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Mizmor 049 - Priorities

(א) לַמְנַצֵּחַ לִבְנֵי קֹרַח מִזְמוֹר: (ב) שִׁמְעוּ זֹאת כָּל הָעַמִּים הַאֲזִינוּ כָּל יֹשְׁבֵי חָלֶד:
(1) For the musician, by the sons of Korach, a mizmor. (2) Listen to this all [you] nations, incline your ear all who dwell in this transitory world.
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 049 - Priorities
The theme of the mizmor is the role of material possessions in a person’s life. Each person was put on this earth for a higher purpose, not simply to accumulate and enjoy material possessions. On the contrary, those possessions were given to him as a means to fulfill his spiritual mission on earth. If he does so he can salvage his spiritual existence so that it will reach beyond his short time here.
If, however, he fails to recognize his true purpose in life and if he regards the acquisition of material wealth as an end in itself, then he will forfeit immortality. He will be no better than an animal and ultimately his existence will come to an end in the grave.
Exploring the Mizmor
PART 1. CALL TO MANKIND. The singer calls upon people everywhere to hear his important message concerning the pursuit of material wealth, for it applies to all humanity.
(א) לַמְנַצֵּחַ לִבְנֵי קֹרַח מִזְמוֹר: (ב) שִׁמְעוּ זֹאת כָּל הָעַמִּים הַאֲזִינוּ כָּל יֹשְׁבֵי חָלֶד: (ג) גַּם בְּנֵי אָדָם גַּם בְּנֵי אִישׁ יַחַד עָשִׁיר וְאֶבְיוֹן: (ד) פִּי יְדַבֵּר חָכְמוֹת וְהָגוּת לִבִּי תְבוּנוֹת: (ה) אַטֶּה לְמָשָׁל אָזְנִי אֶפְתַּח בְּכִנּוֹר חִידָתִי:
(1) For the musician, by the sons of Korach, a mizmor. (2) Listen to this all [you] nations, incline your ear all who dwell in this transitory world. (3) Ordinary men as well as men of distinction, rich and poor alike. (4) My mouth speaks words of wisdom [and] the meditations of my heart [that have yielded] insight. (5) I incline my ear [to my own] analogy. I will open my symbolic text with a harp.
PART 2. THE FUTILITY OF WEALTH. The singer challenges his audience not to place their trust in material wealth. It will not save them from the consequences of their sins.
(ו) לָמָּה אִירָא בִּימֵי רָע עֲוֹן עֲקֵבַי יְסוּבֵּנִי: (ז) הַבֹּטְחִים עַל חֵילָם וּבְרֹב עָשְׁרָם יִתְהַלָּלוּ: (ח) אָח לֹא פָדֹה יִפְדֶּה אִישׁ לֹא יִתֵּן לֵאלֹהִים כָּפְרוֹ: (ט) וְיֵקַר פִּדְיוֹן נַפְשָׁם וְחָדַל לְעוֹלָם: (י) וִיחִי עוֹד לָנֶצַח לֹא יִרְאֶה הַשָּׁחַת: (יא) כִּי יִרְאֶה חֲכָמִים יָמוּתוּ יַחַד כְּסִיל וָבַעַר יֹאבֵדוּ וְעָזְבוּ לַאֲחֵרִים חֵילָם:
(6) Why should I [devote myself to material wealth because I] fear bad times? The sin [following] on my heels will surround me. (7) Those who place their trust in their wealth and take pride in the abundance of their riches [should be afraid]. (8) A man cannot redeem [his own] brother [from death]. He cannot give his ransom to G-d [for his own life]. (9) The redemption of their soul [for money] is unattainable. [After death, repentance] is ended forever. (10) [He thinks] he will live forever, never to see the pit. (11) He sees that wise men die, that the fool and the boor both perish and leave their wealth to others.
PART 3. THE GRAVE AWAITS. To make his audience face the seriousness of their situation he reminds them that a person devoted to material wealth is no better than an animal that has no future beyond death.
