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Mizmor 023 - A Shepherd's Tale

(א) מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד ה' רֹעִי לֹא אֶחְסָר:
(1) A mizmor by David. Hashem is my Shepherd I will not lack.
NOTE: For a PDF of this mizmor, please click here. This will enable you to print out the entire text of the article. [Rev 6]
Key Concepts of Mizmor 023 - A Shepherd’s Tale
David gratefully looks back on his life, recalling his relationship to Hashem in each of three major periods: (1) David fondly recalls his idyllic youth as a shepherd, watching his father’s flocks. Life was simple then and while out alone on the pastures David felt especially close to Hashem. (2) After David was anointed king he had to contend with the resentment of Shaul as well as wars with other nations. However, his bitachon remained firm throughout. He continued to see himself as a humble lamb, trusting that Hashem would lead him in the right path. (3) Once David’s kingdom was consolidated, he was granted the wealth and power of royalty. But at heart he remained a simple shepherd and his only ambition was to serve Hashem in tranquility.
Navigating Tehillim (1). Whereas Mizmor 022 draws our attention to the transition from a tragic present to an optimistic future signaled by the morning star, Mizmor 023 reminds us to make a happy present even more meaningful by recalling a treasured time in the past.
Navigating Tehillim (2). Mizmor 022 also teaches us the virtue of looking back over one’s life to draw wisdom from one’s experiences. Thus, David used Mizmor 018 to conduct a more extended review for the benefit of future generations. He showed how his entire life was dominated by his relationship to Hashem. No matter what he achieved, whether it was escape from danger, defeat of enemies, or rising to royalty and the leadership of a nation, it was all Hashem’s doing.
Exploring the Mizmor
PART 1. THE INNOCENT SHEPHERD. David begins by recalling the happiness of his youth as a shepherd. Remembering that time, David visualizes himself as a lamb under Hashem’s care. The lamb has total trust that the Shepherd will see to all his needs. He does not have to be concerned about potential dangers or difficult decisions.
(א) מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד ה' רֹעִי לֹא אֶחְסָר: (ב) בִּנְאוֹת דֶּשֶׁא יַרְבִּיצֵנִי עַל מֵי מְנֻחוֹת יְנַהֲלֵנִי:
(1) A mizmor by David. Hashem is my Shepherd I will not lack. (2) He lays me down in [shelters near the] grassy meadows. He leads me beside tranquil waters.
PART 2. OUT INTO THE WORLD. The setting shifts and David sees himself as no longer a lamb in an idyllic pasture but as a grown man facing harsh reality. He was now required to face the challenges of a complex life, including the resentment of Shaul and his supporters, gaining recognition as the newly anointed king, and conducting wars with other nations. And so David is moved to speak directly to Hashem and to thank Him for His help in adversity.
(ג) נַפְשִׁי יְשׁוֹבֵב יַנְחֵנִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי צֶדֶק לְמַעַן שְׁמוֹ: (ד) גַּם כִּי אֵלֵךְ בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת לֹא אִירָא רָע כִּי אַתָּה עִמָּדִי שִׁבְטְךָ וּמִשְׁעַנְתֶּךָ הֵמָּה יְנַחֲמֻנִי:
(3) He restores my soul. He leads me on righteous pathways for His Name’s sake. (4) “[Hashem,] even when I go into the valley of death’s shadow, I will not fear evil for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff comfort me.”
PART 3. THE TRAPPINGS OF SUCCESS. David gives thanks to Hashem for his worldly success, but he remains at heart a humble servant of Hashem. He concludes with a plea that he be allowed to devote himself to serving Hashem in tranquility.
