what we are going to do, in what way are we masters of our own destiny? This knotty question is seemingly unavoidable—we can neither deny G-d’s foreknowledge nor man’s free-will.
Rambam, in Hilkhot Teshuva, famously answers the question by denying our ability to grasp the answer. As he puts it, we don’t have the capacity to understand how G-d knows what He knows—our difficulty grasping the solution to this paradox is really just another expression of our inability to truly know Him, as it says: כִּי לֹא-יִרְאַנִי הָאָדָם, וָחָי—for no man can see Me and live.
Rabbeinu Avraham ben David, the Ravad, otherwise known as the Ba’al haHasagot, the Critic, in his famous critique of the Rambam, questions his inclusion of this difficult philosophical problem in his code. What right does the Rambam have to expose the innocent reader to such perplexities? Wouldn’t it be better to preserve the reader’s purity of belief? Why present this question to the masses?[1]
In my very humble opinion Ravad got the Rambam wrong on this one. The Rambam was, in fact, not corrupting the masses, but actually trying to return them to their innocence. The denial of free-will was already a popular belief in his day. He felt compelled to respond to, what he describes as, הַטִּפְּשִׁים הוֹבְרֵי שָׁמַיִם, the foolish astrologers who claim man has no free-will and that the fate of each man has already been decreed. In other words, the philosophical problem was not a genuine problem, but one manufactured by fools who try to paint man as a fated, helpless creature who…and here’s the clincher, bears no responsibility for his life. 
The Rambam, however, goes one step further than dismissing the question because of its questionable motivation. He explains why there is, in fact, no paradox. It comes down to a simple fact: G-d is unknowable. We have no idea what it means to say that G-d knows everything: כִּי לֹא מַחְשְׁבוֹתַי מַחְשְׁבוֹתֵיכֶם, וְלֹא דַרְכֵיכֶם דְּרָכָי—“My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways.”
Saying “G-d knows everything” or “G-d knows the future” is really just as unfathomable as anything else we might try to understand about G-d. The profoundest truth we can know about G-d is that we really don’t know anything at all. This also explains why the Rambam describes the answer to this question as being vaster than the expanse of the earth and sea: the progress we make towards fully realizing our lack of knowledge—our limitations—knows no bound; the infiniteness of G-d can just as well be described as the infiniteness of our ignorance.
I believe there is one chapter of Tehillim that gets to the heart of the issue that the Rambam is pointing to:  פרק קלט, chapter 139. The Ibn Ezra describes this chapter as being, and I quote, “quite glorious—there is none other like it in all the five books of Tehillim—and in accord with the depth of one’s understanding of the ways of Hashem and the ways of the soul one may contemplate its meaning.” Let me take you on a quick tour. (I highly recommend spending some time reading it carefully.) Consisting of 24 verses it divides neatly into four sections, or stanzas, each containing six verses.[2] The first section expresses the idea that not one of our thoughts—not a single word—escapes G-d:
אַתָּ֣ה יָ֭דַעְתָּ שִׁבְתִּ֣י וְקוּמִ֑י    בַּ֥נְתָּה לְ֝רֵעִ֗י מֵֽרָחֽוֹק:
It is You who know when I sit and when I rise, You fathom my thoughts from afar.[3]
The sixth verse sums it up beautifully:
פְּלִ֣יאָֽה דַ֣עַת מִמֶּ֑נִּי  נִ֝שְׂגְּבָ֗ה לֹא־א֥וּכַֽל לָֽהּ:
(Your) knowledge is too wondrous for me, high above—I cannot attain it.
The next section (7-12) moves from a feeling of wonder to a feeling of, for lack of a better word, dread—the shock that there is literally nowhere to hide:
אָ֭נָ֥ה אֵלֵ֣ךְ מֵֽרוּחֶ֑ךָ    וְ֝אָ֗נָה מִפָּנֶ֥יךָ אֶבְרָֽח:
אִם־אֶסַּ֣ק שָׁ֭מַיִם שָׁ֣ם אָ֑תָּה    וְאַצִּ֖יעָה שְּׁא֣וֹל הִנֶּֽךָּ:
Where can I go from Your spirit, and where from before You flee?
