Psalms – Chapter 104


By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

As in the previous Psalm, David begins by telling his own soul to praise G-d, for He is very great, having clothed Himself in glory. To G-d, light is like a garment that conceals His nature and the Heavens are like curtains. The waters above are like G-d’s ceiling and the clouds that travel across the sky form His chariot. The very forces of nature, from the wind to the lightning, exist to carry out G-d’s will.

G-d set the world on its foundation so that it could never be moved. He spread the water out, even covering large mountains. At G-d’s word, the waters separated to their designated locations; G-d established boundaries for them. Now the waters flow between mountains and provide a source from which the animals may drink. Birds perch on nearby branches and sing. G-d causes rain to fall on the mountains and He makes the ground sprout produce for man and beast alike. (This verse uses the phrase “to bring forth bread from the Earth,” from which the Sages derived the text of HaMotzi, the blessing recited on eating bread.) Among the produce that G-d causes to grow are the necessary ingredients of wine, oil and bread, which sustain and gladden people.

G-d waters the trees He created, such as the renowned cedars of Lebanon. Birds live in these trees, while other animals live in habitats suitable to their needs: goats like mountains and hyraxes like rocks. (The hyrax is a small mammal indigenous to the Middle East. In Hebrew, it is called a shafan. It is one of the four species containing only one of the signs of kosher animals. Some translations of Deut. 14:7 call it a “rock badger.”)

G-d created the moon, which we use to set the calendar. He made the sun follows its regular cycle. He made the dark of night, when nocturnal animals are active. (Metaphorically, this means when evil people carry out their plots – see Talmud Baba Metzia 83b.) The lion pursues its prey, which really comes from the “hand” of G-d. When the sun rises, the wild animals go back to their dens and human beings rule the daylight hours. How wonderfully designed are all these many creations of G-d! The whole world is full of His wondrous things!

Even the expanse of the sea is full of a rich bounty of creatures. G-d allows people the ability to travel the sea in vessels, from which they can experience the variety of His works. Even the most gigantic forms of sea life rely on G-d for their sustenance. He opens His “hand” and supplies the needs of all His creations in the proper times. When He withholds food from them, they have no place else to turn. And, when G-d removes the breath of life from man, he returns to the dust from which he came. (When G-d restores the breath of life, man will return, at the future revival of the dead.)

David asks that G-d be pleased with His creation so that they may endure forever. He has but to look at the world and it would tremble before Him. If He would metaphorically “touch” a mountain, it would smolder. (The mountains may be a metaphor for arrogant rulers, as we see elsewhere.) David says that he will sing to G-d as long as he lives. He hopes that G-d will be pleased with his songs so that He will rejoice in David as David rejoices in Him. Evil people will be removed from the world, either through repentance or destruction. David concludes by urging his soul to bless G-d and to praise Him. (This is the first appearance of the word “Hallelujah” in Psalms.)

This Barchi Nafshi (“Bless, my soul”) is more familiar than the previous one, as this Psalm is the special Psalm recited on Rosh Chodesh. (This is because of the reference to the cycle of the moon and the setting of the calendar.)

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