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Mizmor 038 - A Tefillah for Recovery

(א) מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד לְהַזְכִּיר: (ב) ה' אַל בְּקֶצְפְּךָ תוֹכִיחֵנִי וּבַחֲמָתְךָ תְיַסְּרֵנִי:
(1) By David, to call to mind [a severe illness]. (2) Hashem, do not rebuke me in Your anger nor chastise me in Your fury.
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 038 - A Tefillah for Recovery
In Mizmor 038 David calls to mind a time when he suffered from a severe illness. David composed the mizmor as a tefillah by which any individual who is suffering from illness or other travail can plead with Hashem for recovery. The form of the tefillah reminds the person to consider how his own sins may have contributed to his illness. Thus, the key to recovery is spiritual self-examination and teshuvah.
The mizmor reviews many of the ways in which a person might be afflicted by illness and also looks at how such afflictions affect those around him — his close friends and his enemies. The conclusion to be drawn is that a person’s most authentic relationship is with Hashem. And it is Hashem Who is the only true source of yeshuah.
Mizmor 038 is one of the many in which we are given the opportunity to put human suffering in context. Even in times of our greatest joy we are required to face our own weaknesses and the need for some degree of suffering. In fact, unrestrained joy can bring out the worst in people, whereas suffering reminds us that we have not been placed in this world merely for our own pleasure. The message of the mizmor is that suffering builds our moral strength and keeps us from sin. If we take this lesson to heart we can sincerely appeal to Hashem to heal our afflictions, whatever they may happen to be.
Navigating Tehillim. This mizmor calls to mind Mizmor 006 in which David also spoke of a life-threatening affliction. In that earlier instance he emphasized the harm caused by the ill-will of his enemies and yet he looked for the opportunity to forgive them. In the current mizmor he gives extra thought to how his own sins may have contributed to his illness.
Exploring the Mizmor
PART 1. MEMORY OF SUFFERING. David begins the mizmor by acknowledging that his own sins are the cause of his suffering. Nevertheless he pleads with Hashem to be gentle with him and help him recover.
(א) מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד לְהַזְכִּיר: (ב) ה' אַל בְּקֶצְפְּךָ תוֹכִיחֵנִי וּבַחֲמָתְךָ תְיַסְּרֵנִי: (ג) כִּי חִצֶּיךָ נִחֲתוּ בִי וַתִּנְחַת עָלַי יָדֶךָ: (ד) אֵין מְתֹם בִּבְשָׂרִי מִפְּנֵי זַעְמֶךָ אֵין שָׁלוֹם בַּעֲצָמַי מִפְּנֵי חַטָּאתִי: (ה) כִּי עֲוֹנֹתַי עָבְרוּ רֹאשִׁי כְּמַשָּׂא כָבֵד יִכְבְּדוּ מִמֶּנִּי: (ו) הִבְאִישׁוּ נָמַקּוּ חַבּוּרֹתָי מִפְּנֵי אִוַּלְתִּי: (ז) נַעֲוֵיתִי שַׁחֹתִי עַד מְאֹד כָּל הַיּוֹם קֹדֵר הִלָּכְתִּי: (ח) כִּי כְסָלַי מָלְאוּ נִקְלֶה וְאֵין מְתֹם בִּבְשָׂרִי:
(1) By David, to call to mind [a severe illness]. (2) Hashem, do not rebuke me in Your anger nor chastise me in Your fury. (3) . For Your arrows have been shot down into me and Your hand has come down upon me. (4) There is no whole place on my body because of Your rage, no soundness of limbs because of my offense. (5) For my sins have risen over my head. Like a heavy load, they are too heavy for me. (6) My sores have festered and dissolved because of my weakness. (7) I am bent and very stooped over. All day long I go about in a black depression. (8) For my innards are filled with burning and there is no whole place on my body.
PART 2. A CRY OF PAIN. David looks into himself and sees how his suffering has affected his ability to pray to Hashem.
