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Mizmor 019 - Seeking Perfection

(א) לַמְנַצֵחַ מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד: (ב) הַשָמַיִם מְסַפְרִים כְבוֹד אֵ־ל וּמַעֲשֵה יָדָיו מַגִיד הָרָקִיעַ:
(1) For the musician, a mizmor by David. (2) The [outer] heavens tell the glory of G-d but His handiwork is declared by the [inner] sky.
NOTE: For a PDF of this mizmor, please click here. This will enable you to print out the entire text of the article. [Rev 4]
Key Concepts of Mizmor 019 - Seeking Perfection
In this mizmor David contrasts the perfection of Hashem’s Creation with the imperfection of man. The perfection of Creation is demonstrated by the starry heavens which obey the Creator’s will with mathematical precision. It is also demonstrated by the perfection of the Torah, which provides man with perfect wisdom in the form of mitzvos. The mitzvos express the will of Hashem for the benefit of mankind.
However, when the perfection of the Torah encounters the imperfection of man there is a need for Hashem’s special intervention. This takes the form of His forgiveness for unintentional sins that a man may have committed and His help in avoiding intentional sins. However, to receive Hashem’s forgiveness and His help, man must request them in the form of tefillah. This is what David does as the mizmor draws to a close, concluding with a final plea that his words and thoughts are found acceptable in the eyes of his Creator.
Navigating Tehillim. In Mizmor 019 David is alluding to a special relationship between the Torah and the heavens. The heavens have been given the mission of defining the flow of time, measured through day and night (19:3). Correspondingly, man’s total commitment to the Torah requires that he learn Torah at every opportunity, by day and night. This suggests a link to Mizmor 001 where David declares that man achieves fulfillment when he contemplates “his” Torah day and night (1:2).
Exploring the Mizmor
PART 1. THE HEAVENS. David extols the heavens as the most obvious sign of the perfection of Creation.
(א) לַמְנַצֵּחַ מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד: (ב) הַשָּׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד אֵ־ל וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ: (ג) יוֹם לְיוֹם יַבִּיעַ אֹמֶר וְלַיְלָה לְּלַיְלָה יְחַוֶּה דָּעַת: (ד) אֵין אֹמֶר וְאֵין דְּבָרִים בְּלִי נִשְׁמָע קוֹלָם: (ה) בְּכָל הָאָרֶץ יָצָא קַוָּם וּבִקְצֵה תֵבֵל מִלֵּיהֶם לַשֶּׁמֶשׁ שָׂם אֹהֶל בָּהֶם: (ו) וְהוּא כְּחָתָן יֹצֵא מֵחֻפָּתוֹ יָשִׂישׂ כְּגִבּוֹר לָרוּץ אֹרַח: (ז) מִקְצֵה הַשָּׁמַיִם מוֹצָאוֹ וּתְקוּפָתוֹ עַל קְצוֹתָם וְאֵין נִסְתָּר מֵחַמָּתוֹ:
(1) For the musician, a mizmor by David. (2) The [outer] heavens tell the glory of G-d but [the full perfection of] His handiwork is declared by the [inner] sky. (3) [Each] day promises a following day and [each] night expresses the knowledge of a following night. (4) Without verbal communication and without words; their voice is not heard. (5) The line stretches forth throughout the world, and their words reach the end of the inhabited world. In their midst He has set up a tent for the sun. (6) It is like a bridegroom as he emerges from his wedding canopy, like a warrior who rejoices in running his course. (7) Its origin is at the [eastern] edge of the heavens. And its orbital path is bounded by their [other horizon] edges. There is nothing hidden from its heat.
PART 2. THE TORAH. David now extols the Torah as the perfect instrument to guide mankind in fufilling the will of Hashem.
