Tell It Like It IsBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
This is the first of a series of Psalms composed by the Levite Asaf. With twelve Psalms to his credit, Asaf was the second-most prolific Psalmist, after David. (See our synopsis on Psalm 50 for more about Asaf.)
Asaf says that G-d is always good to Israel, even when His actions appear to be harsh. He says that he had nearly gone astray, turning his back on G-d, which would have been disastrous. Asaf says he envied confused people who were preoccupied with material wealth and physical comfort; after all, he saw their crimes to obtain wealth at the expense of others paid off! They lived comfortably their whole lives, neither suffering nor working too hard. Even diseases and natural disasters seem to make less of an impact on them! All of this special treatment makes them arrogant and they wear their egos like a necklace.
These materialistic people are so over-stuffed, even their eyes bulge. They’ve really overdone things, succeeding beyond their wildest expectations. They destroy any impediment to their desires and they brag about their actions, since they consider themselves beyond consequences. They speak against G-d, thinking that even He can’t touch them!
G-d allows evil people to have this kind of success, which motivates others to strive to emulate them! They then delude themselves into thinking that G-d is so far removed from the affairs of man that He couldn’t possibly care. So they perform their evil and indulge every urge, causing good people to think that their own benevolent and modest lifestyles are for nothing. “After all,” they think, “I do all the ‘right’ things and I suffer for it!”
Asaf says, “If I told it like it is,” referring to why the wicked prosper while the good suffer, “the very question would cause rebellion!” Asaf says he initially pondered the issue and decided the world was unjust. But when he got closer to G-d, he realized how fleeting and superficial are the lives of those people he envied. Everything they have ends when they do. For the righteous, this world is just the beginning; for the wicked that’s all there is. They are consumed in the Next World; they are in for a rude awakening.
Asaf had been bitter and confused. Before he was enlightened, his understanding was like an animal’s. Now he is with G-d, Who metaphorically hold’s Asaf’s hand. G-d guides him in this world and will greet him in the Next World. The evil ones choose a variety of idols for themselves; Asaf has no one in Heaven or Earth besides G-d. Asaf no longer craves wealth; all he desires is to get closer to G-d. Those who distance themselves from G-d perish, but Asaf places all his trust in G-d and he will tell all of G-d’s messages.