(יב) קִרְבָּם בָּתֵּימוֹ לְעוֹלָם מִשְׁכְּנֹתָם לְדֹר וָדֹר קָרְאוּ בִשְׁמוֹתָם עֲלֵי אֲדָמוֹת: (יג) וְאָדָם בִּיקָר בַּל יָלִין נִמְשַׁל כַּבְּהֵמוֹת נִדְמוּ: (יד) זֶה דַרְכָּם כֵּסֶל לָמוֹ וְאַחֲרֵיהֶם בְּפִיהֶם יִרְצוּ סֶלָה: (טו) כַּצֹּאן לִשְׁאוֹל שַׁתּוּ מָוֶת יִרְעֵם וַיִּרְדּוּ בָם יְשָׁרִים לַבֹּקֶר וצירם וְצוּרָם לְבַלּוֹת שְׁאוֹל מִזְּבֻל לוֹ: (טז) אַךְ אֱלֹקִים יִפְדֶּה נַפְשִׁי מִיַּד שְׁאוֹל כִּי יִקָּחֵנִי סֶלָה:
(12) Their innards [imagine] their houses [to be] eternity, their dwellings [as lasting] from generation to generation. They have proclaimed their names on [their] land. (13) But with honor [alone] a man will not survive the night . [Such men are] comparable to the animals that fall silent [when they die.] (14) This way of theirs is their folly. And yet [their children] after them [follow] their mouths willingly, Selah! (15) They have set themselves as sheep for the grave. Death will shepherd them. The upright will supersede them at the dawn. Their strength [is destined] to outlast the grave, rather than being its rotted remains. (16) But, may G-d redeem my soul from the power of the grave. May He take me [to Him for eternal life], Selah!
PART 4. BEYOND THE GRAVE. The singer again uses the comparison between men and animals, reminding his audience that if a person fails to develop his moral and spiritual qualities in this world he will be like an animal that has nothing to take with it beyond the grave.
(יז) אַל תִּירָא כִּי יַעֲשִׁר אִישׁ כִּי יִרְבֶּה כְּבוֹד בֵּיתוֹ: (יח) כִּי לֹא בְמוֹתוֹ יִקַּח הַכֹּל לֹא יֵרֵד אַחֲרָיו כְּבוֹדוֹ: (יט) כִּי נַפְשׁוֹ בְּחַיָּיו יְבָרֵךְ וְיוֹדֻךָ כִּי תֵיטִיב לָךְ: (כ) תָּבוֹא עַד דּוֹר אֲבוֹתָיו עַד נֵצַח לֹא יִרְאוּ אוֹר: (כא) אָדָם בִּיקָר וְלֹא יָבִין נִמְשַׁל כַּבְּהֵמוֹת נִדְמוּ:
(17) Don’t be troubled when a man grows rich, when he increases the glory of his house. (18) For upon his death he will not take anything [with him]. His glory will not descend after him. (19) Even though during his lifetime he blesses himself, “They will praise you because you have done well for yourself.” (20) But if you come [to study] the generation of his fathers, they will see no light for all eternity. (21) Even with [wealth and] honor, [if] a man does not understand, he is comparable to the animals that fall silent.
Learning the Mizmor
PART 1. CALL TO MANKIND.
(א) לַמְנַצֵּחַ לִבְנֵי קֹרַח מִזְמוֹר:
This mizmor was prepared by the sons of Korach — לִבְנֵי קֹרַח מִזְמוֹר  through the power of nevuah. It was subsequently incorporated by David into the Book of Tehillim and was turned over to the musician — לַמְנַצֵּחַ  to be performed.
(ב) שִׁמְעוּ זֹאת כָּל הָעַמִּים 
הַאֲזִינוּ כָּל יֹשְׁבֵי חָלֶד:
Listen to this  שִׁמְעוּ זֹאת  earnest message all you nations — כָּל הָעַמִּים , incline your ear — הַאֲזִינוּ  and pay attention all you who dwell in this transitory world — כָּל יֹשְׁבֵי חָלֶד . My message applies to everyone without exception, whether you are a public person or a private individual. Your time on this earth is short-lived. It is too valuable to waste. Accept my words of wisdom and rescue your spiritual existence, which is immortal.
(ג) גַּם בְּנֵי אָדָם גַּם בְּנֵי אִישׁ 
יַחַד עָשִׁיר וְאֶבְיוֹן:
What I have to say is for ordinary men as well as men of distinction — גַּם בְּנֵי אָדָם גַּם בְּנֵי אִישׁ , rich and poor alike — יַחַד עָשִׁיר וְאֶבְיוֹן .
(ד) פִּי יְדַבֵּר חָכְמוֹת 
וְהָגוּת לִבִּי תְבוּנוֹת:
My mouth speaks words of wisdom — פִּי יְדַבֵּר חָכְמוֹת . These are the received teachings that can guide you in making good choices in life. But to correctly apply those choices you need a level of insight and understanding. And so I am also sharing with you the meditations of my heart that have yielded the insight  וְהָגוּת לִבִּי תְבוּנוֹת  necessary to implement these teachings.
