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Hesterville Chapter 3                                          Thoughts from a Foxhole

The Rashi Tehillim

  • August 20, 2023

This book is outstanding in its vibrant full-color graphics, featuring a different color and ancient instrument for each section. The features that set this edition apart, however, are the poetic translation and the introductory paragraphs that establish the poet’s mood. I have based my translation Psalms on the works of Rashi, whose full name was Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the preeminent Biblical commentator of the Middle Ages. Rashi’s commentaries on the Bible and the Talmud, which appear as glosses in most editions, are so authoritative that they have become an integral part of the text. No serious Biblical or Talmudic scholar would analyze any subject without first giving serious consideration to Rashi’s views. In his Biblical commentaries, Rashi regularly cites the works of the earlier grammarians and, of all the commentators, is most consistent with the Targum, the first-century Aramaic translation. In my translation, therefore, I have faithfully followed Rashi’s interpretations as I understood them. Where Rashi offers no comment, I have followed the Targum translation. Where Targum, which is a somewhat free translation, also sheds no light on a particular turn of phrase, I have relied on the reference works and used my own judgment. I have, of course, not followed the Hebrew syntax, nor have I transported Hebrew idiom into the English language. For instance, the word kelayoth, kidneys, is a common Hebrew metaphor for conscience or inner thoughts. I have, therefore, translated them as such, and the metaphor is unfortunately lost in the translation. Stylistically, the Psalmist does not feel constrained by iambic pentameter or any other formal pattern. He uses metric cadences that are quite similar to those of modern poetry, and the result is magnificent, searing, soaring poetry. I have labored to retain that poetic flavor and spirit in my translation without losing the clarity of the thoughts. I have avoided arcane language and obscure references to the best of my ability. This has been a very serious scholarly undertaking for me, but I have never lost sight of the lay reader. More than anything else, I have tried to provide pleasure and inspiration to all modern readers, to present the Psalms in language that conveys the passion and poetry with which the Psalmist writes. I have also added small paragraphs before each section and psalm. These are not summaries of the psalm or commentaries on them. Often borrowing from the poet’s language, they are introductions meant to give the reader a taste of what is to come and a sense of the poet’s mood. In any rendition of the Psalms, the reader will find that the Psalmist often shifts between tenses or between the second and third person. There are no indications in the text that the Psalmist is making these shifts other than the context of his words. This can be disconcerting if we do not understand why the Psalmist, brilliant poet that he is, occasionally writes in such a choppy way. Perhaps it can be explained by the original purpose of the Psalms. They were written for the Levites to sing in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. Many Psalms begin with instructions for their performance, such as the instruments for which they were written. It is quite possible, therefore, that different choir groups of Levites sang different parts of the Psalms, that there were choruses and harmonies. The unexplained shifts in the text might therefore follow shifts in choral roles, where one group may address God in the second person and the chorus comes in with a verse in the third person. It must have been exceedingly beautiful and dramatic in that form.
A New Edition in Preparation
Although the present edition incorporates Rashi’s comments that affect the translations of the words and phrases of the text, it does not contain Rashi’s comments that supplement the text rather than just interpret it. I am now preparing a new edition that will also explain the verses according to Rashi’s commentary.
I am attaching the entire Tehillim and the commentary to the first nineteen psalms. It will probably take me several years to complete it, because I only work on it for a limited time each weeks. Every Friday, in the late afternoon, I meet in shul with my chavrusa, Chuna Chaim Lebowitz, for about an hour, and we learn as much as we can. Sometime during the following week, I write up the fruits of our analysis. As time goes on, I will periodically replace this document with an updated version. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy what we’ve done so far.