(ה) תַּעֲרֹךְ לְפָנַי שֻׁלְחָן נֶגֶד צֹרְרָי דִּשַּׁנְתָּ בַשֶּׁמֶן רֹאשִׁי כּוֹסִי רְוָיָה: (ו) אַךְ טוֹב וָחֶסֶד יִרְדְּפוּנִי כָּל יְמֵי חַיָּי וְשַׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית ה' לְאֹרֶךְ יָמִים:
(5) You set out a table before me despite my tormentors. You have anointed my head with oil; my cup is full. (6) But may goodness and kindness pursue me all the days of my life and let me dwell in the House of Hashem, for the length of [my] days.
Additional Thoughts
In Mizmor 023 David recreates his fond memories of being a simple shepherd in remote pastures. There would come a time when he had to give up the pastoral life and face the challenges of a complex world. However, he always treasured the experience of those early years spent in happy solitude, a time when he learned how to be alone with Hashem. He was able to draw on that happy experience of closeness to Hashem throughout his life.
It is significant that we joyfully sing this mizmor every week at Shalosh Seudos because that is a time when we look back fondly at the kedushah we have experienced over the previous 24 hours. The mizmor helps us intensify that feeling and reminds to draw upon it over the course of the next six days.
Learning the Mizmor
PART 1.THE SHEPHERD.
(א) מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד
This song is a mizmor composed by David.
ה' רֹעִי לֹא אֶחְסָר:
I visualize myself as a lamb and Hashem is my Shepherd — ה' רֹעִי . Because I have complete trust in Him I am happy to be in His care and I am confident that I will not lack — לֹא אֶחְסָר  for anything. Hashem brings me to lush pastures to graze in the mornings and evenings when the air is pleasant.
(ב) בִּנְאוֹת דֶּשֶׁא יַרְבִּיצֵנִי
Then, in the heat of the day when it is time to rest He lets me lie me down in shelters that are near the grassy meadows  בִּנְאוֹת דֶּשֶׁא יַרְבִּיצֵנִי  to spare me the arduous effort of a long trek.
עַל מֵי מְנֻחוֹת יְנַהֲלֵנִי:
When I am thirsty He leads me beside tranquil waters  עַל מֵי מְנֻחוֹת יְנַהֲלֵנִי – so that I am not disturbed by the turbulence of a rushing stream.
PART 2. OUT INTO THE WORLD.
(ג) נַפְשִׁי יְשׁוֹבֵב 
יַנְחֵנִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי צֶדֶק לְמַעַן שְׁמוֹ:
When I am desperately fleeing my enemies, He revives my energies and restores my soul — נַפְשִׁי יְשׁוֹבֵב . He leads me on righteous pathways — יַנְחֵנִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי צֶדֶק  so that by following His guidance I am able to avoid sinful and self-destructive behavior. It is all for His Name’s sake — לְמַעַן שְׁמוֹ  because His Name is compassion and love.
(ד) גַּם כִּי אֵלֵךְ בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת 
לֹא אִירָא רָע כִּי אַתָּה עִמָּדִי
Hashem, even when I must go  גַּם כִּי אֵלֵךְ  where I am subject to temptation and my very soul is at risk in the valley of death’s shadow — בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת , I will not fear being drawn into evil — לֹא אִירָא רָע , for I know that You are with me — כִּי אַתָּה עִמָּדִי  and will help me do what is right.
שִׁבְטְךָ וּמִשְׁעַנְתֶּךָ הֵמָּה יְנַחֲמֻנִי:
In the past Your rod  שִׁבְטְךָ  has guided me, as the rod of the shepherd guides his flock. Your staff  וּמִשְׁעַנְתֶּךָ  has supported me as the staff of the shepherd supports him while he walks along. Together, they comfort me — הֵמָּה יְנַחֲמֻנִי – and give me confidence that I will survive my future travails.
PART 3. THE TRAPPINGS OF SUCCESS.
