Every chapter that was dear to David, he began with “happy is” and concluded with “happy is.” He opened with “happy is,” as it is written: “Happy is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked or stood in the way of sinners or sat in the dwelling place of the scornful” (Psalms 1:1). And he concluded with “happy,” as it is written at the end of the chapter: “Pay homage in purity, lest He be angry, and you perish on the way when His anger is kindled suddenly. Happy are those who take refuge in Him” (Psalms 2:12). We see that these two chapters actually constitute a single chapter. With regard to the statement of Rabbi Yehuda, son of Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi, that David did not say Halleluya until he saw the downfall of the wicked, the Gemara relates: There were these hooligans in Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood who caused him a great deal of anguish. Rabbi Meir prayed for God to have mercy on them, that they should die. Rabbi Meir’s wife, Berurya, said to him: What is your thinking? On what basis do you pray for the death of these hooligans? Do you base yourself on the verse, as it is written: “Let sins cease from the land” (Psalms 104:35), which you interpret to mean that the world would be better if the wicked were destroyed? But is it written, let sinners cease?” Let sins cease, is written. One should pray for an end to their transgressions, not for the demise of the transgressors themselves. Moreover, go to the end of the verse, where it says: “And the wicked will be no more.” If, as you suggest, transgressions shall cease refers to the demise of the evildoers, how is it possible that the wicked will be no more, i.e., that they will no longer be evil? Rather, pray for God to have mercy on them, that they should repent, as if they repent, then the wicked will be no more, as they will have repented. Rabbi Meir saw that Berurya was correct and he prayed for God to have mercy on them, and they repented. The Gemara relates an additional example of Berurya’s incisive insight: A certain heretic said to Berurya: It is written: “Sing, barren woman who has not given birth, open forth in song and cry, you did not travail, for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, said the Lord” (Isaiah 54:1). Because she has not given birth, she should sing and rejoice? Berurya responded to this heretic’s mockery and said: Fool! Go to the end of the verse, where it is written: “For the children of the desolate shall be more numerous than the children of the married wife, said the Lord.” Rather, what is the meaning of: “Sing, barren woman who has not given birth”? It means: Sing congregation of Israel, which is like a barren woman who did not give birth to children who are destined for Gehenna like you. In explaining passages from Psalms, the Gemara relates another instance of a response to the question of a heretic: A certain heretic said to Rabbi Abbahu, it is written: “A Psalm of David, when he fled from his son, Absalom” (Psalms 3:1), and similarly it is said: “To the chief musician, al tashḥet, a mikhtam of David when fleeing from Saul into the cave” (Psalms 57:1). Which event was first? Since the event with Saul was first, it would have been appropriate to write it first. Rabbi Abbahu said to him: For you, who do not employ the homiletic method of juxtaposition of verses, it is difficult. But for us, who employ the homiletic method of juxtaposition of verses, it is not difficult, as the Sages commonly homiletically infer laws and moral lessons from the juxtaposition of two verses. Regarding the juxtaposition of verses, Rabbi Yoḥanan said: From where in the Bible is it derived that one may draw homiletical inferences from the juxtaposition of verses? As it is said: “The works of His hands in truth and justice, all His commandments are sure. Adjoined forever and ever, made in truth and uprightness” (Psalms 111:7–8). Conclude from here that it is appropriate to draw inferences from the juxtaposition of God’s commandments. Accordingly, David’s fleeing from Absalom is situated where it is in order to juxtapose it to the next chapter, which mentions the war of Gog and Magog; the second chapter of Psalms opens: “Why are the nations in an uproar?” Why was the chapter of Absalom juxtaposed with the chapter of Gog and Magog? They are juxtaposed so that if a person should say to you, expressing doubt with regard to the prophecy of the war of Gog and Magog “against the Lord and against His anointed”: Is there a slave who rebels against his master? Is there someone capable of rebelling against God? You too say to him: Is there a son who rebels against his father and severs the relationship with the one who brought him into the world and raised him? Yet, nevertheless, there was such a son, Absalom, and so too there can be a situation where people will seek to rebel against God. Rabbi Yoḥanan said explanations of other verses in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai: What is the meaning of that which is written: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of loving-kindness is on her tongue” (Proverbs 31:26)? The Sages explain that this chapter discusses the wisdom of Torah and those who engage in its study, so with reference to whom did Solomon say this verse? He said this verse about none other than his father, David, who was the clearest example of one who opens his mouth in wisdom, and who resided in