Psalms – Chapter 49

You Can't Take It With You

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

This is the final Psalm by the sons of Korach in this series, although we will hear more from them later.

The author tells all the nations of this temporary world to pay attention. All of us, rich and poor alike, are subject to the same worldly distractions. The author will impart words of wisdom, which are the result of his thoughtful contemplations. He will consider a parable (Rashi says this refers to the Torah) and he will unravel the mysteries of the universe using his harp.

The author asks why he should be afraid in “days of trouble.” This could mean this world in general or old age in particular, as health declines. All of a sudden, the sins we didn’t consider significant come to accuse us! Many people put their faith in money, but in the end, their wealth cannot save them. You can’t “pay off” G-d and get an extension! The soul is priceless – it can only be redeemed with deeds, not with money.

A person’s body won’t live forever; it will eventually be buried. Wise people die physically, but people who waste their lives in foolish pursuits don’t even live on spiritually. The money they spent all their efforts acquiring will be inherited by others, so what was the point? They think they’ve built some eternal legacy, but they’re deluding themselves. People pass away and their material pursuits are no more lasting than the “accomplishments” of simple animals. Yet this is how some people choose to spend their lives!

And so, people who waste their lives acquiring only wealth (to the exclusion of merits) depart. The souls of evil people are eradicated. Righteous people triumph in the end. The wicked are worn away, but G-d saves His faithful and brings them to Him.

When a person makes a lot of money, he may build a beautiful house, but when he dies it will not go with him. If the only thing he worshiped in his lifetime was himself, then his life is over. But a person who worked on himself will be praised by those he leaves behind and will live on. The souls of the good will rise to light, while those of the evil will fall in darkness. A person doesn’t truly comprehend his mission in this world, distracted by materialistic goals like an animal.

This Psalm is recited during prayer services held in the house of a mourner during the week of shiva following a funeral.

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