(ט) נְפוּגוֹתִי וְנִדְכֵּיתִי עַד מְאֹד שָׁאַגְתִּי מִנַּהֲמַת לִבִּי: (י) אֲדֹ־נָי נֶגְדְּךָ כָל תַּאֲוָתִי וְאַנְחָתִי מִמְּךָ לֹא נִסְתָּרָה: (יא) לִבִּי סְחַרְחַר עֲזָבַנִי כֹחִי וְאוֹר עֵינַי גַּם הֵם אֵין אִתִּי:
(9) I have grown faint and utterly weak [but] I will cry out in the convulsion of my heart. (10) My Lord, before You is all my aspiration. My sighing is not concealed from You. (11) You see that my mind is spinning. My strength has failed me. Even the light of my eyes is gone from me.
PART 3. FRIENDS AND ENEMIES. David examines the effect of his afflictions on his relationships to other people — friends and enemies. Those who were close to him are now uncomfortable in his presence. Those who resented him see the opportunity to rejoice in his travail.
(יב) אֹהֲבַי וְרֵעַי מִנֶּגֶד נִגְעִי יַעֲמֹדוּ וּקְרוֹבַי מֵרָחֹק עָמָדוּ: (יג) וַיְנַקְשׁוּ מְבַקְשֵׁי נַפְשִׁי וְדֹרְשֵׁי רָעָתִי דִּבְּרוּ הַוּוֹת וּמִרְמוֹת כָּל הַיּוֹם יֶהְגּוּ:
(12) My friends and companions stand aloof from my affliction and my intimates stand at a distance. (13) The seekers of my life lay traps; those who seek my harm speak treacheries. They contemplate deceit all day long.
PART 4. NO DEFENSE. David has accepted the justice of his fate and declines the opportunity to defend himself against the rebuke and slander of his enemies.
(יד) וַאֲנִי כְחֵרֵשׁ לֹא אֶשְׁמָע וּכְאִלֵּם לֹא יִפְתַּח פִּיו: (טו) וָאֱהִי כְּאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא שֹׁמֵעַ וְאֵין בְּפִיו תּוֹכָחוֹת: (טז) כִּי לְךָ ה' הוֹחָלְתִּי אַתָּה תַעֲנֶה אֲדֹ־נָי אֱלֹהָי: (יז) כִּי אָמַרְתִּי פֶּן יִשְׂמְחוּ לִי בְּמוֹט רַגְלִי עָלַי הִגְדִּילוּ: (יח) כִּי אֲנִי לְצֶלַע נָכוֹן וּמַכְאוֹבִי נֶגְדִּי תָמִיד: (יט) כִּי עֲוֹנִי אַגִּיד אֶדְאַג מֵחַטָּאתִי: (כ) וְאֹיְבַי חַיִּים עָצֵמוּ וְרַבּוּ שֹׂנְאַי שָׁקֶר: (כא) וּמְשַׁלְּמֵי רָעָה תַּחַת טוֹבָה יִשְׂטְנוּנִי תַּחַת רדופי רָדְפִי טוֹב:
(14) I am like a deaf man; I do not hear. [I am] like a mute who does not open his mouth. (15) I became like a man who does not understand and in whose mouth there are no arguments... (16) because I wait for You, Hashem. You will answer, O L-rd, my G-d. (17) For I say, lest they rejoice over me. When my foot wobbled, they lorded over me. (18) For I am susceptible to being struck by a crippling affliction and my pain is always before me. (19) For I admit my iniquity; I worry because of my sin. (20) But my deadly foes flourish, and those who hate me without cause grow great. (21) Those who repay me evil for good rebuke me for my pursuit of good.
PART 5. CONCLUSION. David concludes the mizmor, appealing to Hashem for the yeshuah that He alone can bring.
(כב) אַל תַּעַזְבֵנִי ה' אֱלֹקַי אַל תִּרְחַק מִמֶּנִּי: (כג) חוּשָׁה לְעֶזְרָתִי אֲדֹ־נָי תְּשׁוּעָתִי:
(22) Don’t forsake me, O Hashem, my G-d. Be not far from me. (23) Hurry to my aid, O Hashem, my yeshuah.
Learning the Mizmor
PART 1. MEMORY OF SUFFERING.
