Psalm 99 and Kabbalat Shabbat

Rabbi Philip Weintraub
Congregation B’nai Israel
Erev Shabbat Parshat Lech Lecha

Today is a special day--and not just because it is my wife's birthday. We are now entering Shabbat, the palace in time, the space where we rejuvenate our souls. In recent weeks I have shared a brief analysis of the psalms of Kabbalat Shabbat and I would like to resume tonight with Psalm 99 (p. 19).

(1) The LORD, enthroned on cherubim, is king, peoples tremble, the earth quakes. (2) The LORD is great in Zion, and exalted above all peoples. (3) They praise Your name as great and awesome; He is holy! (4) Mighty king who loves justice, it was You who established equity, You who worked righteous judgment in Jacob. (5) Exalt the LORD our God and bow down to His footstool; He is holy! 

(א) ה' מָ֭לָךְ יִרְגְּז֣וּ עַמִּ֑ים יֹשֵׁ֥ב כְּ֝רוּבִ֗ים תָּנ֥וּט הָאָֽרֶץ׃ (ב) ה' בְּצִיּ֣וֹן גָּד֑וֹל וְרָ֥ם ה֝֗וּא עַל־כָּל־הָֽעַמִּֽים׃ (ג) יוֹד֣וּ שִׁ֭מְךָ גָּד֥וֹל וְנוֹרָ֗א קָד֥וֹשׁ הֽוּא׃ (ד) וְעֹ֥ז מֶלֶךְ֮ מִשְׁפָּ֪ט אָ֫הֵ֥ב אַ֭תָּה כּוֹנַ֣נְתָּ מֵישָׁרִ֑ים מִשְׁפָּ֥ט וּ֝צְדָקָ֗ה בְּיַעֲקֹ֤ב ׀ אַתָּ֬ה עָשִֽׂיתָ׃ (ה) רֽוֹמְמ֡וּ ה' אֱלֹקֵ֗ינוּ וְֽ֭הִשְׁתַּחֲווּ לַהֲדֹ֥ם רַגְלָ֗יו קָד֥וֹשׁ הֽוּא׃

Like many of the other psalms of Kabbalat Shabbat, we see a focus on justice and fair judgement. Simultaneously, a major piece of this poem is focused on Zion, on Israel, on the Holy Land. We see that Israel (the place) is the source of our connection and perhaps even Gd’s might. Through our praise, through our prayer, we elevate Gd. We ensure that Gd is enthroned in the highest place--in Gd’s house--the Temple.
Photo taken by me in Jerusalem, at the Kotel
This is one of the central pieces of Aleinu, as well. It shows the power of prayer, that our words help bring about the redemption of the world. By coming together, by sharing the words of Gd, we help to (albeit slowly) perfect the world. Through the actions inspired by those words, we work towards justice, ensuring a fairer and better society. Since we are commanded to follow Gd’s example, I find it powerful that EVERY Friday night we have a call to justice through these psalms. Since we are also supposed to be reviewing our week, perhaps we are supposed to see if we worked towards justice in the week that has past. Did we use our time wisely? Did we make this world, make our lives better?

(6) Moses and Aaron among His priests, Samuel, among those who call on His name— when they called to the LORD, He answered them. (7) He spoke to them in a pillar of cloud; they obeyed His decrees, the law He gave them. (8) O LORD our God, You answered them; You were a forgiving God for them, but You exacted retribution for their misdeeds. (9) Exalt the LORD our God, and bow toward His holy hill, for the LORD our God is holy. 
(ו) מֹ֘שֶׁ֤ה וְאַהֲרֹ֨ן ׀ בְּֽכֹהֲנָ֗יו וּ֭שְׁמוּאֵל בְּקֹרְאֵ֣י שְׁמ֑וֹ קֹרִ֥אים אֶל־ה' וְה֣וּא יַעֲנֵֽם׃ (ז) בְּעַמּ֣וּד עָ֭נָן יְדַבֵּ֣ר אֲלֵיהֶ֑ם שָׁמְר֥וּ עֵ֝דֹתָ֗יו וְחֹ֣ק נָֽתַן־לָֽמוֹ׃ (ח) ה' אֱלֹקֵינוּ֮ אַתָּ֪ה עֲנִ֫יתָ֥ם אֵ֣ל נֹ֭שֵׂא הָיִ֣יתָ לָהֶ֑ם וְ֝נֹקֵ֗ם עַל־עֲלִילוֹתָֽם׃ (ט) רֽוֹמְמ֡וּ ה' אֱלֹקֵ֗ינוּ וְ֭הִֽשְׁתַּחֲווּ לְהַ֣ר קָדְשׁ֑וֹ כִּֽי־קָ֝ד֗וֹשׁ ה' אֱלֹקֵֽינוּ׃

The second half of the psalm gives us the example of some who fought to better this world. While we may see their examples as beyond our abilities, they, too, were not perfect. They, too, made mistakes. They, too, had opportunities to grow. Gd saw them grow, saw them acknowledge their imperfections and work to improve themselves. Gd waited for their growth, answered them, and forgave them their previous mistakes.

We conclude with an acknowledgement of the sanctity of Gd. As Parshat Kedoshim teaches. We are Holy because, You Our Gd is HOLY.

Shabbat Shalom!

(Note: Psalm text is from the always incredible