(ה) אַטֶּה לְמָשָׁל אָזְנִי 
אֶפְתַּח בְּכִנּוֹר חִידָתִי:
I incline my ear to listen to my own poetic analogy — אַטֶּה לְמָשָׁל אָזְנִי  at the same time that I present it, for the lesson it conveys applies to me just as much as to my listeners. And after I have fully absorbed the lesson in my own life, I will open up and interpret the hidden meaning of my symbolic text with my harp — אֶפְתַּח בְּכִנּוֹר חִידָתִי  for the benefit of others. The rhythm and melody of the music will lend meaning to words that might seem opaque otherwise.
PART 2. THE FUTILITY OF WEALTH.
(ו) לָמָּה אִירָא בִּימֵי רָע 
עֲוֹן עֲקֵבַי יְסוּבֵּנִי:
Why I should I devote my life to accumulating wealth for old age or sickness? Why should I fear bad times — לָמָּה אִירָא בִּימֵי רָע ? My true protection is Hashem. The only thing I really have to fear is the sin — עֲוֹן  that follows on my heels — עֲקֵבַי  in the course of my pursuit of wealth. If I don’t correct my ways, such sin will surround me — יְסוּבֵּנִי  and will be the cause of my suffering.
(ז) הַבֹּטְחִים עַל חֵילָם 
וּבְרֹב עָשְׁרָם יִתְהַלָּלוּ:
The people who should be afraid when times are bad are those who place their trust in their wealth — הַבֹּטְחִים עַל חֵילָם  to protect them from trouble and who take pride in the abundance of their riches — וּבְרֹב עָשְׁרָם יִתְהַלָּלוּ . A person should never take pride in his money, but rather in the wisdom he has acquired and the good he has done.
(ח) אָח לֹא פָדֹה יִפְדֶּה אִישׁ 
לֹא יִתֵּן לֵאלֹקִים כָּפְרוֹ:
It is foolish to trust in wealth. Hashem is the source of life and death and does not accept bribes. No matter how rich he is, a man cannot redeem his own brother — אָח לֹא פָדֹה יִפְדֶּה אִישׁ  from death. And if he is too stingy to pay for his brother’s life, what would he not give for his own life? But a man cannot give all his possessions as his ransom to G-d — לֹא יִתֵּן לֵאלֹקִים כָּפְרוֹ  to release him from being punished for his sins.
(ט) וְיֵקַר פִּדְיוֹן נַפְשָׁם 
וְחָדַל לְעוֹלָם:
No matter how much wealth men may have, the redemption of their soul for money is unattainable — וְיֵקַר פִּדְיוֹן נַפְשָׁם . If they are doomed because of their sins, they die and the opportunity to repent is ended forever  וְחָדַל לְעוֹלָם .
(י) וִיחִי עוֹד לָנֶצַח 
לֹא יִרְאֶה הַשָּׁחַת:
What does the rich man think? That he will live forever — וִיחִי עוֹד לָנֶצַח , never to see the pit — לֹא יִרְאֶה הַשָּׁחַת  where he will have to answer for his sins?
(יא) כִּי יִרְאֶה חֲכָמִים יָמוּתוּ 
יַחַד כְּסִיל וָבַעַר יֹאבֵדוּ 
וְעָזְבוּ לַאֲחֵרִים חֵילָם:
When the rich man sees that even wise men die — כִּי יִרְאֶה חֲכָמִים יָמוּתוּ , does he still think that he can cheat death? When he sees that the fool and the boor both perish  יַחַד כְּסִיל וָבַעַר יֹאבֵדוּ  and leave their hard-earned wealth to others — וְעָזְבוּ לַאֲחֵרִים חֵילָם , does he still think he will live forever? What about the world to come?
PART 3. THE GRAVE AWAITS.
(יב) קִרְבָּם בָּתֵּימוֹ לְעוֹלָם 
מִשְׁכְּנֹתָם לְדֹר וָדֹר
Such men are not concerned with a life beyond the present. Their innards — קִרְבָּם  yearn only for physical possessions and their houses — בָּתֵּימוֹ  are their concept of eternity — לְעוֹלָם . They see their dwellings as lasting from generation to generation — מִשְׁכְּנֹתָם לְדֹר וָדֹר .