(א) מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד
לְהַזְכִּיר:
This mizmor was composed by David — מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד  to call to mind — לְהַזְכִּיר a time when he suffered from a severe illness. He took to heart the lessons learned from this experience, hoping thereby to minimize the need for such suffering in the future.
 
(ב) ה' אַל בְּקֶצְפְּךָ תוֹכִיחֵנִי
Hashem, I realize that I deserve to be rebuked because of my sins, but when You discipline me to make me a better person, I ask that You do it gradually and gently. And so, Hashem, do not rebuke me when You are in Your state of anger — ה' אַל בְּקֶצְפְּךָ תוֹכִיחֵנִי . You know that I want to serve You and do Your will.
 
וּבַחֲמָתְךָ תְיַסְּרֵנִי:
And even if my sins call for a harsher discipline, let it be a measured discipline. Do not chastise me when you are in Your state of fury  וּבַחֲמָתְךָ תְיַסְּרֵנִי  because then I may not be able to endure the suffering.
(ג) כִּי חִצֶּיךָ נִחֲתוּ בִי 
וַתִּנְחַת עָלַי יָדֶךָ:
For Your arrows of anguish have been shot down into me — כִּי חִצֶּיךָ נִחֲתוּ בִי . I feel the inner pain of knowing that I am deserving of punishment and that Your hand has found it necessary to come down upon me — וַתִּנְחַת עָלַי יָדֶךָ  with external afflictions of the body.
(ד) אֵין מְתֹם בִּבְשָׂרִי מִפְּנֵי זַעְמֶךָ
My afflictions are so extensive that my physical appearance has totally changed. There is no whole place on my body — אֵין מְתֹם בִּבְשָׂרִי  and that is all because of Your rage — מִפְּנֵי זַעְמֶךָ .
אֵין שָׁלוֹם בַּעֲצָמַי מִפְּנֵי חַטָּאתִי:
There is no longer even soundness in my limbs — אֵין שָׁלוֹם בַּעֲצָמַי  and that is all because of my offense — מִפְּנֵי חַטָּאתִי , which is the cause of Your anger. And how can I expect to allay Your anger if my offense has not been resolved.
(ה) כִּי עֲוֹנֹתַי עָבְרוּ רֹאשִׁי 
כְּמַשָּׂא כָבֵד יִכְבְּדוּ מִמֶּנִּי:
For my sins — כִּי עֲוֹנֹתַי  are like flood waters that have accumulated step by step and now have risen over my head — עָבְרוּ רֹאשִׁי . Like a heavy load, they are too heavy for me — כְּמַשָּׂא כָבֵד יִכְבְּדוּ מִמֶּנִּי  because I don’t have enough good deeds to outweigh them.
(ו) הִבְאִישׁוּ נָמַקּוּ חַבּוּרֹתָי 
מִפְּנֵי אִוַּלְתִּי:
My sores have festered and dissolved  הִבְאִישׁוּ נָמַקּוּ חַבּוּרֹתָי  and that is all because of my moral weakness  מִפְּנֵי אִוַּלְתִּי  in yielding to temptation.
(ז) נַעֲוֵיתִי שַׁחֹתִי עַד מְאֹד
Because of my physical weakness and my shame at thinking how foolish I have been I don’t even have the strength to stand upright. And so I am bent and very stooped over  נַעֲוֵיתִי שַׁחֹתִי עַד מְאֹד .
כָּל הַיּוֹם קֹדֵר הִלָּכְתִּי:
All day long I go about in a black depression — כָּל הַיּוֹם קֹדֵר הִלָּכְתִּי  because I cannot take my mind off Your anger. I am afraid that my condition will get worse rather than better.
(ח) כִּי כְסָלַי מָלְאוּ נִקְלֶה 
וְאֵין מְתֹם בִּבְשָׂרִי:
For my insides are filled with burning shame  כִּי כְסָלַי מָלְאוּ נִקְלֶה  and the heat of fever. And I cannot even hide my embarrassment from people because there is no whole place on my body — וְאֵין מְתֹם בִּבְשָׂרִי .
PART 2. A CRY OF PAIN.
