Psalms Meditations on God and Humanity - 1 Introduction(s) Psalms 1 & 2

Psalms 1 and 2 are an introduction (or two introductions) to the Book of Psalms. What values do they present? What context do they provide for the book of Psalms as a whole? How do they guide the reader into the book? What do they say about God and humanity?

This class follows my "Psalms in Liturgy" series,

1 A glorious chorus at the beginning

from Handel's Messiah, "Let us break their bonds asunder..." (Psalm 2:3)

40. Air (or « Air and Recitative »)


Why do the nations so furiously rage together, and why do the people imagine a vain thing?
The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against His anointed.
(Psalm 2: 1-2)

41. Chorus

Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yokes from us.
(Psalm 2: 3)

42. Recitative


He that dwelleth in Heav'n shall laugh them to scorn; The Lord shall have them in derision.
(Psalm 2: 4)


2 Our Text(s)

Psalms 1 & 2 or Psalm 1-2

(א) אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי הָאִ֗ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֤ר ׀ לֹ֥א הָלַךְ֮ בַּעֲצַ֢ת רְשָׁ֫עִ֥ים וּבְדֶ֣רֶךְ חַ֭טָּאִים לֹ֥א עָמָ֑ד וּבְמוֹשַׁ֥ב לֵ֝צִ֗ים לֹ֣א יָשָֽׁב׃ (ב) כִּ֤י אִ֥ם בְּתוֹרַ֥ת ה' חֶ֫פְצ֥וֹ וּֽבְתוֹרָת֥וֹ יֶהְגֶּ֗ה יוֹמָ֥ם וָלָֽיְלָה׃ (ג) וְֽהָיָ֗ה כְּעֵץ֮ שָׁת֢וּל עַֽל־פַּלְגֵ֫י־מָ֥יִם אֲשֶׁ֤ר פִּרְי֨וֹ ׀ יִתֵּ֬ן בְּעִתּ֗וֹ וְעָלֵ֥הוּ לֹֽא־יִבּ֑וֹל וְכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁר־יַעֲשֶׂ֣ה יַצְלִֽיחַ׃

(ד) לֹא־כֵ֥ן הָרְשָׁעִ֑ים כִּ֥י אִם־כַּ֝מֹּ֗ץ אֲֽשֶׁר־תִּדְּפֶ֥נּוּ רֽוּחַ׃ (ה) עַל־כֵּ֤ן ׀ לֹא־יָקֻ֣מוּ רְ֭שָׁעִים בַּמִּשְׁפָּ֑ט וְ֝חַטָּאִ֗ים בַּעֲדַ֥ת צַדִּיקִֽים׃ (ו) כִּֽי־יוֹדֵ֣עַ ה' דֶּ֣רֶךְ צַדִּיקִ֑ים וְדֶ֖רֶךְ רְשָׁעִ֣ים תֹּאבֵֽד׃ {פ}

(1) Happy is the man who has not

followed the counsel of the wicked,

taken the path of sinners,

joined the company of the insolent;

(2) rather, the teaching (Torah) of the LORD is his delight,
and he studies/yehgeh (h.g.h) that teaching day and night.
(3) He is like a tree planted beside streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season,
whose foliage never fades,
and whatever it produces thrives.-b

(4) Not so the wicked;
rather, they are like chaff that wind blows away.
(5) Therefore the wicked will not survive judgment,
nor will sinners, in the assembly of the righteous.

(6) For the LORD cherishes the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked is doomed.

(א) לָ֭מָּה רָגְשׁ֣וּ גוֹיִ֑ם וּ֝לְאֻמִּ֗ים יֶהְגּוּ־רִֽיק׃ (ב) יִ֥תְיַצְּב֨וּ ׀ מַלְכֵי־אֶ֗רֶץ וְרוֹזְנִ֥ים נֽוֹסְדוּ־יָ֑חַד עַל־ה' וְעַל־מְשִׁיחֽוֹ׃ (ג) נְֽ֭נַתְּקָה אֶת־מֽוֹסְרוֹתֵ֑ימוֹ וְנַשְׁלִ֖יכָה מִמֶּ֣נּוּ עֲבֹתֵֽימוֹ׃

