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(א) שִׁיר מִזְמוֹר לִבְנֵי קֹרַח לַמְנַצֵּחַ עַל מָחֲלַת לְעַנּוֹת מַשְׂכִּיל לְהֵימָן הָאֶזְרָחִי:
(1) [This] mizmor is a song by the sons of Korach for the musician on the [instrument named] “machalas”. [It involves] raising the voice in a song of enlightenment, [a role assigned] to Heiman the Ezrachi.
NOTE: For a PDF of this mizmor, please click here. This will enable you to print out the entire text of the article. [Rev. 0]
Key Concepts of Mizmor 088 (Survival)
This mizmor expresses the mood of the Jewish nation in a long and bitter exile. The pain of exile is so onerous that the singer visualizes it in terms of a desperately ill person. The suffering invalid knows that he is close to death but he has not given up the hope of somehow surviving his ordeal. He anxiously pleads with Hashem to spare his life.
Despite the bleak context of this mizmor, it is described as a song rather than a lamentation. Ultimately, its message is uplifting. No matter how bad a person’s situation may appear to be, he should never abandon his trust in Hashem and his prayers for a yeshuah (deliverance).
Exploring the Mizmor
PART 1. INTRODUCTION. The introductory verse describes the authorship of the mizmor and offers a note on how it is to be performed in public. The musical instrument to accompany the singing of the mizmor is named “machalas,” a term which means “illness,” suggesting the melancholy theme of the mizmor.
(א) שִׁיר מִזְמוֹר לִבְנֵי קֹרַח לַמְנַצֵּחַ עַל מָחֲלַת לְעַנּוֹת מַשְׂכִּיל לְהֵימָן הָאֶזְרָחִי:
(1) [This] mizmor is a song by the sons of Korach for the musician on the [instrument named] “machalas”. [It involves] raising the voice in a song of enlightenment, [a role assigned] to Heiman the Ezrachi.
PART 2. PLEA TO BE HEARD. The singer begs Hashem to accept his song as a heartfelt prayer for yeshuah.
(ב) ה’ אֱלֹקֵי יְשׁוּעָתִי יוֹם צָעַקְתִּי בַלַּיְלָה נֶגְדֶּךָ: (ג) תָּבוֹא לְפָנֶיךָ תְּפִלָּתִי הַטֵּה אָזְנְךָ לְרִנָּתִי:
(2) Hashem, G-d of my yeshuah, I have cried out [in anguish] by day, but by night I am in Your presence [with meditation and tefillah.] (3) Let my tefillah reach You. Incline Your ear to my song of supplication.
PART 3. LAMENTATION. The singer laments the tragic state of the Jewish nation, which he compares to that of a deathly ill person. The erstwhile friends of the invalid treat him as though he was already dead. He is in great pain gets no comfort from anyone, so he has begun to think of death as a release from the agonies of life.
(ד) כִּי שָׂבְעָה בְרָעוֹת נַפְשִׁי וְחַיַּי לִשְׁאוֹל הִגִּיעוּ: (ה) נֶחְשַׁבְתִּי עִם יוֹרְדֵי בוֹר הָיִיתִי כְּגֶבֶר אֵין אֱיָל: (ו) בַּמֵּתִים חָפְשִׁי כְּמוֹ חֲלָלִים שֹׁכְבֵי קֶבֶר אֲשֶׁר לֹא זְכַרְתָּם עוֹד וְהֵמָּה מִיָּדְךָ נִגְזָרוּ: (ז) שַׁתַּנִי בְּבוֹר תַּחְתִּיּוֹת בְּמַחֲשַׁכִּים בִּמְצֹלוֹת: (ח) עָלַי סָמְכָה חֲמָתֶךָ וְכָל מִשְׁבָּרֶיךָ עִנִּיתָ סֶּלָה: (ט) הִרְחַקְתָּ מְיֻדָּעַי מִמֶּנִּי שַׁתַּנִי תוֹעֵבוֹת לָמוֹ כָּלֻא וְלֹא אֵצֵא:
(4) For my soul has had its fill of misfortunes. My life draws near to the grave. (5). I am reckoned among those who go down to the grave. I have become like a man without strength (6) I am among the dead who are free [of further suffering], like the corpses lying in the grave, whom You have not yet chosen to remembered for life, corpses that remain cut off from [further decrees of] Your hand. (7) You have put me into the deepest pit, into utter darkness, into watery depths. (8) Your wrath bears down upon me. You afflict me with all Your crashing waves. Selah. (9) You have set my friends to be distant from me. You made me disgusting to them. I am held in isolation and cannot get out.