(ט) נְפוּגוֹתִי וְנִדְכֵּיתִי עַד מְאֹד
I have grown faint and utterly weak — נְפוּגוֹתִי וְנִדְכֵּיתִי עַד מְאֹד  so that I am even unable to ask for help.
שָׁאַגְתִּי מִנַּהֲמַת לִבִּי:
But even if my strength ebbs and I slip toward death, I will cry out — שָׁאַגְתִּי  in one last gasp of vitality, one last triumphant roar, a demonstration of my faith that my soul will live on. In this way I will experience the final convulsion of my heart — מִנַּהֲמַת לִבִּי .
(י) ה' נֶגְדְּךָ כָל תַּאֲוָתִי 
וְאַנְחָתִי מִמְּךָ לֹא נִסְתָּרָה:
Because of my weakened condition I am unable to appeal properly to You, Hashem. But Hashem, before You  ה' נֶגְדְּךָ  there is known all my aspiration  כָל תַּאֲוָתִי  to please You and to serve You in good health. My bitter sighing — וְאַנְחָתִי  out of regret for my past foolishness is not concealed from You — מִמְּךָ לֹא נִסְתָּרָה .
(יא) לִבִּי סְחַרְחַר עֲזָבַנִי כֹחִי 
וְאוֹר עֵינַי גַּם הֵם אֵין אִתִּי:
You see that my mind is spinning —  לִבִּי סְחַרְחַר  and that I cannot focus because of my many troubles. My strength has failed me — עֲזָבַנִי כֹחִי . Even the light of my eyes — וְאוֹר עֵינַי גַּם הֵם , which reflects my ability to think clearly, is gone from me — אֵין אִתִּי . Despite everything my concern is to please You and be near to You.
PART 3. FRIENDS AND ENEMIES.
(יב) אֹהֲבַי וְרֵעַי מִנֶּגֶד נִגְעִי יַעֲמֹדוּ
Those who I had thought to be my friends and companions — אֹהֲבַי וְרֵעַי  stand aloof from my affliction — מִנֶּגֶד נִגְעִי יַעֲמֹדוּ  and do not come to my aid because they think my affliction is a just punishment for my sins. They do not even visit me and so I do not benefit from the healing power of their concern.
וּקְרוֹבַי מֵרָחֹק עָמָדוּ:
And those who had pretended to be my intimates stand at a distance — וּקְרוֹבַי מֵרָחֹק עָמָדוּ  for they are afraid that my sickness might be contagious.
(יג) וַיְנַקְשׁוּ מְבַקְשֵׁי נַפְשִׁי 
וְדֹרְשֵׁי רָעָתִי דִּבְּרוּ הַוּוֹת 
וּמִרְמוֹת כָּל הַיּוֹם יֶהְגּוּ:
Since my friends have abandoned me, my enemies have gained new courage to attack me in action, words, and thought. The seekers of my life — מְבַקְשֵׁי נַפְשִׁי – lay traps — וַיְנַקְשׁוּ  to prevent me from recovering from illness; those who seek my harm — וְדֹרְשֵׁי רָעָתִי  speak treacheries — דִּבְּרוּ הַוּוֹת . Meanwhile, they contemplate deceit — מִרְמוֹת יֶהְגּוּ  all day long — כָּל הַיּוֹם , looking forward to the day when they will be able to celebrate my downfall.
 
PART 4. NO DEFENSE.
(יד) וַאֲנִי כְחֵרֵשׁ לֹא אֶשְׁמָע
וּכְאִלֵּם לֹא יִפְתַּח פִּיו:
But although I hear what they are saying and I see what they are planning, I keep silent. I trust in Hashem to save me. I am like a deaf man — וַאֲנִי כְחֵרֵשׁ  and so I pretend that I do not hear — לֹא אֶשְׁמָע . I am like a mute who does not open his mouth — וּכְאִלֵּם לֹא יִפְתַּח פִּיו .
(טו) וָאֱהִי כְּאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא שֹׁמֵעַ 
וְאֵין בְּפִיו תּוֹכָחוֹת:
Because I had no intention of answering them, I became like a man who does not understand — וָאֱהִי כְּאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא שֹׁמֵעַ  his accusers and in whose mouth there are no arguments — וְאֵין בְּפִיו תּוֹכָחוֹת  with which to defend himself.