(ה) תַּעֲרֹךְ לְפָנַי שֻׁלְחָן נֶגֶד צֹרְרָי 
דִּשַּׁנְתָּ בַשֶּׁמֶן רֹאשִׁי 
כּוֹסִי רְוָיָה:
Although I have not sought wealth and honor You have anointed me and established my kingdom. You set out a full table before me — תַּעֲרֹךְ לְפָנַי שֻׁלְחָן  despite my tormentors — נֶגֶד צֹרְרָי , who wanted to destroy me. You have anointed my head with oil — דִּשַּׁנְתָּ בַשֶּׁמֶן רֹאשִׁי ; my cup of success is full — כּוֹסִי רְוָיָה . My lot in life is much more than I deserve.
(ו) אַךְ טוֹב וָחֶסֶד יִרְדְּפוּנִי 
כָּל יְמֵי חַיָּי
But — אַךְ  despite my worldly success, I aspire only to spiritual serenity and closeness to You, Hashem, as I experienced in the days of my youth. May goodness and kindness pursue me all the days of my life — טוֹב וָחֶסֶד יִרְדְּפוּנִי כָּל יְמֵי חַיָּי . Let virtuous behavior come naturally to me so that it will seem that my good qualities are pursuing me.
וְשַׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית ה' 
לְאֹרֶךְ יָמִים:
And let me dwell in your House, the House of Hashem  וְשַׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית ה' , learning Your Torah and doing Your will, throughout the length of my days — לְאֹרֶךְ יָמִים .
Living the Mizmor
Listed below are some of the thoughts that you might have in mind when you say or sing the words of the mizmor as a tefillah.
Tefillos for Life - Your Relationship with Hashem .
[23:1] SHEPHERD. – ה' רֹעִי לֹא אֶחְסָר – “Hashem is my Shepherd I will not lack.” Think of Hashem as your shepherd Who provides for all your needs.
[23:4] CONTINUING PRESENCE. – לֹא אִירָא רָע כִּי אַתָּה עִמָּדִי – “I will not fear evil for You are with me.” Remember that Hashem is always with you.
Tefillos for Life - Your Gratitude.
[23:2] TRANQUILITY. – עַל מֵי מְנֻחוֹת יְנַהֲלֵנִי – “He leads me beside tranquil waters.” Be grateful that you are leading a relatively tranquil life.
[23:3] GUIDANCE. – יַנְחֵנִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי צֶדֶק – “He leads me on righteous pathways.” Be grateful that Hashem has given you the Torah and talmidei chachamim to interpret it.
[23:5] WORLDLY SUCCESS. – תַּעֲרֹךְ לְפָנַי שֻׁלְחָן – “You set out a table before me.” Give thanks to Hashem for your worldly success.
[23:5] YOUR MISSION. – דִּשַּׁנְתָּ בַשֶּׁמֶן רֹאשִׁי כּוֹסִי רְוָיָה – “You have anointed my head with oil; my cup is full.” Give thanks to Hashem for giving you a mission in life and giving you the means to fulfill it.
Tefillos for Life - Your Teshuvah.
[23:6] MIDDOS. – אַךְ טוֹב וָחֶסֶד יִרְדְּפוּנִי כָּל יְמֵי חַיָּי – “But may goodness and kindness pursue me all the days of my life.” Ask Hashem to help you perfect your middos so that virtuous behavior will come naturally to you.
[23:6] DWELLING. – וְשַׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית ה' לְאֹרֶךְ יָמִים – “and let me dwell in the House of Hashem, for the length of [my] days.” Ask Hashem for the privilege of learning Torah and doing His will.
Sources
The primary sources used in the interpretation of the verses of this mizmor are listed below.
א - אבן עזרא, אבן יחייא, מלבי"ם
ב - רד"ק, המאירי, ספורנו, אבן יחייא, מצודות,באר אברהם 
ג - רש"י, ספורנו, אבן יחייא, מצודות
ד - המאירי, ספורנו, אבן יחייא, באר אברהם
ה - רש"י, המאירי, אבן יחייא, מלבי"ם
ו - רד"ק, המאירי, ספורנו, מצודות, מלבי"ם