(ח) תּוֹרַת ה' תְּמִימָה מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ עֵדוּת ה' נֶאֱמָנָה מַחְכִּימַת פֶּתִי: (ט) פִּקּוּדֵי ה' יְשָׁרִים מְשַׂמְּחֵי לֵב מִצְוַת ה' בָּרָה מְאִירַת עֵינָיִם: (י) יִרְאַת ה' טְהוֹרָה עוֹמֶדֶת לָעַד, מִשְׁפְּטֵי ה' אֱמֶת צָדְקוּ יַחְדָּו: (יא) הַנֶּחֱמָדִים מִזָּהָב וּמִפַּז רָב וּמְתוּקִים מִדְּבַשׁ וְנֹפֶת צוּפִים:
(8) Hashem’s Torah is perfect; it restores the soul. Hashem’s testimony is trustworthy; it makes the simple wise (9) The directives of Hashem are upright; they gladden the heart. Hashem’s mitzvos are clear, enlightning the eyes. (10) The fear of Hashem is pure, enduring forever. The mishpatim of Hashem are true, altogether righteous. (11) They are more desirable than gold. They are even more desirable than an abundance of fine gold. They are sweeter than honey and drippings from honeycombs.
PART 3. THE IMPERFECTION OF MAN. David now speaks directly to Hashem, humbly declaring his commitment to fulfilling the mitzvos, but asking for Hashem’s help. Individualized help is needed to forgive man’s unintentional sins, to help him avoid intentional sins, and even to formulate the tefillos by which he pleads for that help.
(יב) גַּם עַבְדְּךָ נִזְהָר בָּהֶם בְּשָׁמְרָם עֵקֶב רָב: (יג) שְׁגִיאוֹת מִי יָבִין מִנִּסְתָּרוֹת נַקֵּנִי: (יד) גַּם מִזֵּדִים חֲשֹׂךְ עַבְדֶּךָ אַל יִמְשְׁלוּ בִי אָז אֵיתָם וְנִקֵּיתִי מִפֶּשַׁע רָב: (טו) יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי פִי וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ ה' צוּרִי וְגֹאֲלִי:
(12) Also, [I], Your servant, am scrupulous in [the mitzvos]. In observing them there is great reward. (13) Who can be aware of unintentional sins? Cleanse me from unwitting faults. (14) Even from intentional sins restrain Your servant. Let them not dominate me. Then, I shall be whole. I will be cleansed of gross transgression. (15) May the utterances of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You, Hashem, my Rock and My Redeemer.
Learning the Mizmor
PART 1. THE PERFECTION OF THE HEAVENS.
(א) לַמְנַצֵּחַ מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד:
This song has been prepared for the musician — לַמְנַצֵּחַ , who will perform it. It is a mizmor composed by David  מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד .
(ב) הַשָּׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד אֵ־ל 
וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ:
The outer heavens — הַשָּׁמַיִם  with their panorama of sun, moon, and stars effectively tell the glory of G-d — מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד אֵ־ל . But the even greater perfection of His handiwork — וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו  is declared by the inner sky  מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ  containing the atmosphere with its clouds and windsThe constantly changing patterns of rain and dew reflect man’s behavior and so they are evidence of Hashem’s active involvement in the world He created.
(ג) יוֹם לְיוֹם יַבִּיעַ אֹמֶר
וְלַיְלָה לְּלַיְלָה יְחַוֶּה דָּעַת:
The regularly repeating cycle of days and nights reflects the motion of the heavenly bodies and inspires mankind to thank Hashem. Each day promises the certainty of a following day  יוֹם לְיוֹם יַבִּיעַ אֹמֶר  and each night expresses the certain knowledge of a following night — וְלַיְלָה לְּלַיְלָה יְחַוֶּה דָּעַת  when man can rest from his labors and prepare himself mentally and spiritually for another day.
(ד) אֵין אֹמֶר וְאֵין דְּבָרִים 
בְּלִי נִשְׁמָע קוֹלָם:
All of this is without verbal communication and without words  אֵין אֹמֶר וְאֵין דְּבָרִים ; their voice is not heard  בְּלִי נִשְׁמָע קוֹלָם . The heavenly bodies behave in a disciplined way, marking the passage of time and communicating the knowledge of Hashem to mankind, all without speaking.
