kosher bookworm

Considering Tehillim at Purim


Perhaps it can truthfully be said that there is no other portion of the Bible, outside of the Chumash itself, which has greater use and influence among our people than the Book of Psalms, the holy Sefer Tehillim. 

Every day, chapters from Tehillim are recited as part of our prayers. In fact, Tehillim constitutes the very backbone of our prayers to the Almighty.

Within the context of this liturgical reality is the role that Tehillim plays in the observance of Jewish holiday rituals. Until recently, little attention has been paid to references to Purim in the Tehillim.

A wonderful and informative work was recently published by the Kehot Publication Society titled, “Tehillim: Book of Psalms, with commentary from the Talmud, Midrash, Kabbalah, classic commentaries and the Chasidic Masters,” skillfully compiled by Rabbi Yosef B. Marcus.

This comprehensive English work includes both known and little known insights into the deeper meanings of the Psalms. Given this weekend’s Purim festival, I will focus on some little-known references to the Purim observance as sighted in this precious work.

The first reference to Purim in this work is found in Psalms 10, citing a definition to the “Theology of Anti-Semitism” (page 17b), wherein we learn the following:

“When thieves are impeded by a gate surrounding a vineyard, what do they do? They breach the fence and then enter the vineyard. Likewise, when the nations seek to attack the Jewish people, who are called G-d’s vineyard, they first blaspheme G-d and then attack the Jewish people (Midrash Tehillim).”

From here, the first reference in the commentary to anti-Jewish bigotry, we continue on to Psalm 22, “Ayelet Hashachar,” and learn of the following:

“Specifically, ayelet hashachar alludes to Esther, the doe (ayelet) who brought light to the Jewish people like the dawn.

“The psalm is her cry and that of the Jewish people during the difficult times under Haman’s decree (Midrash Tehillim; Yoma 29b; Megilla 15b). See Alshich and Yaavetz, who explain the entire psalm as it pertains to Esther.”

Further on we learn, based on the second verse of this Psalm, “My G-d, my G-d, why have You forsaken me,” that “the collective cry of the Jewish people is spoken in the singular, since we are as one person with one heart (Radak).”

We also learn another teaching concerning this iconic verse: “Esther in the Palace.”

“When Esther reached the chamber of idols, while on her way to approach Achashverosh, uninvited, the Divine presence departed from her. She exclaimed: ‘My G-d, my G-d, why have You forsaken me’!” (Megilla 15b)

“Esther said to G-d: ‘My ancestress Sarah was held captive (by Pharaoh) for one night, and on her account Pharaoh and his entire household were plagued. Yet I have been placed in the bosom of that wicked one for all these years — why do you not do miracles for me? Why have you forsaken me?”

This next teaching is drawn from Psalm 30, a psalm normally associated with Chanukah, “Mizmor shir chanukas habayis l’David.”

From verse six, “one retires at night weeping,” we learn that “this refers to when Zeresh advised Haman to erect a gallows for Mordechai and all of Israel retired in weeping; ‘joy will come in the morning’ – i.e., the hanging of Haman after which … ‘there was light and joy.”

And, from verse 30:12 we learn: “You have turned my mourning into dancing for me.”

“This alludes to the events of Purim, when the mourning of our people was transformed to joy (Midrash Tehillim). The ultimate transformation will occur in the Messianic age, when ‘I will transform their mourning to joy and will comfort them and make them rejoice from their sorrow’ (Jeremiah 31:12; see Yahel Ohr).”

And lastly, from this anthology-commentary, from the very last verse of this psalm, “My soul shall sing to you and not be silent” (30:13), we learn of the following:

“My soul shall sing to you — this refers to the daytime obligation to read the Megillah; and not be silent — on Purim night, read the Megillah as well (Megillah 4a, Rashi, ad loc.).”

Thus from these citations we learn much from the Book of Tehillim’s links to both Chanukah and Purim and begin to better appreciate the liturgical, biblical, and historical links that these two cherished feasts of joy have in common as feasts of “Al Hanisim,” of divine miracles and interventions.

The author of this commentary-anthology, Rabbi Yosef Marcus, is the Chabad representative to San Mateo, California. He is the author of an excellent commentary on the Haggadah and of the Pirkei Avot, both of which warrant your attention in the months to come.


Once again the Beis Haknesses of North Woodmere has published another volume [5] of Ohr HaTzafon, this one themed, in part, to essays on the Purim festival. Among these excellent teachings are: “From Haman To Hellenists” by Rabbi Nathan Farber; “Drinking on Purim” by Rabbi Yehuda Balsam; “What is Amalek?” by Moshe Buchbinder; “Two Paths, One Religion: Purim’s Message for the Ages” by Dr. Elly Rosman; and “Abolishing Ta’anit Esther in Jerusalem” by Gedaliah Wielgus.

This shul and its rav, Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz, are to be complimented for this unique effort of religious scholarship on behalf of our community.

Lastly, may I once again extend to all my readers and to all of our people, both near and far, my best wishes for a meaningful, joyous, sober and safe Purim festival and feast.