קָרְאוּ בִשְׁמוֹתָם עֲלֵי אֲדָמוֹת:
And so all their thoughts are on acquiring property which will perpetuate their fame to posterity. In their stupidity they have proclaimed their names on their land — קָרְאוּ בִשְׁמוֹתָם עֲלֵי אֲדָמוֹת , thinking that people will always remember them by the land holdings which they now possess.
(יג) וְאָדָם בִּיקָר בַּל יָלִין 
נִמְשַׁל כַּבְּהֵמוֹת נִדְמוּ:
But with his wealth and outward trappings of honor alone a man will not survive the night — וְאָדָם בִּיקָר בַּל יָלִין  of the grave. Such a man is comparable to the animals — נִמְשַׁל כַּבְּהֵמוֹת that have no soul and fall silent — נִדְמוּ  when they die, their body becoming absorbed into the surrounding elements.
(יד) זֶה דַרְכָּם כֵּסֶל לָמוֹ 
וְאַחֲרֵיהֶם בְּפִיהֶם יִרְצוּ סֶלָה:
This way of theirs — זֶה דַרְכָּם , trusting only in wealth and pursuing material pleasures, is their folly — כֵּסֶל לָמוֹ . And yet their children who come after them — וְאַחֲרֵיהֶם  repeat the pattern, following the lessons from their parents mouths willingly — בְּפִיהֶם יִרְצוּ , and so it goes on forever, Selah — סֶלָה !
(טו) כַּצֹּאן לִשְׁאוֹל שַׁתּוּ 
מָוֶת יִרְעֵם
They have set themselves  שַׁתּוּ  to be like sheep — כַּצֹּאן  that do nothing but eat and follow the unthinking flock. And so they are destined for the grave — לִשְׁאוֹל , both body and soul. Death will shepherd them there — מָוֶת יִרְעֵם  and they will lose their strength.
וַיִּרְדּוּ בָם יְשָׁרִים לַבֹּקֶר
In contrast to those doomed individuals, the upright who take a straight path through life will supersede them and inherit their wealth when the light of dawn  וַיִּרְדּוּ בָם יְשָׁרִים לַבֹּקֶר  heralds a new day for mankind.
[וצירם] וְצוּרָם לְבַלּוֹת שְׁאוֹל מִזְּבֻל לוֹ:
But as for the upright, their strength  וְצוּרָם  is destined to outlast the grave — לְבַלּוֹת שְׁאוֹל , rather than being its rotted remains — מִזְּבֻל לוֹ .
 
 
(טז) אַךְ אֱלֹקִים יִפְדֶּה נַפְשִׁי מִיַּד שְׁאוֹל 
כִּי יִקָּחֵנִי סֶלָה:
However — אַךְ , I pray that my destiny will not be like that of the wicked. When I die and my body is interred in the grave, even though I have sinned, may G-d redeem my soul — אֱלֹקִים יִפְדֶּה נַפְשִׁי  from the power of the grave — מִיַּד שְׁאוֹל For I have done teshuvahMay He take me to Him for eternal life in the World to Come, Selah — כִּי יִקָּחֵנִי סֶלָה !
PART 4. BEYOND THE GRAVE.
(יז) אַל תִּירָא כִּי יַעֲשִׁר אִישׁ 
כִּי יִרְבֶּה כְּבוֹד בֵּיתוֹ:
Don’t be troubled by envy when you see that a man grows rich — אַל תִּירָא כִּי יַעֲשִׁר אִישׁ , while you remain poor. When he increases the glory of his house — כִּי יִרְבֶּה כְּבוֹד בֵּיתוֹ , don’t think you have to abandon your way of life and devote yourself to matching his wealth. For your life will be as happy as his, and perhaps even more so.
(יח) כִּי לֹא בְמוֹתוֹ יִקַּח הַכֹּל 
לֹא יֵרֵד אַחֲרָיו כְּבוֹדוֹ:
Such concerns are mistaken for upon his death he will not take anything with him — כִּי לֹא בְמוֹתוֹ יִקַּח הַכֹּל . His glory and all his possessions will not descend into the grave after him — לֹא יֵרֵד אַחֲרָיו כְּבוֹדוֹ .
(יט) כִּי נַפְשׁוֹ בְּחַיָּיו יְבָרֵךְ 
וְיוֹדֻךָ כִּי תֵיטִיב לָךְ:
Even though during his lifetime he blesses himself  כִּי נַפְשׁוֹ בְּחַיָּיו יְבָרֵךְ , saying, “They will praise you because you have done well for yourself — וְיוֹדֻךָ כִּי תֵיטִיב לָךְ ,” that is only during his lifetime. They will quickly forget him after he is gone.
