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Mizmor 016 - The Way to Life

(א) מִכְתָּם לְדָוִד שָׁמְרֵנִי אֵ־ל כִּי חָסִיתִי בָךְ:
(1) Protect me O G-d, for I have taken refuge with You.
NOTE: For a PDF of this mizmor, please click here. This will enable you to print out the entire text of the article. [Rev. 5]
Key Concepts of Mizmor 016 - The Way to Life
David expresses his gratitude for being shown the Torah way of life. He speaks of the debt he owes to the holy ancestors who are now buried in the earth, but who bequeathed their merit to the present generation. David speaks out against idol worshippers and against those who live an empty life. He points out the distinction between such people and someone who serves Hashem. He ends with a tefillah for Hashem’s guidance in traveling the road to his ultimate reward in the World to Come.
Navigating Tehillim. In Mizmor 001 David had introduced us to the fulfillment that comes from a life that is centered around learning Torah. Now he adds that such a life depends upon gratitude to Hashem and constant awareness of His presence.
Exploring the Mizmor
PART 1. INTRODUCTION. David introduces the mizmor as a michtam which means “adornment of purest gold.” He begins this special composition by declaring his loyalty to Hashem.
(א) מִכְתָּם לְדָוִד שָׁמְרֵנִי אֵ־ל כִּי חָסִיתִי בָךְ:
(1) Protect me O G-d, for I have taken refuge with You.
PART 2. GRATITUDE FOR LIFE. David turns to his own soul, symbolizing his life, and calls upon it to recognize the generosity of Hashem. David is indebted to Hashem for the joys of his lot in life and he is grateful to his holy ancestors who are now buried in the earth, but who bequeathed their merit to the present generation.
(ב) אָמַרְתְּ לַה' אֲדֹ־נָי אָתָּה טוֹבָתִי בַּל עָלֶיךָ: (ג) לִקְדוֹשִׁים אֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ הֵמָּה וְאַדִּירֵי כָּל חֶפְצִי בָם: (ד) יִרְבּוּ עַצְּבוֹתָם אַחֵר מָהָרוּ בַּל אַסִּיךְ נִסְכֵּיהֶם מִדָּם וּבַל אֶשָּׂא אֶת שְׁמוֹתָם עַל שְׂפָתָי:
(2) [O my soul,] say to Hashem, You are my Master. My good is not on You [to provide]. (3) [It is] for the sake of the holy ones who are in the earth and [Your] mighty ones [who fear You]. Because of them all my wishes have been granted. (4) Let their sorrows abound, [those] who hurry after other gods. I will not pour their sacrificial offerings of blood and I will not bear their [gods’] names upon my lips.
PART 3. GRATITUDE FOR DESTINY. David thanks Hashem for granting him the opportunity to live a fulfilled life among those who serve Him.
(ה) ה' מְנָת חֶלְקִי וְכוֹסִי אַתָּה תּוֹמִיךְ גּוֹרָלִי: (ו) חֲבָלִים נָפְלוּ לִי בַּנְּעִמִים אַף נַחֲלָת שָׁפְרָה עָלָי:
(5) Hashem, [You are] my allotted portion and my share. You have determined my destiny. (6) The portions that have fallen to me are among the sweetest. My inheritance is beautiful to me.
PART 4. GRATITUDE FOR GUIDANCE. David reflects upon his gratitude for Hashem’s guidance and his constant awareness of Hashem’s abiding presence in this world:
(ז) אֲבָרֵךְ אֶת ה' אֲשֶׁר יְעָצָנִי אַף לֵילוֹת יִסְּרוּנִי כִלְיוֹתָי: (ח) שִׁוִּיתִי ה' לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל אֶמּוֹט: (ט) לָכֵן שָׂמַח לִבִּי וַיָּגֶל כְּבוֹדִי אַף בְּשָׂרִי יִשְׁכֹּן לָבֶטַח:
(7) I bless Hashem for counseling me; even in the nights my kidneys are counseling me (8) I constantly set Hashem before me, for He is at my right hand. I will not falter. (9) Therefore, my heart rejoices and my soul is elated. Even my body dwells secure.