PART 4. TEFILLAH. The singer humbly begs Hashem to save him from the oblivion of death. He suggests that he still has so much to contribute to the honor of Hashem in this world while he is alive. Once he enters the realm of death, any useful role that he might offer will cease to exist.
(י) עֵינִי דָאֲבָה מִנִּי עֹנִי קְרָאתִיךָ ה’ בְּכָל יוֹם שִׁטַּחְתִּי אֵלֶיךָ כַפָּי: (יא) הֲלַמֵּתִים תַּעֲשֶׂה פֶּלֶא אִם רְפָאִים יָקוּמוּ יוֹדוּךָ סֶּלָה: (יב) הַיְסֻפַּר בַּקֶּבֶר חַסְדֶּךָ אֱמוּנָתְךָ בָּאֲבַדּוֹן: (יג) הֲיִוָּדַע בַּחֹשֶׁךְ פִּלְאֶךָ וְצִדְקָתְךָ בְּאֶרֶץ נְשִׁיָּה:
(10) My eyes are saddened by suffering, yet I call to You, Hashem, every day. I stretch out my hands to You in prayer. (11) [It will soon be too late for me.] Will You work wonders for the dead? Will it be the lifeless who arise to praise You? Selah (12) Is Your kindness declared in the grave? Is Your eternal truth declared in the place of death? (13) Are Your wonders made known in the place of darkness? Is Your generosity spoken of in the land of oblivion?
PART 5. FINAL PLEA. In a desperate final plea, the singer declares that despite all his suffering he will not weaken his devotion to Hashem. The mizmor is unusual in that it ends ends on a melancholy note, with the singer still immersed in a sea of troubles. But he has made his commitment. He still cannot understand why this is happening to him. But no matter what, he is determined to remain loyal to his Creator.
(יד) וַאֲנִי אֵלֶיךָ ה’ שִׁוַּעְתִּי וּבַבֹּקֶר תְּפִלָּתִי תְקַדְּמֶךָּ: (טו) לָמָה ה’ תִּזְנַח נַפְשִׁי תַּסְתִּיר פָּנֶיךָ מִמֶּנִּי: (טז) עָנִי אֲנִי וְגֹוֵעַ מִנֹּעַר נָשָׂאתִי אֵמֶיךָ אָפוּנָה: (יז) עָלַי עָבְרוּ חֲרוֹנֶיךָ בִּעוּתֶיךָ צִמְּתוּתֻנִי: (יח) סַבּוּנִי כַמַּיִם כָּל הַיּוֹם הִקִּיפוּ עָלַי יָחַד: (יט) הִרְחַקְתָּ מִמֶּנִּי אֹהֵב וָרֵעַ מְיֻדָּעַי מַחְשָׁךְ:
(14) But as for me, [while I still live] I cry out to You, Hashem. Each morning my prayer comes forward to greet You, [saying:] (15) “Why, Hashem, do You reject me? [Why do] You conceal Your face from me? (16) I have been impoverished and close to death [for so long,] since youth. Yet I have borne Your fearful [judgment in constant] dread. (17) Your rages have swept over me; Your terrors have cut me down. (18) They surround me like water all day long; they confine me on every side (19) You have distanced friend and companion from me. You have put my acquaintances [away] as if concealed in darkness.