(ד) יוֹשֵׁ֣ב בַּשָּׁמַ֣יִם יִשְׂחָ֑ק אדושם יִלְעַג־לָֽמוֹ׃ (ה) אָ֤ז יְדַבֵּ֣ר אֵלֵ֣ימוֹ בְאַפּ֑וֹ וּֽבַחֲרוֹנ֥וֹ יְבַהֲלֵֽמוֹ׃ (ו) וַ֭אֲנִי נָסַ֣כְתִּי מַלְכִּ֑י עַל־צִ֝יּ֗וֹן הַר־קׇדְשִֽׁי׃

(ז) אֲסַפְּרָ֗ה אֶֽ֫ל־חֹ֥ק ה' אָמַ֘ר אֵלַ֥י בְּנִ֥י אַ֑תָּה אֲ֝נִ֗י הַיּ֥וֹם יְלִדְתִּֽיךָ׃ (ח) שְׁאַ֤ל מִמֶּ֗נִּי וְאֶתְּנָ֣ה ג֭וֹיִם נַחֲלָתֶ֑ךָ וַ֝אֲחֻזָּתְךָ֗ אַפְסֵי־אָֽרֶץ׃ (ט) תְּ֭רֹעֵם בְּשֵׁ֣בֶט בַּרְזֶ֑ל כִּכְלִ֖י יוֹצֵ֣ר תְּנַפְּצֵֽם׃

(י) וְ֭עַתָּה מְלָכִ֣ים הַשְׂכִּ֑ילוּ הִ֝וָּסְר֗וּ שֹׁ֣פְטֵי אָֽרֶץ׃ (יא) עִבְד֣וּ אֶת־ה' בְּיִרְאָ֑ה וְ֝גִ֗ילוּ בִּרְעָדָֽה׃ (יב) נַשְּׁקוּ־בַ֡ר פֶּן־יֶאֱנַ֤ף ׀ וְתֹ֬אבְדוּ דֶ֗רֶךְ כִּֽי־יִבְעַ֣ר כִּמְעַ֣ט אַפּ֑וֹ אַ֝שְׁרֵ֗י כׇּל־ח֥וֹסֵי בֽוֹ׃ {פ}

(1) Why do nations assemble,
and peoples plot / yehgu h.g.h. vain things;
(2) kings of the earth take their stand,
and regents intrigue together
against the LORD and against His anointed?
​​​​​​​ (3) “Let us break the cords of their yoke,
shake off their ropes from us!”

(4) He who is enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord mocks at them.
(5) Then He speaks to them in anger,
terrifying them in His rage,
(6) “But I have installed My king
on Zion, My holy mountain!”

(7) Let me tell of the decree:
the LORD said to me,
“You are My son,
I have fathered you this day.-b
(8) Ask it of Me,
and I will make the nations your domain;
your estate, the limits of the earth.
(9) You can smash them with an iron mace,
shatter them like potter’s ware.”

(10) So now, O kings, be prudent;
accept discipline, you rulers of the earth!
(11) Serve the LORD in awe;
tremble with fright,-c
(12) pay homage in good faith,-d
lest He be angered, and your way be doomed
in the mere flash of His anger.
Happy are all who take refuge in Him.

3. One Passage or Two?

... שְׁמַע מִינַּהּ ״אַשְׁרֵי הָאִישׁ״ וְ״לָמָּה רָגְשׁוּ גוֹיִם״ חֲדָא פָּרָשָׁה הִיא. דְּאָמַר רַבִּי שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָנִי אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן:

...conclude from this that “Happy is the man” and “Why are the nations in uproar” constitute a single portion. Additional proof that these two chapters comprise a single portion is cited from what Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said:

כָּל פָּרָשָׁה שֶׁהָיְתָה חֲבִיבָה עַל דָּוִד, פָּתַח בָּהּ בְּ״אַשְׁרֵי״ וְסִייֵּם בָּהּ בְּ״אַשְׁרֵי״. פָּתַח בְּ״אַשְׁרֵי״, דִּכְתִיב: ״אַשְׁרֵי הָאִישׁ״. וְסִייֵּם בְּ״אַשְׁרֵי״, דִּכְתִיב: ״אַשְׁרֵי כָּל חוֹסֵי בוֹ״.
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.

