"Hart, a Deer, a Male Deer..."By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
This is the first Psalm of the second “book.” Many people may be surprised to learn that David did not compose all of Psalms. He included songs of praise to G-d written by ten “elders,” some quite famous (Moses) and others fairly obscure (Heiman). While David composed all of the Psalms in the first volume of Tehillim, this section is replete with songs composed by others. The first eight Psalms in this “book” are attributed to the sons of Korach – either his actual sons, who repented and survived, or their descendants, who were David’s contemporaries.
So, what do the sons of Korach have to say? They say that their soul longs for G-d the way a hart (a male deer) desires water from a spring. They thirst for G-d, not for idols; when will they be able to greet Him? They were nourished by the tears they shed as their enemies taunted them, saying “So, where’s this G-d of yours?”
(At this point, for simplicity’s sake, I will start saying “he” in the singular, rather than “they” in the plural. First of all, the Psalm is written in the first-person singular – “I.” Secondly, while this batch of Psalms may have been composed by the sons of Korach, they were included here by David. Saying that “David says” is not unlike saying “Rashi says,” even though Rashi may be quoting a Midrash.)
So, the sons of Korach/David continue by recalling the exiles of Israel (“eileh ezkara,” like on Tisha b’Av) and pouring out his soul. He tentatively approaches G-d’s presence to rejoice in the return. So why is his soul dejected, he asks? Why is it longing? (This is paraphrased in L’cha Dodi, sung on Friday nights, in the part that goes “mah tishtochachi u’mah tehemi.”) The author replies that he will thank G-d for His salvations.
The author’s soul is depressed as he recalls G-d from the lands of exile and hopes for salvations like those wrought for earlier generations. One problem immediately follows another, without respite. Violent waves crash down upon us, followed by smaller waves that never cease. The author prays for G-d’s salvation, which he compares to the dawn. As for now, the current times of trouble, which he compares to night, we pray to G-d to sustain us so that we might see the redemption.
The author asks G-d why He appears to have forgotten us and left us in exile. The enemies’ taunts, as to G-d’s whereabouts, are as painful to him as a sword stuck in his ribs. So the author’s soul is depressed, but he tries to cheer it up with promises of G-d’s salvation. Expect it and we’ll thank G-d for revealing Himself to our oppressors.