(טז) כִּי לְךָ ה' הוֹחָלְתִּי 
אַתָּה תַעֲנֶה ה' אֱלֹקָי:
This is because I wait for You alone, Hashem — כִּי לְךָ ה' הוֹחָלְתִּי  to have pity on me; I am confident that You will answer, O L-rd, my G-d — אַתָּה תַעֲנֶה אֲדֹ־נָי אֱלֹקָי  and defend me against my accusers.
(יז) כִּי אָמַרְתִּי פֶּן יִשְׂמְחוּ לִי 
בְּמוֹט רַגְלִי עָלַי הִגְדִּילוּ:
For I say — כִּי אָמַרְתִּי  to myself, I will remain silent lest they rejoice over me — פֶּן יִשְׂמְחוּ לִי . They will be glad to see me betray my weakness and my pain when I attempt to answer. After all, in the past when they saw my foot wobble — בְּמוֹט רַגְלִי  just a little, they lorded over me — עָלַי הִגְדִּילוּ  with arrogance. Surely, they will take advantage of any weakness!”
(יח) כִּי אֲנִי לְצֶלַע נָכוֹן 
וּמַכְאוֹבִי נֶגְדִּי תָמִיד:
I am concerned about their reaction for  כִּי  I know that I am susceptible to being struck by a crippling affliction — אֲנִי לְצֶלַע נָכוֹן . And because my pain is always before me — וּמַכְאוֹבִי נֶגְדִּי תָמִיד , I am continually under the threat that it will return in full force.
(יט) כִּי עֲוֹנִי אַגִּיד
אֶדְאַג מֵחַטָּאתִי:
I don’t try to defend myself before my accusers because — כִּי  in my heart I know that I have sinned. I admit my iniquity — עֲוֹנִי אַגִּיד  and I constantly remind myself of it. I worry because of my sin — אֶדְאַג מֵחַטָּאתִי  and this is what encourages me to do teshuvah.
(כ) וְאֹיְבַי חַיִּים עָצֵמוּ 
וְרַבּוּ שֹׂנְאַי שָׁקֶר:
But my deadly foes flourish — וְאֹיְבַי חַיִּים עָצֵמוּ , and those who hate me without cause grow great — וְרַבּוּ שֹׂנְאַי שָׁקֶר .
(כא) וּמְשַׁלְּמֵי רָעָה תַּחַת טוֹבָה 
יִשְׂטְנוּנִי תַּחַת רָדְפִי טוֹב:
Those who repay me evil for good — וּמְשַׁלְּמֵי רָעָה תַּחַת טוֹבָה  rebuke me for my pursuit of good — יִשְׂטְנוּנִי תַּחַת רָדְפִי טוֹב  and because of my holding fast to Hashem and His mitzvos.
PART 5. CONCLUSION.
(כב) אַל תַּעַזְבֵנִי ה' אֱלֹקַי 
אַל תִּרְחַק מִמֶּנִּי:
My enemies think there is no one to help me, but I count on You. Don’t forsake me, O Hashem, my G-d — אַל תַּעַזְבֵנִי ה' אֱלֹקָי . Be not far from me — אַל תִּרְחַק מִמֶּנִּי .
(כג) חוּשָׁה לְעֶזְרָתִי 
ה' תְּשׁוּעָתִי:
Hurry to my aid — חוּשָׁה לְעֶזְרָתִי , before they succeed in their vicious objective of destroying me. Hashem, You are my yeshuah — אֲדֹ־נָי תְּשׁוּעָתִי , the One I am counting on, for You have saved me so many times in the past.
 
Living the Mizmor
Listed below are some of the lessons that you can draw from this mizmor, as well as some of the thoughts you might have in mind when you say the words of the mizmor as a tefillah, expressing your devotion to Hashem.
Lessons for Life - Your Attitude.
[38:1] MEMORIES. – מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד לְהַזְכִּיר – “By David, to call to mind [a severe illness].” Recall the sufferings of the past from time to time and take to heart the lessons you learned from the experience.
Tefillos for Life - Your Teshuvah.
