Tehillim: Psalm 79 – a Jewish interpretation

In Psalm 79, Asaph thanks G-d for sparing the people and directing His wrath on the wood and stones (of the temple). Yet he cries bitterly, mourning the immense destruction: the place where only the High Priest was allowed to enter – and only on Yom Kippur – is so deserted that foxes walk through it! The Temple was defiled by foreign nations. Jews became alienated from the Torah and ended up in the Diaspora. It is the job of Torah Jews to bring their fellow Jews back to Torah. This is done through the kiruv program. In 2020, Chabad in particular is committed to offering religious education to secular Jews in educational centers.

  • Text Psalm 79
  • Hebrew text of Psalm 79 – תהילים עט
  • Listen to Psalm 79
  • Explanation of Psalm 79 by Rabbi Yitzchok Rubin
  • Commentary by Rashi on Psalm 79
  • Further explanation of the above Jewish comments
  • Psalm 1 to 92


Text Psalm 79

A song by Asaph. Oh G-d! Nations have come into Your inheritance, they have defiled Your Holy Temple, they have made Jerusalem heaps of ruins. They have given the corpses of Your servants as food to the birds of the sky, the flesh of Your devout to the beasts of the earth. They have shed their blood like water around Jerusalem, and no one buries [them].
….May the cry of the prisoner come before You; according to the greatness of Your arm, deliver the children of the mother who died. And return sevenfold to our neighbors into their bosom, their reproach with which they reproach You, O Lord. But we, Your people and the flock of Your pasture, will thank You forever; to all generations we will recite Your praises.

Hebrew text of Psalm 79 – תהילים עט

{a} A psalm for the collection of God, O nations, come into your possession, defile your temple, make Jerusalem a people:
{b} Give the carrion of your servants as food for the fowl of the sky In the flesh of your followers live in the land: {3} They shed their blood like the waters around Jerusalem and there is no one to bury them: {4} We were a disgrace to our neighbors To mock and scorn the cause of our lamentations:
{5} How long will Jehovah be angry forever, will your jealousy burn like a fire: {and} pour out your anger on the nations who do not know you and on the kingdoms of By your name they did not call: {7} Because I ate Jacob and Noah they called him: {8} Al Remember for us the first seasons, let your mercy quickly overtake us, for we are very few:
{9} Help us, O God, let us rely on a thing for the honor of your name, and save us and atone For our sins for your name’s sake: {y} Why will the heathen say, Oh, their God knows (in heathens ) among the heathen before our eyes the vengeance of the shed blood of your servants:
{Ya } Come before you, I will lift up a prisoner as big as your arm, let the sons of death go. Your people are encamped and the sheep of your pasture will thank you for ever and ever, for generation and generation, your praise will be told:

Listen to Psalm 79

Listen to Psalm 79 in Hebrew.

Explanation of Psalm 79 by Rabbi Yitzchok Rubin

Foreign nations have defiled the Jewish Temple. G-d created Jews with holiness. But because Jews admit foreign nations, they feel defiled. The heart of the Torah Jew is sacred because it is cultivated through mitzvot and good deeds. However, due to weakness, some of the waste from the street enters the heart. This makes the soul restless and then destruction begins.

Rabbi Rubin notes that the psalm begins as a song (mizmor). He wonders how Jews can sing about the destruction. He says this may be possible because Jews connect with the sanctuary of G-d and will one day, renewed, be returned to the Temple. How can Jews get a pure heart again? According to Rubin, every Jew must be aware of where he really wants to be. Being Jewish allows Jews to endure trials and return to the will of G-d. Jews who do not observe the Torah don’t stand a chance against the cruel enemies. They are spiritually dead before they begin. Yet they too remain G-d’s servants. The holy soul of the Jew can always be restored.

The question is how the children of G-d lost their sense of being Jews. In the Diaspora, Jews were thrown apart. The enemies of the Jews were jealous of the special moral status that Jews have. Within a generation or two, the children of the Jews no longer knew they were Jewish. They became atheists or adopted liberal Judaism as a kind of alternative Jewish lifestyle.

This psalm is a moving prayer, a request from the Jews to G-d to save them and forgive them of their sins. Just by admitting to being Jewish, G-d will offer salvation. G‑d is the shepherd who brings His sheep (the Jews) to His pasture. Torah Jews are to befriend Jews who wander and show them the way to the pasture. This is truly the fulfillment of “from generation to generation we will declare Your praises.”