(ה) בְּכָל הָאָרֶץ יָצָא קַוָּם 
וּבִקְצֵה תֵבֵל מִלֵּיהֶם
Their orbital paths, which trace their line of movement stretch forth throughout the world  בְּכָל הָאָרֶץ יָצָא קַוָּם , and their words, even though unspoken, reach the end of the inhabited world  וּבִקְצֵה תֵבֵל מִלֵּיהֶם .
לַשֶּׁמֶשׁ שָׂם אֹהֶל בָּהֶם:
In their midst He has set up a tent for the sun  לַשֶּׁמֶשׁ שָׂם אֹהֶל בָּהֶם . This is a framework that determines the precise bounds for the sun’s motionThe sun is the most important heavenly body, providing the heat and light that are essential to life on earth. Still, it never deviates from its assigned framework.
(ו) וְהוּא כְּחָתָן יֹצֵא מֵחֻפָּתוֹ
The sun emerges from the eastern horizon each morning to illuminate the world and there is nothing to restrain it because its path through the heavens is clear. It is like a bridegroom — וְהוּא כְּחָתָן  whose face shines with the joy of optimism as he emerges from his wedding canopy — יֹצֵא מֵחֻפָּתוֹ . He sees the future in terms of endless possibilities with nothing to mar his happiness.
יָשִׂישׂ כְּגִבּוֹר לָרוּץ אֹרַח:
The sun rising from the horizon also rejoices like a warrior  יָשִׂישׂ כְּגִבּוֹר  in running his course  לָרוּץ אֹרַח . The warrior arises refreshed from his slumbers each day, elated by the knowledge that he has been given an assignment to serve his Creator. He rejoices in full confidence that nothing will stand in his way.
(ז) מִקְצֵה הַשָּׁמַיִם מוֹצָאוֹ 
וּתְקוּפָתוֹ עַל קְצוֹתָם 
וְאֵין נִסְתָּר מֵחַמָּתוֹ:
The sun rises faithfully each day. Its visible origin is on the eastern horizon at the edge of the heavens  מִקְצֵה הַשָּׁמַיִם מוֹצָאוֹ And its orbital path — וּתְקוּפָתוֹ , which sometimes shifts to the north and sometimes to the south depending on the season, is bounded by their other horizon edges — עַל קְצוֹתָם . There is nothing hidden from its heat — וְאֵין נִסְתָּר מֵחַמָּתוֹ  which pervades our entire planet to make life possible wherever men travel.
PART 2. THE PERFECTION OF THE TORAH.
(ח) תּוֹרַת ה' תְּמִימָה מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ
Although the heat of the sun is essential to human life, it can be harmful. But, Hashem’s Torah is perfect — תּוֹרַת ה' תְּמִימָה restoring the soul — מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ , thereby giving eternal life to those who are faithful to it.
עֵדוּת ה' נֶאֱמָנָה מַחְכִּימַת פֶּתִי:
Hashem’s testimony  עֵדוּת ה' , incorporating the mitzvos that bear witness to the covenant between Hashem and mankind, is completely trustworthy — נֶאֱמָנָה . It is so rich in intellectual depth that it makes the simple wise — מַחְכִּימַת פֶּתִי .
(ט) פִּקּוּדֵי ה' יְשָׁרִים מְשַׂמְּחֵי לֵב
The directives accompanying the mitzvos that we have been given by Hashem are upright — פִּקּוּדֵי ה' יְשָׁרִים , being consistent with our inborn sense of right and wrong. They gladden the heart  מְשַׂמְּחֵי לֵב  because they remove the uncertainty of wondering what Hashem wants from us.
מִצְוַת ה' בָּרָה מְאִירַת עֵינָיִם:
Hashem’s framework of mitzvos is bright and clear  מִצְוַת ה' בָּרָה , enlightening the eyes  מְאִירַת עֵינָיִם  with the depth of His wisdom.
(י) יִרְאַת ה' טְהוֹרָה 
עוֹמֶדֶת לָעַד
The fear of Hashem is pure  יִרְאַת ה' טְהוֹרָה , bringing a person to a state of purity in the eyes of His Creator. The mitzvos concerned with moral and spiritual purity (chukim) are beyond human reason but they are essential to ensuring that the fear of Hashem endures forever — עוֹמֶדֶת לָעַד  and is passed on to future generations.