[38:2] INTROSPECTION. – ה' אַל בְּקֶצְפְּךָ תוֹכִיחֵנִי וּבַחֲמָתְךָ תְיַסְּרֵנִי – “Hashem, do not rebuke me in Your anger nor chastise me in Your fury.” If you are suffering severe illness or pain, search your heart and ask yourself what sin you might have committed to warrant the anger of Hashem.
[38:4] – אֵין מְתֹם בִּבְשָׂרִי מִפְּנֵי זַעְמֶךָ אֵין שָׁלוֹם בַּעֲצָמַי מִפְּנֵי חַטָּאתִי – “There is no whole place on my body because of Your rage, no soundness of limbs because of my offense.
[38:5] CONFESSION – כִּי עֲוֹנֹתַי עָבְרוּ רֹאשִׁי כְּמַשָּׂא כָבֵד יִכְבְּדוּ מִמֶּנִּי – “For my sins have risen over my head. Like a heavy load, they are too heavy for me.” When you confess your sins, let each sin remind you of all the others. Don’t be easy on yourself but acknowledge all your failings. Then Hashem will forgive you.
[38:19] REGRET – כִּי עֲוֹנִי אַגִּיד אֶדְאַג מֵחַטָּאתִי – “For I admit my iniquity; I worry because of my sin.” When you admit your sin, the fact that you offended your Creator and that you have distanced yourself from Him should weigh heavily upon you. You should ask yourself how you could have been so foolish.
Tefillos for Life - Your Anguish.
[38:7] DEPRESSION. – נַעֲוֵיתִי שַׁחֹתִי עַד מְאֹד כָּל הַיּוֹם קֹדֵר הִלָּכְתִּי – “I am bent and very stooped over. All day long I go about in a black depression.” If your troubles have brought you down and your mood is depressed, acknowledge you feelings to Hashem and He will surely comfort you.
Tefillos for Life - Your Relationship to Hashem.
[38:10] ASPIRATION. – אֲדֹ־נָי נֶגְדְּךָ כָל תַּאֲוָתִי וְאַנְחָתִי מִמְּךָ לֹא נִסְתָּרָה – “My Lord, before You is all my aspiration. My sighing is not concealed from You.” Recall your hopes of being close to Hashem, the relationship which you have sadly lost. Recall your yearning to be able see Him once again as the complete Master of your life and recall the happiness which you once found, but hope to regain again.
[38:22] – אַל תַּעַזְבֵנִי ה' אֱלֹקַי אַל תִּרְחַק מִמֶּנִּי – “Don’t forsake me, O Hashem, my G-d. Be not far from me.
Sources
The primary sources used in the interpretation of the verses of this mizmor are listed below.
א - רש"י, רד"ק, בן־רמוך, רשר"ה
ב - אבן עזרא, בן־רמוך, נר לרגלי
ג - רש"י, אבן עזרא, מלבי"ם , רשר"ה
ד - אבן עזרא, רד"ק, אלשיך
ה - אבן עזרא, רד"ק, המאירי
ו - אבן עזרא, בן־רמוך, רשר"ה
ז - אבן עזרא, רד"ק, בן־רמוך, רשר"ה, נר לרגלי
ח - רד"ק, המאירי, ספורנו, מלבי"ם
ט - רש"י, רד"ק, מלבי"ם, נר לרגלי
י - רד"ק, המאירי, בן־רמוך, ספורנו
יא - אבן עזרא, רד"ק, אבן יחייא, אלשיך
יב - רש"י, רד"ק, ספורנו
יג - בן־רמוך, אבן יחייא, מלבי"ם, רשר"ה, נר לרגלי
יד - רד"ק, בן־רמוך, אבן יחייא
טו - רד"ק, בן־רמוך
טז - אבן עזרא, רד"ק, ספורנו, מלבי"ם
יז - בן־רמוך, אבן יחייא, מצודות,
יח - רש"י, המאירי, אבן יחייא
יט - רש"י, בן־רמוך, נר לרגלי
כ - רש"י, רד"ק, מלבי"ם
כא - רש"י, רד"ק
כב - רד"ק
כג - בן־רמוך, ספורנו, מצודות