Commentary by Rashi on Psalm 79

Per verse the commentary of Rashi, the Jewish Bible commentator who lived from 1040-1105. Rashi is considered the teacher of teachers. All traditional Jews regard Rashi as an authority on the Jewish Bible and Talmud. Hence it is important to record his commentary on the Psalms. Rashi uses new Hebrew supplemented with Old French words. His language is sometimes somewhat oracularly short. For further explanation it is wise to consult an orthodox Jewish rabbi.

Verse 1
A song of Asaph. Oh G-d! Nations have come into Your inheritance, they have defiled Your Holy Temple, they have made Jerusalem heaps of ruins.

to ruins : What is this song now? Isn’t it a lament? But because it says (Lamentations 4:11), “The Lord hath spent his wrath.” What did he spend it on? “He has kindled a fire in Zion.” This is a song and an opportunity to sing, for He poured out His wrath on the wood and stones and did not utterly destroy His children.

Verse 2
They have given the corpses of Your servants as food to the birds of the air, and the flesh of Your saints to the beasts of the earth.

the flesh of Your pious ones : Were they not evil? But since they received their punishment, they have been considered pious men. Likewise, Scripture says (Deuteronomy 25:3), “your brother would be humiliated before your eyes.” Once he’s tied up, he’s your brother. It is explained this way in the Aggada (Midrash Psalm 79:4).

Verse 4
We were a disgrace to our neighbors, a mockery and a mockery to those around us.

and mockery : Hebrew וקלס, an expression of speech, to speak of them as an adverb.

Verse 5
How long, O Lord? Will You be angry forever? Will Your jealousy burn like fire?

How long : Hebrew עד מה [literally, until what.] Until when?

Your jealousy : Your wrath, that You are jealous of revenge, an expression of (Exodus 20:5): ,a jealous (קנא) G‑d,, emportement or entrepreneur in Old French, zealous anger.

Verse 11
May the cry of the captive come before You; according to the greatness of Your arm, deliver the children of the mother who died.

liberated : Hebrew הותר, free the prisoners from their prison, as (below 105:20): ,A king sent and set him free (ויתירהו),; (146:7), ,loosens the border (מתיר).,

the children of the mother who died : The children of her whom You killed; enmorinede in Old French, doomed to die. There is an example in the language of the sages: ,It is better that Jews eat the flesh of slaughtered dying beasts rather than the flesh of the carcasses of dying animals., That means the flesh of a dying animal that was slaughtered, in tractate Kiddushin (21b).

Further explanation of the above Jewish comments

Encouraging fellow Jews to observe the Torah has always occurred within Judaism. This is called ‘kiruv’. That’s the Hebrew word for ‘bring near’. In fact, kiruv is the fulfillment of the Biblical command to love your neighbor as yourself. In the last decades after the Second World War, a ‘Kiruv movement’ even emerged. Many (Eastern) European Jews had become alienated from Judaism due to the Holocaust. Chabad began organizing Jewish relief efforts under the leadership of the sixth Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950). He urged his followers to re-engage fellow Jews with Judaism. The seventh Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), through his emissaries (shluchim), established Jewish educational centers around the world. In 2020, there are already more than 3,000 such centers. Chabad believes that no Jew is “secular.” The Torah is the birthright of every Jewish soul. The Rebbe believed that all Jews are already naturally close to the Torah but that they need to be drawn even closer. Older Hasidim say: Have affection for a fellow Jew and G-d will have affection for you. Do good to a fellow Jew and G-d will do good to you. Befriend a fellow Jew and G-d will befriend you.

Chabad shluchim approach Jews in different ways. Some are on the streets, especially in Israel and New York, where they encourage Jews to put on prayer phylacteries. That is the first contact. It can also take place in another way. For example, by placing a mezuzah at a Jewish home, lighting Shabbat candles, through charity (tzedakah), eating a kosher meal together, studying the Torah together, encouraging reading Jewish books, encouraging to love one another, encouraging Jewish education, living Jewish family values, etc.

Psalm 1 to 92

Would you like to read more Psalms with a Jewish interpretation? Go to: Psalms 1 through 92.

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