מִשְׁפְּטֵי ה' אֱמֶת צָדְקוּ יַחְדָּו:
The mitzvos concerned with civil law (mishpatim) are readily adaptable to rational interpretation. However, civil law is especially subject to the distortions of greed and self-interest. Only the mishpatim of Hashem are true — מִשְׁפְּטֵי ה' אֱמֶת , eternally. Only they are altogether righteous — צָדְקוּ יַחְדָּו . Since the mishpatim are based on Hashem’s righteousness, they cannot conflict with one another and, if they are rigorously observed, they are sure to prevent strife.
(יא) הַנֶּחֱמָדִים מִזָּהָב
The mishpatim are more desirable than gold — הַנֶּחֱמָדִים מִזָּהָב . The monetary value of gold is realized only when the gold is spent. The wisdom of the Torah continues to benefit a person throughout his lifetime and even into the next world.
וּמִפַּז רָב
They are even more desirable than an abundance of fine gold — וּמִפַּז רָב , which is used for jewelry. Gold jewelry delights the eye, but Torah delights the soul, which is eternal.
וּמְתוּקִים מִדְּבַשׁ וְנֹפֶת צוּפִים:
The mishpatim are sweeter than honey — וּמְתוּקִים מִדְּבַשׁ  from date palms, and even sweeter than the drippings from honeycombs — וְנֹפֶת צוּפִים . Honey is the sweetest of foods and yet there is only so much sweetness a person can take. After that it can be sickening. In contrast, the wisdom of the Torah becomes ever more gratifying the more knowledge one gains.
PART 3. THE IMPERFECTION OF MAN.
(יב) גַּם עַבְדְּךָ נִזְהָר בָּהֶם 
בְּשָׁמְרָם עֵקֶב רָב:
Also, I, Your servant  גַּם עַבְדְּךָ , am among those who appreciate the sweetness of the mishpatim, even though I don’t hold myself to be a scholar. I study their detailed laws and am scrupulous in observing them — נִזְהָר בָּהֶם . For I know that in observing them there is great reward — בְּשָׁמְרָם עֵקֶב רָב  the joy of serving You and the bliss of life in the World to Come.
(יג) שְׁגִיאוֹת מִי יָבִין 
מִנִּסְתָּרוֹת נַקֵּנִי:
Although I take great care to learn the halachos and perform the mitzvos correctly, I am surely not perfect and there are times when I have unknowingly gone astray. But who can be aware of unintentional sins — שְׁגִיאוֹת מִי יָבִין ? I ask You not to hold them against me. Cleanse me from unwitting faults — מִנִּסְתָּרוֹת נַקֵּנִי .
(יד) גַּם מִזֵּדִים חֲשֹׂךְ עַבְדֶּךָ אַל יִמְשְׁלוּ בִי
Although I try as best I can to observe the mitzvos, I am constantly being baited by the yetzer hara and so besides forgiving my inadvertent sins I ask Your help to avoid sin in the future. I pray that even from intentional sins — גַּם מִזֵּדִים , You will restrain Your servant — חֲשֹׂךְ עַבְדֶּךָ . Let them not dominate me  אַל יִמְשְׁלוּ בִי  by presenting me with temptations and emotions that are difficult to resist.
אָז אֵיתָם וְנִקֵּיתִי מִפֶּשַׁע רָב:
Then, when I have been forgiven my inadvertent sins and have resisted ordinary sins of intent, I shall be whole — אָז אֵיתָם  for I will surely be cleansed of gross transgression — וְנִקֵּיתִי מִפֶּשַׁע רָב . Through the influence of the Torah I will live a life of submission to Your will rather than rebelliousness.
(טו) יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי פִי וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי 
לְפָנֶיךָ ה' צוּרִי וְגֹאֲלִי:
May the words of my mouth — אִמְרֵי פִי  find favor  יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן  before You, Hashem — לְפָנֶיךָ ה' — together with the thoughts of my heart — וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי , which I am unable to put into words. You are my Rock — צוּרִי , Whom I rely upon, and My Redeemer — וְגֹאֲלִי , Who helps me overcome my sin.