Learning the Mizmor
(א) שִׁיר מִזְמוֹר לִבְנֵי קֹרַח
This mizmor in the form of a song  שִׁיר מִזְמוֹר , was originally composed by the sons of Korach  לִבְנֵי קֹרַח through the power of nevuah (prophecy) and subsequently incorporated by David into the Book of Tehillim.
לַמְנַצֵּחַ עַל מָחֲלַת 
לְעַנּוֹת מַשְׂכִּיל לְהֵימָן הָאֶזְרָחִי:
The mizmor is intended for the musician — לַמְנַצֵּחַ , who will perform it on the musical instrument called machalas  עַל מָחֲלַת . It involves raising the voice  לְעַנּוֹת in a song of enlightenment  מַשְׂכִּיל , performed by Heiman the Ezrachi  לְהֵימָן הָאֶזְרָחִי , who was one of the Leviim.
(ב) ה‘ אֱלֹקֵי יְשׁוּעָתִי
Hashem, G-d  ה’ אֱלֹקֵי You are my Judge, but Your Name Hashem is Mercy and You have also always sought my welfare, so that You alone have been the Source of my yeshuah  ה’ אֱלֹקֵי יְשׁוּעָתִי .
יוֹם צָעַקְתִּי בַלַּיְלָה נֶגְדֶּךָ:
I have cried out in wordless anguish by day  יוֹם צָעַקְתִּי but by night I collect my thoughts in tefilah and find solace in Your presence  בַלַּיְלָה נֶגְדֶּךָ .
(ג) תָּבוֹא לְפָנֶיךָ תְּפִלָּתִי 
הַטֵּה אָזְנְךָ לְרִנָּתִי:
Now in the night reopen the gates of prayer and let my tefillah reach You  תָּבוֹא לְפָנֶיךָ תְּפִלָּתִי But also by day, incline Your ear and give consideration to my heartfelt song of supplication  הַטֵּה אָזְנְךָ לְרִנָּתִי , the outpouring of my innermost spirit.
(ד) כִּי שָׂבְעָה בְרָעוֹת נַפְשִׁי 
וְחַיַּי לִשְׁאוֹל הִגִּיעוּ:
For my soul has had its fill of misfortunes  כִּי שָׂבְעָה בְרָעוֹת נַפְשִׁי It cannot absorb any additional sufferings in this long Galus and so there is no reason to continue them. My life draws near to the grave  וְחַיַּי לִשְׁאוֹל הִגִּיעוּ and I am already like a dead man. Surely, I will not survive if these misfortunes continue.
(ה) נֶחְשַׁבְתִּי עִם יוֹרְדֵי בוֹר 
הָיִיתִי כְּגֶבֶר אֵין אֱיָל:
In the darkness of this Galus, I am unable to save myself from those who want to harm me. I feel as though Icannot even move my limbs and so I am like a dead man, ready to be buried. I am reckoned among those who are destined to go down to the grave  נֶחְשַׁבְתִּי עִם יוֹרְדֵי בוֹר This is because I have become like a man without any strength  הָיִיתִי כְּגֶבֶר אֵין אֱיָל .
(ו) בַּמֵּתִים חָפְשִׁי כְּמוֹ חֲלָלִים שֹׁכְבֵי קֶבֶר 
אֲשֶׁר לֹא זְכַרְתָּם עוֹד 
וְהֵמָּה מִיָּדְךָ נִגְזָרוּ:
I feel like I am among the dead who are free  בַּמֵּתִים חָפְשִׁי from the troubles of this world. In this endless Galus, I am like one of the corpses lying in the grave  כְּמוֹ חֲלָלִים שֹׁכְבֵי קֶבֶר , whom You have not yet remembered  אֲשֶׁר לֹא זְכַרְתָּם עוֹד and summoned to live again, whose bodies remain cut offrom further harsh decrees of Your hand  וְהֵמָּה מִיָּדְךָ נִגְזָרוּ . But I am not dead at all. My very troubles are proof that I am still among the living.