five worlds or stages of life and his soul said a song of praise corresponding to each of them. Five times David said: “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” each corresponding to a different stage of life. He resided in his mother’s womb, his first world, and said a song of praise of the pregnancy, as it is stated: “Of David. Bless the Lord, O my soul and all that is within me bless His holy name” (Psalms 103:1), in which he thanks God for creating all that is within his mother, i.e., her womb. He emerged into the atmosphere of the world, his second world, looked upon the stars and constellations and said a song of praise of God for the entirety of creation, as it is stated: “Bless the Lord, His angels, mighty in strength, that fulfill His word, listening to the voice of His word. Bless the Lord, all His hosts, His servants, that do His will. Bless the Lord, all His works, in all places of His kingship, bless my soul, Lord” (Psalms 103:20–23). David saw the grandeur of all creation and recognized that they are mere servants, carrying out the will of their Creator (Ma’ayan HaBerakhot). He nursed from his mother’s breast, his third world, and he looked upon her bosom and said a song of praise, as it is stated: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all His benefits [gemulav]” (Psalms 103:2). The etymological association is between gemulav and gemulei meḥalav, which means weaned from milk (Isaiah 28:9). We still must understand, however, what is meant by all His benefits? What in particular is praiseworthy in what God provided, beyond merely providing for the infant? Rabbi Abbahu said: In contrast with most other animals, God placed her breasts near her heart, the place that is the source of understanding. What is the reason that God did this? Rav Yehuda said: So that the nursing child would not look upon the place of his mother’s nakedness. Rav Mattana said: So that the child would not nurse from a place of uncleanliness. He witnessed in both vision and reality the downfall of the wicked and he said a song of praise, as it is stated: “Let sinners cease from the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul, Halleluya” (Psalms 104:35). The fifth world was when David looked upon the day of death and said a song of praise, as it is stated: “Bless the Lord, O my soul. Lord my God, You are very great; You are clothed in glory and majesty” (Psalms 104:1); for even death is a time of transcendence for the righteous. The connection between this final praise and the day of death is unclear. The Gemara asks: From where is it inferred that this verse was stated with regard to the day of death? Rabba bar Rav Sheila says: We can derive this from the verses at the end of the matter, where it is written: “You hide Your face, they vanish; You gather Your breath, they perish and return to the dust” (Psalms 104:29). Other interpretations of this verse exist. The Gemara relates how Rav Shimi bar Ukva, and some say Mar Ukva, would regularly study before Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi, who was well versed in aggada and would arrange the aggada before Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.
Once, Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi said to him: What is the meaning of that which is written: “Bless the Lord, my soul, and all that is within me bless His Holy name”?
Rav Shimi bar Ukva said to Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi: Come and see that the attribute of the Holy One, Blessed be He, is not like the attribute of flesh and blood, as this verse praises the formation of man in his mother’s womb. The attribute of flesh and blood is such that he shapes a form on the wall for all to see, yet he cannot instill it with a spirit and soul, bowels and intestines. While the Holy One, Blessed be He, is not so, as God shapes one form within another form, a child in its mother’s womb, and instills it with spirit and soul, bowels and intestines. And this is the explanation of what Hannah said with regard to the birth of Samuel: “There is none holy like the Lord, for there is none like You, and there is no Rock like our God” (I Samuel 2:2). What is the meaning of there is no rock [tzur] like our God? There is no artist [tzayyar] like our God. The Gemara continues to interpret the rest of that verse homiletically: What is the meaning of “there is none like You”? Rabbi Yehuda ben Menasya said: Do not read the verse to mean “there is none like You [biltekha]”; rather, read it to mean “none can outlast You [levalotkha],” as the attribute of the Holy One, Blessed be He, is not like the attribute of flesh and blood: The attribute of flesh and blood is such that his creations outlast him, but the Holy One, Blessed be He, outlasts His actions. This did not satisfy Rav Shimi bar Ukva, who said to Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi: I meant to say to you as follows: Corresponding to whom did David say these five instance of “Bless the Lord, O my soul”? He answered him: He said them about none other than the Holy One, Blessed be He, and corresponding to the soul, as the verse refers to the relationship between man’s soul and God. The five instances of “Bless the Lord, O my soul” correspond to the five parallels between the soul in man’s body and God’s power in His world. Just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, fills the entire world, so too the soul fills the entire body.