4. Psalm 1: The Wisdom Tradition in Tanach

"The Wisdom Tradition," in 'The Religion of the Bible,' Stephen A. Geller, in The Jewish Study Bible (pp. 1994b-1996a)

The wisdom tradition is found in many places in the Bible, but it especially dominates the Writings, not only the "proper" wisdom books like Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, but also some psalms (1, 19, 37, 119, etc.) and other texts. Widsom (hokhmah) is the term used to describe the intellectual and educational tradition of the ancient Near East, the province of scribal schools, teachers and students, but also elders, wise fathers and mothers. Wisdom was a determinedly international and humanistic tradition. The wise of all nations communicated with each other; genres, themes, and even language crossed boundaries freely. ... (pp. 1994-5)

Wisdom was also a tradition interested in creation, in the workings of nature. Natural imagery abounds in wisdom texts, like proverbs and fables... (p. 1995)

Eventually wisdom's focus on nature gave way entirely to a focus on covenant, with results we see in the "Torah psalms"... (p. 1996)

Ben Sira chapter 24

Ben Sira, also known as Ecclesiasticus, is an apocryphal poetic book of guidance for living a wise, ethical, and God-fearing life, composed in the 2nd century BCE by a scribe in Jerusalem named Shimon ben Yeshua ben Elazar ben Sira (from Sefaria)

1 Wisdom will praise herself, and will glory in the midst of her people.

2 In the assembly of the Most High she will open her mouth, and in the presence of his host she will glory:

3 "I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist.

6 In the waves of the sea, in the whole earth, and in every people and nation I have gotten a possession.

7 Among all these I sought a resting place; I sought in whose territory I might lodge.

8 "Then the Creator of all things gave me a commandment, and the one who created me assigned a place for my tent. And he said, `Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance.'


Robert Alter on 1:1

1:1 “Happy the man who has not walked in the wicked’s counsel, nor in the way of offenders has stood, nor in the session of scoffers has sat.”

It is easy to understand why the ancient editors set this brief, eloquent psalm at the head of the collection. In content, it is a Wisdom psalm, affirming the traditional moral calculus (to which Job will powerfully object) that it pays to be good, whereas the wicked will be paid back for their evil. (Wisdom literature is an international genre in the ancient Near East. It reflects, in an approximately philosophical manner, on the use of human life, and one of its major thrusts is the didactic inculcation of the principles of proper living. It tends to be universal rather than national in its perspective.) In style, this psalm is a lovely instance of the force of familiar imagery favored by the psalmists. Walking on a way is a traditional metaphor for pursuing a set of moral choices in life. In this verse, that idea is turned into an elegant narrative sequence in the triadic line--first walking, then standing, then sitting, with the attachment to the company of evildoers becoming increasingly more habitual from one verse to the next. Nahum Sarna raises the interesting possibility that the first word of the psalm, ‘ashrei, “happy,” may pun on ‘ashurim, “steps,” and hence reinforce the walking metaphor.

From: Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible, vol. 3: Writings, W. W. Norton & Co., 2019, ad loc. By permission of the author.

Robert Alter is the Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkeley, and author of the three-volume translation of the entire Hebrew Bible - The Hebrew Bible, W. W. Norton & Co., 2019.

Seen at

5. Psalm 1: In Praise of Torah Study

(ו) וְהָי֞וּ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֨ר אָנֹכִ֧י מְצַוְּךָ֛ הַיּ֖וֹם עַל־לְבָבֶֽךָ׃ (ז) וְשִׁנַּנְתָּ֣ם לְבָנֶ֔יךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ֖ בָּ֑ם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֤ בְּבֵיתֶ֙ךָ֙ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ֣ בַדֶּ֔רֶךְ וּֽבְשׇׁכְבְּךָ֖ וּבְקוּמֶֽךָ׃

(6) Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. (7) Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.