(ז) שַׁתַּנִי בְּבוֹר תַּחְתִּיּוֹת 
בְּמַחֲשַׁכִּים בִּמְצֹלוֹת:
You have put me into a Galus of many deaths, and it is like the deepest pit  שַׁתַּנִי בְּבוֹר תַּחְתִּיּוֹת You have put me into utter darkness  בְּמַחֲשַׁכִּים , into watery depths  בִּמְצֹלוֹת , from which there is no escape. As a nation, I am shut out from the sunlight under which the welfare of nations normally blossoms and prospers.
(ח) עָלַי סָמְכָה חֲמָתֶךָ 
וְכָל מִשְׁבָּרֶיךָ עִנִּיתָ סֶּלָה:
Your wrath bears down upon me  עָלַי סָמְכָה חֲמָתֶךָ , more than other nations because You expect more of me. You afflict me with all Your crashing waves of disasters that go on and on, incessantly and without pause, Selah  וְכָל מִשְׁבָּרֶיךָ עִנִּיתָ סֶּלָה .
(ט) הִרְחַקְתָּ מְיֻדָּעַי מִמֶּנִּי 
שַׁתַּנִי תוֹעֵבוֹת לָמוֹ 
כָּלֻא וְלֹא אֵצֵא:
I can find no sympathy among the people and nations who were friendly to me in the past. You have distanced my friends and allies from me  הִרְחַקְתָּ מְיֻדָּעַי מִמֶּנִּי because people don’t want to be associated with failure or tragedy. You made me disgusting to them  שַׁתַּנִי תוֹעֵבוֹת לָמוֹ ; I am held in isolation like a leper or a corpse and cannot get out  כָּלֻא וְלֹא אֵצֵא They don’t come to me and I am unable to go to them.
(י) עֵינִי דָאֲבָה מִנִּי עֹנִי 
קְרָאתִיךָ ה‘ בְּכָל יוֹם 
שִׁטַּחְתִּי אֵלֶיךָ כַפָּי:
My eyes are saddened by suffering  עֵינִי דָאֲבָה מִנִּי עֹנִי and tragedies. Yet I call to You, Hashem, every day — קְרָאתִיךָ ה’ בְּכָל יוֹם I stretch out my hands to You in prayer — שִׁטַּחְתִּי אֵלֶיךָ כַפָּי .
(יא) הֲלַמֵּתִים תַּעֲשֶׂה פֶּלֶא 
אִם רְפָאִים יָקוּמוּ יוֹדוּךָ סֶּלָה:
Save me before I succumb to my suffering. Will You work wonders for us only after we are the dead — הֲלַמֵּתִים תַּעֲשֶׂה פֶּלֶא ? Will it be the lifeless who arise to praise You? Selah — אִם רְפָאִים יָקוּמוּ יוֹדוּךָ סֶּלָה .
(יב) הַיְסֻפַּר בַּקֶּבֶר חַסְדֶּךָ 
אֱמוּנָתְךָ בָּאֲבַדּוֹן:
If I die, I will be unable to appreciate Your wonders and sing Your praise. Is Your kindness declared in the grave — הַיְסֻפַּר בַּקֶּבֶר חַסְדֶּךָ ? Is Your eternal truth declared in the place of death — אֱמוּנָתְךָ בָּאֲבַדּוֹן ?
(יג) הֲיִוָּדַע בַּחֹשֶׁךְ פִּלְאֶךָ 
וְצִדְקָתְךָ בְּאֶרֶץ נְשִׁיָּה:
Are Your wonders made known in the place of darkness — הֲיִוָּדַע בַּחֹשֶׁךְ פִּלְאֶךָ ? Is Your generosity and compassion spoken of in the land of oblivion — וְצִדְקָתְךָ בְּאֶרֶץ נְשִׁיָּה where the dead lie forgotten?