If I soar to the heavens, You are there, if I bed down in Sheol—there you are.
The third section describes the boundaries, or the lack there of, of G-d’s knowledge—G-d has known our innermost being—not to mention our entire fate—from the moment our bodies began to take shape. Reading the following verse it’s hard to miss a deep resonance with our conception of Rosh Hashana. 
גָּלְמִ֤י ׀ רָ֘א֤וּ עֵינֶ֗יךָ    וְעַֽל־סִפְרְךָ֮ כֻּלָּ֪ם יִכָּ֫תֵ֥בוּ
יָמִ֥ים יֻצָּ֑רוּ    ולא (וְל֖וֹ) אֶחָ֣ד בָּהֶֽם׃
My unformed shape Your eyes did see, and in Your book all was written down.
The days were fashioned, not one of them did lack.
Finally, in the fourth and final section, David makes a simple petition: that G-d destroy the wicked, because, after all, all of David’s hatred is only against those who hate G-d.
The chapter ends with an envelope structure, returning to the opening verses:
חָקְרֵ֣נִי אֵ֭ל וְדַ֣ע לְבָבִ֑י    בְּ֝חָנֵ֗נִי וְדַ֣ע שַׂרְעַפָּֽי׃
וּרְאֵ֗ה אִם־דֶּֽרֶךְ־עֹ֥צֶב בִּ֑י    וּ֝נְחֵ֗נִי בְּדֶ֣רֶךְ עוֹלָֽם׃
Search me, G-d, and know my heart, probe me and know my mind.
And see if a vexing way be in me, and lead me on the eternal way.
What is so fascinating about this chapter is that this deep awareness of G-d’s absolute, unfathomable knowledge does not lead to philosophical befuddlement. G-d being all-knowing is the furthest thing from an impediment to David the Psalmist’s exercise of free-will—it is the foundation and opening for prayer!
What I believe is most important is that David did not lose his sense of wonder (which is nothing other than being struck by the fact that one does not understand) as he says in the central verse:
אֽוֹדְךָ֗    עַ֤ל כִּ֥י נֽוֹרָא֗וֹת נִ֫פְלֵ֥יתִי
נִפְלָאִ֥ים מַֽעֲשֶׂ֑יךָ    וְ֝נַפְשִׁ֗י יֹדַ֥עַת מְאֹֽד:
I acclaim You, for awesomely I am set apart,
            wondrous are your acts,
            and my being deeply knows it.
G-d’s omniscience is not a philosophical problem, but the ultimate source of wonder!
It is my prayer that as you enter the Yamim Noraim you should find inspiration from the wondrous fact that no thought, no step, no breath is beyond the Holy One blessed is He.  





[1] The Ravad (here) does not leave his critique at that. He is also bothered by the fact that the Rambam doesn’t really give an answer. Though there might not be a decisive solution to the paradox, the Rambam could have offered some resolution. The Ravad, magnanimous as he was, dutifully proceeds to offer one. Here’s the basics of his solution: if G-d knows something, then it must be so. His knowledge and his gezeirah (his decree) should be identical. So, if G-d knows the future how do we have free will? The Ravad suggests that when G-d gave man free will He actually undid the connection between His knowledge and His decree—in the words of the Ravad, “He removed this dominion from His own hand and gave that authority to man.” Though G-d’s knowledge should, in a sense, be equivalent with His decree, He has willed that this not be so, so that man can chose his own path.
Of course, this is not the most satisfying answer: it basically avoids having to answer the question by saying that G-d, being all powerful, simply willed it to be that way. It’s kind of like a theological “because He said so” answer. In defense of the Ravad, he does end-off this suggestion with the words: וכל זה איננו שוה—which, loosely translated, means “this is unsatisfactory.”
[2] See, Meltzer, F. P’nei Sefer Tehillim. Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 1982. p. 410.
[3] All translations of Tehillim taken from Alter, Robert. The Book of Psalms. New York: Norton, 2007.