PART 5. ETERNAL LIFE. David now appeals to Hashem, asking His continued help and guidance in living a Torah life. He knows he will then be able look forward to eternal life in the World to Come:
(י) כִּי לֹא תַעֲזֹב נַפְשִׁי לִשְׁאוֹל לֹא תִתֵּן חֲסִידְךָ לִרְאוֹת שָׁחַת: (יא) תּוֹדִיעֵנִי אֹרַח חַיִּים שֹׂבַע שְׂמָחוֹת אֶת פָּנֶיךָ נְעִמוֹת בִּימִינְךָ נֶצַח:
(10) For You will not leave my soul in the grave. You will not allow the body of Your devout one to see the grave. (11) Teach me the way to true life with fulfillment of the joys of Your Presence, the eternal delights in Your right hand.
Learning the Mizmor
PART 1. INTRODUCTION.
(א) מִכְתָּם לְדָוִד
This song is a michtam composed by David — מִכְתָּם לְדָוִד . michtam is a very fine composition, whose name means “adornment of purest gold.”
שָׁמְרֵנִי אֵ־ל כִּי חָסִיתִי בָךְ:
Protect me O G-d of power  שָׁמְרֵנִי אֵ־ל  for I have taken refuge with You alone  כִּי חָסִיתִי בָךְ  and have not turned to any other heavenly power.
PART 2. GRATITUDE FOR LIFE.
(ב) אָמַרְתְּ לַה' אֲדֹ־נָי אָתָּה, 
טוֹבָתִי בַּל עָלֶיךָ:
When you, my soul, stand in prayer, you should declare your unconditional devotion and say to Hashem  אָמַרְתְּ לַה' : You are my Master — אֲדֹ־נָי אָתָּה , the Master of all. The good You do for me is not an obligation on You to provide — טוֹבָתִי בַּל עָלֶיךָ . I do not serve You for the benefits I get. I am obligated to serve You even if You do not reward me.
(ג) לִקְדוֹשִׁים אֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ הֵמָּה 
וְאַדִּירֵי כָּל חֶפְצִי בָם
I am not worthy of the benefits that I have received from You Hashem. They have been given to me for the sake of the holy ones  לִקְדוֹשִׁים  who faithfully walked before You and are now buried in the earth — אֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ הֵמָּה and for the sake of all the ones who were mighty  וְאַדִּירֵי  in their fear of You. It is because of them that all my wishes have been granted  כָּל חֶפְצִי בָם .
(ד) יִרְבּוּ עַצְּבוֹתָם אַחֵר מָהָרוּ
But sadly there are others who have turned away from Hashem. Let their sorrows abound — יִרְבּוּ עַצְּבוֹתָם , those who hurry after other gods — אַחֵר מָהָרוּ . I will not emulate them.
בַּל אַסִּיךְ נִסְכֵּיהֶם מִדָּם 
וּבַל אֶשָּׂא אֶת שְׁמוֹתָם עַל שְׂפָתָי:
I will not — בַּל  be like them to serve their false gods and pour their sacrificial offerings of blood — אַסִּיךְ נִסְכֵּיהֶם מִדָּם and I will not even bear their gods’ names upon my lips — וּבַל אֶשָּׂא אֶת שְׁמוֹתָם עַל שְׂפָתָי .
PART 3. GRATITUDE FOR DESTINY.
(ה) ה' מְנָת חֶלְקִי וְכוֹסִי, 
אַתָּה תּוֹמִיךְ גּוֹרָלִי:
Hashem, You are my allotted portion — ה' מְנָת חֶלְקִי  and my share  וְכוֹסִי  in life. Everything I have is from You and dedicated to You. You have even guided my hand — אַתָּה תּוֹמִיךְ  to choose my destiny  גּוֹרָלִי  wisely. You stirred my heart to believe in You.
(ו) חֲבָלִים נָפְלוּ לִי בַּנְּעִמִים,
Because I am in Your care, I am much better off than the idol worshippers, in terms of both spiritual and physical well-being. The spiritual portions that have fallen to me — חֲבָלִים נָפְלוּ לִי  are among the sweetest  בַּנְּעִמִים . The Torah delights my eternal soul. In contrast, the idol worshippers don’t have true happiness.