(יד) וַאֲנִי אֵלֶיךָ ה‘ שִׁוַּעְתִּי 
וּבַבֹּקֶר תְּפִלָּתִי תְקַדְּמֶךָּ:
But as for me, while I still live I cry out to You, Hashem — וַאֲנִי אֵלֶיךָ ה’ שִׁוַּעְתִּי In my eagerness to be close to You, each morning before I do anything else, my prayer comes forward to greet only You — וּבַבֹּקֶר תְּפִלָּתִי תְקַדְּמֶךָּ for only You can help me. And then it will be in the light of morning, when the redemption comes, that Your compassion will become known.
(טו) לָמָה ה‘ תִּזְנַח נַפְשִׁי 
תַּסְתִּיר פָּנֶיךָ מִמֶּנִּי:
This is what I cry. “Why, Hashem, do You reject me — לָמָה ה’ תִּזְנַח נַפְשִׁי Why do You conceal Your face from me — תַּסְתִּיר פָּנֶיךָ מִמֶּנִּי and why don’t You respond to my heartfelt tefillah? Surely, the afflictions suffered by my body, can atone for the errors of my soul!”
(טז) עָנִי אֲנִי וְגֹוֵעַ מִנֹּעַר 
נָשָׂאתִי אֵמֶיךָ אָפוּנָה:
I have been impoverished and close to death for so long, since youth — עָנִי אֲנִי וְגֹוֵעַ מִנֹּעַר . Yet despite my weakness, I have borne Your fearful judgment in constant dread of impending disaster  נָשָׂאתִי אֵמֶיךָ אָפוּנָה .
(יז) עָלַי עָבְרוּ חֲרוֹנֶיךָ 
בִּעוּתֶיךָ צִמְּתוּתֻנִי:
Your rages have swept over me — עָלַי עָבְרוּ חֲרוֹנֶיךָ ; Your terrors have cut me down  בִּעוּתֶיךָ צִמְּתוּתֻנִי .
(יח) סַבּוּנִי כַמַּיִם כָּל הַיּוֹם 
הִקִּיפוּ עָלַי יָחַד:
They surround me as though I were standing in water throughout the day  סַבּוּנִי כַמַּיִם כָּל הַיּוֹם ; they confine me on every side — הִקִּיפוּ עָלַי יָחַד There has been no relief from disasters, one following the other.
(יט) הִרְחַקְתָּ מִמֶּנִּי אֹהֵב וָרֵעַ 
מְיֻדָּעַי מַחְשָׁךְ:
You have distanced friend and companion from me — הִרְחַקְתָּ מִמֶּנִּי אֹהֵב וָרֵעַ and there has be no one to comfort me and commiserate with me. You have put my acquaintances completely out of sight, as if concealed in darkness  מְיֻדָּעַי מַחְשָׁךְ .
The primary sources used in the interpretation of the verses in this mizmor are listed below.
א – רש”י, רד”ק, מצודות, מלבי”ם
ב – מלבי”ם, המאירי, ספורנו, אבן יחייא, רשר”ה
נר לרגלי
ג – רד”ק, המאירי, אבן יחייא, רשר”ה
ד- רד”ק, רשר”ה, נר לרגלי
ה – רד”ק, מלבי”ם, רשר”ה
ו – רש”י, רד”ק, מצודות, מלבי”ם, רשר”ה
ז – רד”ק, מצודות, בן רמוך
ח – רד”ק, מצודות, המאירי, נר לרגלי
ט – רש”י, אבן עזרא, רד”ק, מצודות, מלבי”ם,
אבן יחייא,
י – בן רמוך
יא – אבן עזרא, רד”ק, מצודות
יב -רש”י, רד”ק, מצודות, מלבי”ם, ספורנו
יג – אבן עזרא, רד”ק
יד – רד”ק, מלבי”ם, המאירי, בן רמוך
טו – אבן עזרא, רד”ק,
טז – רד”ק, המאירי
יז – מצודות
יח – מצודות
יט – נר לרגלי