(יח) וְהָיָ֣ה כְשִׁבְתּ֔וֹ עַ֖ל כִּסֵּ֣א מַמְלַכְתּ֑וֹ וְכָ֨תַב ל֜וֹ אֶת־מִשְׁנֵ֨ה הַתּוֹרָ֤ה הַזֹּאת֙ עַל־סֵ֔פֶר מִלִּפְנֵ֖י הַכֹּהֲנִ֥ים הַלְוִיִּֽם׃ (יט) וְהָיְתָ֣ה עִמּ֔וֹ וְקָ֥רָא ב֖וֹ כׇּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיָּ֑יו לְמַ֣עַן יִלְמַ֗ד לְיִרְאָה֙ אֶת־ה' אֱלֹקָ֔יו לִ֠שְׁמֹ֠ר אֶֽת־כׇּל־דִּבְרֵ֞י הַתּוֹרָ֥ה הַזֹּ֛את וְאֶת־הַחֻקִּ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה לַעֲשֹׂתָֽם׃

(18) When he is seated on his royal throne, he [the king] shall have a copy of this Teaching written for him on a scroll by the levitical priests. (19) Let it remain with him and let him read in it all his life, so that he may learn to revere his God ה', to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching as well as these laws.

(ז) רַק֩ חֲזַ֨ק וֶאֱמַ֜ץ מְאֹ֗ד לִשְׁמֹ֤ר לַֽעֲשׂוֹת֙ כְּכׇל־הַתּוֹרָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר צִוְּךָ֙ מֹשֶׁ֣ה עַבְדִּ֔י אַל־תָּס֥וּר מִמֶּ֖נּוּ יָמִ֣ין וּשְׂמֹ֑אול לְמַ֣עַן תַּשְׂכִּ֔יל בְּכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר תֵּלֵֽךְ׃ (ח) לֹֽא־יָמ֡וּשׁ סֵ֩פֶר֩ הַתּוֹרָ֨ה הַזֶּ֜ה מִפִּ֗יךָ וְהָגִ֤יתָ בּוֹ֙ יוֹמָ֣ם וָלַ֔יְלָה לְמַ֙עַן֙ תִּשְׁמֹ֣ר לַעֲשׂ֔וֹת כְּכׇל־הַכָּת֖וּב בּ֑וֹ כִּי־אָ֛ז תַּצְלִ֥יחַ אֶת־דְּרָכֶ֖ךָ וְאָ֥ז תַּשְׂכִּֽיל׃

(7) But you must be very strong and resolute to observe faithfully all the Teaching/Torah that My servant Moses enjoined upon you. Do not deviate from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. (8) Let not this Book of the Teaching/Torah cease from your lips, but recite/vehagita h.g.h. it day and night, so that you may observe faithfully all that is written in it. Only then will you prosper in your undertakings and only then will you be successful.

...בְּשָׁכְבֵֽנוּ וּבְקוּמֵֽנוּ נָשִֽׂיחַ בְּחֻקֶּֽיךָ וְנִשְׂמַח בְּדִבְרֵי תוֹרָתֶֽךָ וּבְמִצְוֹתֶֽיךָ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד: כִּי הֵם חַיֵּֽינוּ וְאֹֽרֶךְ יָמֵֽינוּ וּבָהֶם נֶהְגֶּה יוֹמָם וָלָֽיְלָה: ...

The blessing of "Ahavat Olam"

...when we lie down and when we rise, we will discuss Your statutes, and rejoice in the words of Your Torah and in Your commandments forever. For they are our life and they lengthen our days, and on them we will meditate day and night. ...

Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, Commentary to Psalms, Jewish Study Bible. Comment to 1:2

This psalm is unusual in its stress on Torah study rather than on observance based on Torah study (see Joshua 1:7-8); it thus approaches the rabbinic ideal of 'torah lishmah,' Torah study for its own sake, though the psalm strongly suuggests that Torah study keeps people away from the wicked and sinners.

6. Psalm 2: A Historical Context?

(יז) וַיִּשְׁמְע֣וּ פְלִשְׁתִּ֗ים כִּֽי־מָשְׁח֨וּ אֶת־דָּוִ֤ד לְמֶ֙לֶךְ֙ עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיַּעֲל֥וּ כׇל־פְּלִשְׁתִּ֖ים לְבַקֵּ֣שׁ אֶת־דָּוִ֑ד וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע דָּוִ֔ד וַיֵּ֖רֶד אֶל־הַמְּצוּדָֽה׃
(17) When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, the Philistines marched up in search of David; but David heard of it, and he went down to the fastness.