Living the Mizmor
Listed below are some of the thoughts that you might have in mind when you say the words of the mizmor as a tefillah and some of the lessons that you can draw from this mizmor.
Tehillos for Life - Contemplation of Hashem.
[19:2] THE WONDERS OF THE HEAVENS. – הַשָּׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד אֵ־ל וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ – “The [outer] heavens tell the glory of G-d but [the full perfection of] His handiwork is declared by the [inner] sky.” All of the heavens are a demonstration of the glory of Hashem, but especially the interaction between the atmosphere and mankind’s needs.
[19:3] TIME. – יוֹם לְיוֹם יַבִּיעַ אֹמֶר וְלַיְלָה לְּלַיְלָה יְחַוֶּה דָּעַת – “[Each] day promises a following day and [each] night expresses the knowledge of a following night.” Hashem created the dimension of time within which mankind exists. We cannot even imagine existence outside of time. Time moves forward inexorably under Hashem’s direction, but at the same time it operates within rigidly controlled calendar cycles. Just as we rely completely on the controlled passage of time, we can rely completely on Hashem’s direction of our lives.
[19:5] ABSOLUTE OBEDIENCE. – בְּכָל הָאָרֶץ יָצָא קַוָּם – “The line stretches forth throughout the world.” Hashem sees to it that the heavenly bodies adhere to their orbital paths. None would dare deviate. Those who observe the controlled movements of bodies through space have a special sense of closeness to Creation.
[19:8] PERFECTION. – תּוֹרַת ה' תְּמִימָה מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ – “Hashem’s Torah is perfect; it restores the soul.” You may not fully appreciate the gift of Hashem’s Torah until you realize that its perfection matches and exceeds the perfection of the heavens.
Lessons for Life - Your Attitude.
[19:6] JOY IN DUTY. – הוּא כְּחָתָן יֹצֵא מֵחֻפָּתוֹ יָשִׂישׂ כְּגִבּוֹר לָרוּץ אֹרַח – “It is like a bridegroom as he emerges from his wedding canopy, like a warrior who rejoices in running his course.” You should take a lesson from the sun which rejoices in being given the opportunity to do its duty and fulfill its destiny in Hashem’s Creation.
Tefillos for Life - Your Teshuvah.
[19:13] UNINTENTIONAL SINS. – שְׁגִיאוֹת מִי יָבִין מִנִּסְתָּרוֹת נַקֵּנִי – “Who can be aware of unintentional sins? Cleanse me from unwitting faults.” Ask Hashem to forgive the sins that you commit through lack of attention. As human beings we are physically unable to give full attention to every aspect of our lives and therefore we are subject to unintentional sin. Perfection eludes us but that should not prevent us from seeking it.
Tefillos for Life - Your Relationship with Hashem.
[19:15] SINCERITY. – יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי פִי וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ – “May the utterances of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You.” Your tefillos have little value if they are not sincere. As you pray you should ask yourself whether you will be able to honestly make this concluding plea to Hashem, begging Him to find favor in your thoughts and words.
Sources
The primary sources used in the interpretation of the verses of this mizmor are listed below.
א - מלבי"ם
ב - מלבי"ם, נר לרגלי
ג - רש"י, רד"ק, נר לרגלי
ד - אבן עזרא, רד"ק, מצודות
ה - רש"י, רד"ק, מצודות, נר לרגלי
ו - רד"ק, מצודות, נר לרגלי
ז - רד"ק, מצודות, מלבי"ם, רשר"ה
ח - רש"י, רד"ק, מצודות
ט - נר לרגלי
י - אבן עזרא, מלבי"ם, רשר"ה, נר לרגלי
יא - רד"ק, נר לרגלי
יב - רד"ק, מצודות
יג - רש"י
יד - רש"י, מצודות
טו - אבן עזרא, רד"ק, מצודות