Just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, sees but is not seen, so too does the soul see, but is not seen.
Just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, sustains the entire world, so too the soul sustains the entire body.
Just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, is pure, so too is the soul pure.
Just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, resides in a chamber within a chamber, in His inner sanctum, so too the soul resides in a chamber within a chamber, in the innermost recesses of the body.
Therefore, that which has these five characteristics, the soul, should come and praise He Who has these five characteristics. With regard to redemption and prayer, the Gemara tells the story of Hezekiah’s illness, his prayer to God, and subsequent recuperation. Rav Hamnuna said: What is the meaning of that which is written praising the Holy One, Blessed be He: “Who is like the wise man, and who knows the interpretation [pesher] of the matter” (Ecclesiastes 8:1)? This verse means: Who is like the Holy One, Blessed be He, Who knows how to effect compromise [peshara] between two righteous individuals, between Hezekiah, the king of Judea, and Isaiah the prophet. They disagreed over which of them should visit the other. Hezekiah said: Let Isaiah come to me, as that is what we find with regard to Elijah the prophet, who went to Ahab, the king of Israel, as it is stated: “And Elijah went to appear to Ahab” (I Kings 18:2). This proves that it is the prophet who must seek out the king. And Isaiah said: Let Hezekiah come to me, as that is what we find with regard to Yehoram ben Ahab, king of Israel, who went to Elisha the prophet, as it is stated: “So the king of Israel, Jehosaphat and the king of Edom went down to him” (II Kings 3:12). What did the Holy One, Blessed be He, do to effect compromise between Hezekiah and Isaiah? He brought the suffering of illness upon Hezekiah and told Isaiah: Go and visit the sick. Isaiah did as God instructed, as it is stated: “In those days Hezekiah became deathly ill, and Isaiah ben Amoz the prophet came and said to him: Thus says the Lord of Hosts: Set your house in order, for you will die and you will not live” (Isaiah 38:1). This seems redundant; what is the meaning of you will die and you will not live? This repetition means: You will die in this world, and you will not live, you will have no share, in the World-to-Come. Hezekiah said to him: What is all of this? For what transgression am I being punished?
Isaiah said to him: Because you did not marry and engage in procreation.
Hezekiah apologized and said: I had no children because I envisaged through divine inspiration that the children that emerge from me will not be virtuous. Hezekiah meant that he had seen that his children were destined to be evil. In fact, his son Menashe sinned extensively, and he thought it preferable to have no children at all. Isaiah said to him: Why do you involve yourself with the secrets of the Holy One, Blessed be He? That which you have been commanded, the mitzva of procreation, you are required to perform, and that which is acceptable in the eyes of the Holy One, Blessed be He, let Him perform, as He has so decided. Hezekiah said to Isaiah: Now give me your daughter as my wife; perhaps my merit and your merit will cause virtuous children to emerge from me.
Isaiah said to him: The decree has already been decreed against you and this judgment cannot be changed.
Hezekiah said to him: Son of Amoz, cease your prophecy and leave. As long as the prophet spoke as God’s emissary, Hezekiah was obligated to listen to him. He was not, however, obligated to accept Isaiah’s personal opinion that there was no possibility for mercy and healing. Hezekiah continued: I have received a tradition from the house of my father’s father, from King David, the founding father of the dynasty of kings of Judea: Even if a sharp sword rests upon a person’s neck, he should not prevent himself from praying for mercy. One may still hold out hope that his prayers will be answered, as was David himself when he saw the Angel of Destruction, but nonetheless prayed for mercy and his prayers were answered. With regard to the fact that one should not despair of God’s mercy, the Gemara cites that it was also said that Rabbi Yoḥanan and Rabbi Eliezer both said: Even if a sharp sword is resting upon a person’s neck, he should not prevent himself from praying for mercy, as it is stated in the words of Job: “Though He slay me, I will trust in Him” (Job 13:15). Even though God is about to take his life, he still prays for God’s mercy.