ExileBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
This Psalm speaks of exile, so it is to be accompanied on the shoshanim, which means roses. The symbolism of that selection is that Israel is like a rose, but the trials of exile are like thorns. (Since David speaks on behalf of the nation, I have made plural here some verses that may be singular in the actual text.)
David asks G-d for salvation from troubles that reach the soul like deep water up to one’s neck. Not only are the waters rising, but our feet are stuck in the mud and we can’t get loose. As if that’s not bad enough, now the current comes to carry us away! David expresses crying for help until he reaches the point of exhaustion and his voice goes hoarse. He strains his eyes scanning the horizon for help, but he never saw any.
David says that our foes are more numerous than the hairs on his head – and they don’t even need a reason to hate us! We never stole from them, but we still have to pay them as if we did. G-d knows we’re not perfect and we make mistakes, but He also knows that we’re innocent of the malice our enemies accuse us of having committed. David hopes that G-d will not allow His faithful to be shamed because if Israel can’t accomplish salvation, others will lose hope.
David says that we have endured humiliation at the hands of our oppressors, all for the sake of G-d. (The Radak says that this refers to remaining Jewish rather than converting to the religion of our conquerors.) We have become persona non grata with our brethren (Esau and Ishmael); other nations hate us because G-d loves us. And so, we have suffered seemingly-perpetual torment and humiliation. We wore sackcloth and became a synonym for something universally despised. We became the laughingstock of nations and the object of their derision. And so, we pray to G-d, hoping that it is an opportune time.
David prays that G-d rescue us in His kindness, saving us from the aforementioned mud in which we are stuck, deep waters and swift currents. We want G-d to save us because His kindness is abundant and long-lasting. Let Him not turn away, but rather respond quickly, saving us from our enemies.
G-d knows the indignities we suffer in exile. Even when our tormentors persecute us surreptitiously, they are revealed to Him. The degradations we have endured have seriously discouraged us; we look for relief that hasn’t come. We don’t even have anyone to commiserate with us! Instead, they metaphorically slip us poison while we’re trying to heal ourselves. (In short, not only are they no help, they make things worse.) They tried to poison us, so we hope their plans backfire and their tables become a trap for them. May their vision fail and lead them to ruin. Hopefully G-d will direct the full force of His anger at them, destroying them thoroughly.
We ask that they get the punishment they deserve persecuting Israel when the Jews were already down. Yes, the Jews needed to be corrected, but the nations were excessive in their zeal to destroy Israel. May they accumulate punishments the way they racked up sins, never getting to enjoy G-d’s goodness. Let them be wiped out of the Book of Life, rather than share the page with the righteous.
We are suffering intensely from our oppression in exile, but G-d’s salvation elevates us. We will praise His Name with song and it will be better in His eyes than the greatest of sacrifices. The wicked will be destroyed and their former victims will rejoice. Those who rely on G-d will be reinvigorated because G-d hears the prayers of the downtrodden. Everything in the Heavens and the Earth and even the sea will praise Him. G-d will restore Jerusalem’s glory and the Jews will reclaim the land of Israel. The Jews, descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, will live there, having demonstrated their love of G-d by enduring the trials of exile.