(כ) תָּבוֹא עַד דּוֹר אֲבוֹתָיו 
עַד נֵצַח לֹא יִרְאוּ אוֹר:
But if you come to study the generation of his fathers  תָּבוֹא עַד דּוֹר אֲבוֹתָיו , that is, the many individuals who have followed the same way of life as he does now you will find that, they have all passed on into a long night of death. They will see no light for all eternity — עַד נֵצַח לֹא יִרְאוּ אוֹר . The same fate is in store also for their descendant who walks in the same paths and whose wealth and splendor you would covet.
(כא) אָדָם בִּיקָר וְלֹא יָבִין 
נִמְשַׁל כַּבְּהֵמוֹת נִדְמוּ:
Even with his wealth and honor if a man is stopped by the glitter of outward pretense and does not penetrate through to understand — אָדָם בִּיקָר וְלֹא יָבִין – the meaning of life, he is comparable to the animals — נִמְשַׁל כַּבְּהֵמוֹת that have no soul and fall silent — נִדְמוּ  when they die.
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.
[49:2] TRANSITORY LIFE. – הַאֲזִינוּ כָּל יֹשְׁבֵי חָלֶד – “Incline your ear all who dwell in this transitory world.” Remember that this world is transitory and whatever material things you build up here have no permanence.
[49:6] – לָמָּה אִירָא בִּימֵי רָע עֲוֹן עֲקֵבַי יְסוּבֵּנִי – “Why should I [devote myself to material wealth because I] fear bad times? The sin [following] on my heels will surround me.” Your true protection is Hashem. The only thing you really have to fear is sin.
[49:21] – אָדָם בִּיקָר וְלֹא יָבִין נִמְשַׁל כַּבְּהֵמוֹת נִדְמוּ – “Even with [wealth and] honor, [if] a man does not understand, he is comparable to the animals that fall silent.
Tefillos for Life - Your Teshuvah.
[49:9] TIME FOR TESHUVAH. – וְיֵקַר פִּדְיוֹן נַפְשָׁם וְחָדַל לְעוֹלָם – “The redemption of their soul [for money] is unattainable. [After death, repentance] is ended forever.” Do teshuvah (repentance) for your sins now because you will not be able to do so after you die.
[49:16] BEYOND THE GRAVE. – אַךְ אֱלֹקִים יִפְדֶּה נַפְשִׁי מִיַּד שְׁאוֹל כִּי יִקָּחֵנִי סֶלָה – “But, may G-d redeem my soul from the power of the grave. May He take me [to Him for eternal life], Selah!” Ask that your teshuvah will be accepted and you will have life beyond the grave.
Sources
The primary sources used in the interpretation of the pesukim of this mizmor are listed below.
א - המאירי, ספורנו, אבן יחייא, רשר"ה
ב - בן־רמוך, מצודות, מלבי"ם, רשר"ה
ג - אבן עזרא, רד"ק, מלבי"ם
ד - רש"י, רד"ק, מלבי"ם, חכמות תבונות, רשר"ה, נר לרגלי
ה - רש"י, רד"ק, המאירי, מצודות
ו - רש"י, אבן עזרא, המאירי, מצודות
ז - רד"ק, המאירי, ספורנו, באר אברהם
ח - אבן עזרא, ספורנו, אבן יחייא, מצודות, מלבי"ם
ט - אבן יחייא, נר לרגלי
י - אבן עזרא, המאירי, מאיר טוב
יא - רש"י, רד"ק
יב - רש"י, ספורנו, אבן יחייא, מצודות, באר אברהם, נר לרגלי,
יג - רש"י, אבן עזרא, רד"ק, רשר"ה
יד - אבן עזרא, רד"ק, בן־רמוך
טו - רש"י, רד"ק, בן־רמוך, מצודות, רשר"ה, נר לרגלי, מאיר טוב
טז - אבן עזרא, רד"ק, ספורנו, אבן יחייא
יז - רד"ק, המאירי, מצודות
יח - אבן עזרא, רד"ק
יט - רש"י, בן־רמוך, רשר"ה
כ - בן־רמוך, מצודות, מלבי"ם, מאיר טוב
כא - המאירי, ספורנו, נר לרגלי, רשר"ה, מאיר טוב