אַף נַחֲלָת שָׁפְרָה עָלָי:
And as far as physical success is concerned, my inheritance is beautiful to me  אַף נַחֲלָת שָׁפְרָה עָלָי . In contrast, the lot of the idol worshippers is not beautiful in their eyes because they are always seeking more luxuries.
PART 4. GRATITUDE FOR GUIDANCE.
(ז) אֲבָרֵךְ אֶת ה' אֲשֶׁר יְעָצָנִי. 
אַף לֵילוֹת יִסְּרוּנִי כִלְיוֹתָי:
I realize that the happiness which has been granted to me depends on my making the right choices in life. Although I have been given free will I am always at risk of being led astray by temptation. And so, I bless Hashem  אֲבָרֵךְ אֶת ה'  for not abandoning me to my errors but instead for counseling me  אֲשֶׁר יְעָצָנִי  through the teachings of His holy Torah.
I am also grateful to Hashem for granting me an innate sense of right and wrong, even before the Torah was given, so that my own kidneys counsel me in the nights — אַף לֵילוֹת יִסְּרוּנִי כִלְיוֹתָי  when I reflect upon my behavior and try to recognize where I have erred.
(ח) שִׁוִּיתִי ה' לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד, 
כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל אֶמּוֹט:
In exercising my free will I am constantly faced with two options, one to my left and one to my right. The false option to my left is driven by a misguided sense of self-love and self-interest, choosing whatever seems to give me immediate gratification. Against this false option, I constantly set Hashem before me  שִׁוִּיתִי ה' לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד so that He is at my right hand  כִּי מִימִינִי . This is the choice by which I can fulfill my destiny as His servant, and I know that if I adhere to it, I will not falter  בַּל אֶמּוֹט  and I will surely achieve purity and holiness.
(ט) לָכֵן שָׂמַח לִבִּי וַיָּגֶל כְּבוֹדִי,
Therefore, because He is always before me my heart rejoices  לָכֵן שָׂמַח לִבִּי . My heart does not experience regret at continually making bad choices and my soul is elated  וַיָּגֶל כְּבוֹדִי  knowing that when it leaves my body it will cleave to its Creator.
אַף בְּשָׂרִי יִשְׁכֹּן לָבֶטַח:
Even my body — אַף בְּשָׂרִי  benefits. It dwells secure — יִשְׁכֹּן לָבֶטַח  because it is freed from the effects of overindulgence and the emotional stress of giving in to unhealthy cravings.
PART 5. ETERNAL LIFE.
(י) כִּי לֹא תַעֲזֹב נַפְשִׁי לִשְׁאוֹל
Hashem, my soul rejoices because — כִּי  You will surely not abandon it when I die. I fully trust that You will not leave my soul in the grave — לֹא תַעֲזֹב נַפְשִׁי לִשְׁאוֹל – with my body.
לֹא תִתֵּן חֲסִידְךָ לִרְאוֹת שָׁחַת:
And because I live my life in obedience to Your ways, I hope that You will let this life continue for many years to come. You will surely not allow the body of Your devout one to see the grave  לֹא תִתֵּן חֲסִידְךָ לִרְאוֹת שָׁחַת  prematurely.
(יא) תּוֹדִיעֵנִי אֹרַח חַיִּים 
שֹׂבַע שְׂמָחוֹת אֶת פָּנֶיךָ 
נְעִמוֹת בִּימִינְךָ נֶצַח:
But I realize that my life in this world is a transitory illusion and must come to an end. The joys that I am granted here cannot truly satisfy the needs of my soul. That fulfillment can begin only when my soul puts off its fleshly clothing and is admitted to Your Presence.
I know that life in this world is just a road to that destination, but I cannot travel that road successfully without Your help. I therefore ask You to give me wisdom and teach me the way to true life — תּוֹדִיעֵנִי אֹרַח חַיִּים . Then I will experience the fulfillment of the joys of being in Your Presence  שֹׂבַע שְׂמָחוֹת אֶת פָּנֶיךָ And my soul will be gratified by the delights  נְעִמוֹת  of the World to Come that are offered in Your right hand eternally — בִּימִינְךָ נֶצַח  to those who are worthy.