7. Psalm 2: "My son, I have fathered you"

(ב) ה' אמר אלי בני אתה וממנו באה לי המלוכה; ולכן אל יערער שום אדם עליה, כי ה'' לקחני לבן, כמו שאמר לשמואל (שמואל א טז א): כי ראיתי בבניו לי מלך. כלומר: המלך הזה לי הוא, ובני הוא ועבדי הוא, ושומע אלי. כי כל מי ששומע לעבודת האל יקרא בנו, כמו שהבן שומע אל האב ומזומן לעבודתו. ...

(ג) אני היום ילדתיך: היום שנמשח הוא היום שלקחו האל לו לבן, כמו שאמר (שמואל א טז א) לי מלך. ואמר: היום ילדתיך, כי אותו היום נולדה בו רוח אלקים כמו שכתוב (שמואל א ט זיג) ותצלח רוח ה'' אל דוד מהיום ההוא ומעלה. ומהיום ההוא ומעלה אמר שירים ומזמורים ברוח הקדש שנולדה לו ונאצלה עליו מהאל.

וכן רוח גבורה נוספה בו מהיום ההוא ומעלה. וכן אמר: (דברים לב יח) צור ילדך תשי, שגדל אותך ונתן חכמה בלבך ושכל ביום מעמד הר סיני. ...

(2) The Lord said unto me, Thou art My son: – and the kingdom has come to me from Him, and therefore let no man stir up strife against it, for the Lord hath chosen me for a son, as He said to Samuel (1 Sam. 16:1): "For I have provided among his sons a king for Myself." It is as though to say, "This king is Mine and he is My son and servant and obeys Me" - for everyone who is obedient in the service of God He calls His son, just as a son obeys his father and is ready for his service. ...

(3) This day have I begotten thee: – The day when he was anointed was the day God took him to Himself for a son, as it says ( 1 Sam. 16:1), "to Me a king." And he says, This day have I begotten thee, for on that day there was born in him the spirit of God, as is written (1 Sam. 16:13), "And the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day and onward." And from that day onward he gave expression to songs and psalms by the Holy Spirit, which was born in him and imparted to him by God.

Moreover, the spirit of might was added to him from that day onward; and so it says (Deut. 32:18), "Of the rock that begat thee thou art unmindful" which made thee great and put wisdom in thine heart and intelligence, in the day of the station at Mount Sinai. ...

8a. For further exploration: Psalm 119

Praise of Torah study and observance

(כג) גַּ֤ם יָשְׁב֣וּ שָׂ֭רִים בִּ֣י נִדְבָּ֑רוּ עַ֝בְדְּךָ֗ יָשִׂ֥יחַ בְּחֻקֶּֽיךָ׃
(23) Though princes meet and speak against me,
Your servant studies Your laws.
(מו) וַאֲדַבְּרָ֣ה בְ֭עֵדֹתֶיךָ נֶ֥גֶד מְלָכִ֗ים וְלֹ֣א אֵבֽוֹשׁ׃
(46) I will speak of Your decrees,
and not be ashamed in the presence of kings.

(מח) וְאֶשָּֽׂא־כַפַּ֗י אֶֽל־מִ֭צְוֺתֶיךָ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אָהָ֗בְתִּי וְאָשִׂ֥יחָה בְחֻקֶּֽיךָ׃ {פ}

(DR q -- expression of prayer? ואשא כפי

(48) I reach out for Your commandments, which I love;
I study Your laws.

8b. For further exploration:

a Meditation on Psalm 1

Gaya Aranoff Bernstein, Psalmsongs

to not get lost
to not get sidetracked
by the expected
by fad or fashion
of the time
to not keep up
with fools, sinners

to stay focused
on truth
your truth
God’s truth
to yearn for it
day and night

to seek it
night and day
is to Mind

like a sapling
near a stream
water for the taking
fruits in season
glistening leaves

not blown away
a withered leaf
in autumn
an old newspaper
ancient lies

Excerpted from: Gaya Aranoff Bernstein, Psalmsongs: A Gathering of Psalms, (An Arthur Kurzweil Book, New York/Jerusalem, 2013)

Gaya Aranoff Bernstein is the author of Psalmsongs: A Gathering of Psalms.