Psalms – Chapter 51

"Wracked" With a W.

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

We now return to Psalms authored by David. This one, we are told, was written when the prophet Nathan spoke to him about the incident involving Batsheva, back in II Samuel 12.

David asks G-d to show him kindness and to wipe his slate clean, since he has repented. He acknowledges his sins, the guilt of which tortures him constantly. The Talmud in Yoma (86b) uses this verse, “my sin is always before me,” to recommend eternal vigilance in areas in which we may have previously stumbled. David says that he could justify his actions in taking Batsheva and in causing Uriah’s death, but even if he could exonerate himself in human terms, he still sinned against G-d.

David acknowledges that G-d is always right and that the actions He takes are always just, but David himself is human and fallible. (That’s not an excuse, it’s just the fact of the matter.) G-d wants us to be true and pure, inside and out, so He gives us the ability to recognize and correct our sins. David asks to be cleansed of his sins and he will keep himself pure.

When David knows that he has been forgiven, he will rejoice. He prays for the unpleasant memories of his errors to be removed so that he will no longer be wracked with guilt. (Wracked with a W means utterly devastated. Racked with an R means tortured. Either one is acceptable with guilt, but you can only “rack your brains” over something.) David prays that G-d instill with him a pure heart and an upstanding spirit, rather than driving him away. (These verses may be familiar as the song “Lev Tahor.”) If G-d saves David and supports him, David will “return the favor” by teaching others how to repent their sins and return to G-d.

David prays not to die horribly as payment for his sins. If he survives (which he did), David will sing praises of G-d’s righteousness. If G-d will but open David’s mouth, praises to Him will just pour out. (This verse, “Hashem, open my lips…,” is said at the start of every Amidah prayer.) There’s no sacrifice that can atone for David’s sin, or he would bring it. The real offerings to G-d are our hearts and souls, when we humbly return to Him.

The Psalm ends with David’s prayer that G-d build up the Temple and Jerusalem, and that He be pleased with the sacrifices that will be offered to Him there.

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