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.
Tefillos for Life - Your Yeshuah.
[16:1] DIVINE PROTECTION. – שָׁמְרֵנִי אֵ־ל כִּי חָסִיתִי בָךְ – “Protect me O G-d, for I have taken refuge with You.” Ask Hashem to protect you from danger for you are depending on no one but Him.
Tefillos for Life - Your Relationship with Hashem.
[16:2] MY MASTER. – אָמַרְתְּ לַה' אֲדֹ־נָי אָתָּה טוֹבָתִי בַּל עָלֶיךָ – “[O my soul,] say to Hashem, You are my Master. My good is not on You [to provide].” Acknowledge Hashem as the Master of your life, for you owe Him your very existence and there is nothing that He owes you.
[16:8] CONTINUAL PRESENCE. – שִׁוִּיתִי ה' לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד – “I constantly set Hashem before me.” Acknowledge Hashem's constant presence throughout your life. He guides you, sustains you, and protects you.
[16:11] DIVINE GUIDANCE. – תּוֹדִיעֵנִי אֹרַח חַיִּים – “Teach me the way to true life.” Ask Hashem to maintain His continual presence with you and to guide you in making the right choices in life so that you will ultimately be deserving of eternal life.
Tefillos for Life - Your Gratitude.
[16:3] THE HOLY ONES. – לִקְדוֹשִׁים אֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ הֵמָּה וְאַדִּירֵי כָּל חֶפְצִי בָם – “[It is] for the sake of the holy ones who are in the earth and [Your] mighty ones [who fear You]. Because of them all my wishes have been granted.” Acknowledge your personal debt of gratitude to your holy ancestors and to the living tzadikim of your generation. It is because of their merit that Hashem has granted you life.
[16:5] COMPLETE DEVOTION. – ה' מְנָת חֶלְקִי וְכוֹסִי אַתָּה תּוֹמִיךְ גּוֹרָלִי – “Hashem, [You are] my allotted portion and my share. You have determined my destiny.” Declare your devotion to Hashem. He is the Author of your destiny your mission in life.
[16:6] THE SWEETEST. – אַף נַחֲלָת שָׁפְרָה עָלָי – “My inheritance is beautiful to me.” Thank Hashem and express your appreciation for the circumstances of life that He has granted you. You did nothing to earn your life.
[16:7] COUNSEL. – אֲבָרֵךְ אֶת ה' אֲשֶׁר יְעָצָנִי – “I bless Hashem for counseling me.” Thank Hashem for the guidance He is providing to you, transmitted from those around you and from within your own body.
Lessons for Life - Your Behavior.
[16:4] BAD INFLUENCES. – יִרְבּוּ עַצְּבוֹתָם אַחֵר מָהָרוּ – “Let their sorrows abound, [those] who hurry after other gods. Avoid emulating people who have committed themselves to false ideals and false powers.
Lessons for Life - Your Attitude.
[16:9] CONTINUAL JOY. – לָכֵן שָׂמַח לִבִּי וַיָּגֶל כְּבוֹדִי – “Therefore, my heart rejoices and my soul is elated.” The knowledge of Hashem’s presence and kindness to you should invoke a state of continual gratitude and joy.
[16:10] ETERNAL LIFE. – כִּי לֹא תַעֲזֹב נַפְשִׁי לִשְׁאוֹל – “For You will not leave my soul in the grave.” Your joy should be enhanced by the expectation of eternal life.
Sources
The primary sources used in the interpretation of the verses of this mizmor are listed below.
א - רש"י, רד"ק, אבן עזרא, מלבי"ם
ב - אבן עזרא
ג - רש"י, מצודות
ד - רש"י, אבן עזרא
ה - רש"י, רד"ק, מצודות
ו - מלבי"ם, נר לרגלי
ז - מלבי"ם
ח - מלבי"ם
ט - מלבי"ם
י - מלבי"ם
יא - רד"ק, מלבי"ם