(א) תְּפִלָּה לְמֹשֶׁה אִישׁ הָאֱלֹקִים אֲדֹ־נָי מָעוֹן אַתָּה הָיִיתָ לָּנוּ בְּדֹר וָדֹר:
(1) A tefillah by Moshe, a man of G-d. Hashem, You have been our Home of flowing time in every generation.
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Key Concepts of Mizmor 090 – The River of Time
This is the first of a series of 11 mizmorim that were composed by Moshe Rabbeinu in his capacity as a prophet of Yisrael. The mizmorim were handed down from generation to generation and ultimately incorporated by David into his Book of Tehillim.
Mizmor 090 was composed as a tefillah to Hashem to evoke His mercy and and ask Him to grant redemption to the Jewish nation during a future time of anguish, such as the present.
The central theme of the mizmor is the passage of time, which is visualized as a flowing river. A person standing on the shore sees the water continually flowing past like the days continually flowing through our lives. The days that have passed are no more. It is as if they have vanished, never to return. However, we are responsible for the harm that we have done in those vanished days. The memory of the past hangs over us, affecting our present and our future. This is revealed in Hashem’s attitude of anger towards us, which is the cause of our present anguish. The memory of the past also determines our duty to repent our sins.
We are given a limited number of years to live out our lives and it is up to us to use them in a way that was intended by our Creator. If we fail in our mission, there remain fewer and fewer days to correct our mistakes.
In the mizmor the singer speaks for the Jewish people. We reflect upon our situation and seek to use that insight to correct our failings, thereby earning a positive change in Hashem’s attitude towards us, a change from anger to sweetness.
Exploring the Mizmor
PART 1. G-D AND TIME. In the opening verses of the mizmor, Moshe introduces himself as a mortal man ( אִישׁ ), destined to exist on this earth for a only brief segment of eternity. Even so, he has been granted the privilege of having direct contact with G-d ( הָאֱלֹקִים ) Who encompasses all of eternity and is beyond any earthly dimension. Since G-d’s existence encompasses the entire dimension of time, Moshe speaks of Him as the unchanging Home of time ( מָעוֹן ).
(א) תְּפִלָּה לְמֹשֶׁה אִישׁ הָאֱלֹקִים אֲדֹ־נָי מָעוֹן אַתָּה הָיִיתָ לָּנוּ בְּדֹר וָדֹר: (ב) בְּטֶרֶם הָרִים יֻלָּדוּ וַתְּחוֹלֵל אֶרֶץ וְתֵבֵל וּמֵעוֹלָם עַד עוֹלָם אַתָּה אֵ־ל:
(1) A tefillah by Moshe, a man of G-d. Hashem, You have been our Home of flowing time in every generation. (2) Before the mountains were brought forth and before You fashioned the earth and the inhabited world, and from all of the past and to all of the future, You are G-d.
PART 2. MAN AND THE RIVER OF TIME. Although Moshe has been granted awareness of the spiritual existence that is beyond earthly dimensions, he firmly reminds himself not to get carried away with pride. He does not claim a more noble status than the least worthy members of mankind ( אֱנוֹשׁ ) and he recognizes that his life on this earth will occupy only a few moments in the endless stream of time.
(ג) תָּשֵׁב אֱנוֹשׁ עַד דַּכָּא וַתֹּאמֶר שׁוּבוּ בְנֵי אָדָם: (ד) כִּי אֶלֶף שָׁנִים בְּעֵינֶיךָ כְּיוֹם אֶתְמוֹל כִּי יַעֲבֹר וְאַשְׁמוּרָה בַלָּיְלָה: (ה) זְרַמְתָּם שֵׁנָה יִהְיוּ בַּבֹּקֶר כֶּחָצִיר יַחֲלֹף: (ו) בַּבֹּקֶר יָצִיץ וְחָלָף לָעֶרֶב יְמוֹלֵל וְיָבֵשׁ:
(3) You return man to the dust and You say, “Return, O sons of man.” (4) For in Your eyes a thousand years is like a day gone by and like a watch in the night. (5) You cause [the years] to flow past like sleep. By morning they are [gone] like grass that has wilted. (6) [Man’s energy] blossoms in the morning, but wilts and by the evening it withers away and is dried up.
PART 3. MAN’S FAILING. Moshe speaks for all of mankind and acknowledges our failure to make proper use of the time we have been given. We have earned Hashem’s anger and as a result our brief time on earth has been further shortened.
(ז) כִּי כָלִינוּ בְאַפֶּךָ וּבַחֲמָתְךָ נִבְהָלְנוּ: (ח) שַׁתָּה עֲוֹנֹתֵינוּ לְנֶגְדֶּךָ עֲלֻמֵנוּ לִמְאוֹר פָּנֶיךָ: (ט) כִּי כָל יָמֵינוּ פָּנוּ בְעֶבְרָתֶךָ כִּלִּינוּ שָׁנֵינוּ כְמוֹ הֶגֶה: (י) יְמֵי שְׁנוֹתֵינוּ בָהֶם שִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה וְאִם בִּגְבוּרֹת שְׁמוֹנִים שָׁנָה וְרָהְבָּם עָמָל וָאָוֶן כִּי גָז חִישׁ וַנָּעֻפָה:
(7) [Our lives have been cut short] for we are consumed by Your anger and we are terror-struck by Your fury.  You have set our sins before You, our hidden [and unfulfilled] potential before the light of Your face. (9) For all our days pass by in Your fury. [Because of our sins] we waste our years like mumbled words. (10) The days of our life are [but] seventy years, or if with strength, eighty years. Their pride are but trouble and sorrow for it is quickly cut down and we fly [to the grave].
PART 4. LEARNING TO UNDERSTAND TIME. To overcome our failings, we need to acknowledge their gravity in the eyes of Hashem. We need to focus more intensely on making effective use of the time we have been given. The shorter that time is, the more precious it is and the greater is the urgency not to waste it.
(יא) מִי יוֹדֵעַ עֹז אַפֶּךָ וּכְיִרְאָתְךָ עֶבְרָתֶךָ: (יב) לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה:
(11) Who can know the intensity of Your anger? Your fury is [great] like Your awesomeness (12) Teach us to count our days. Then we will acquire a heart of wisdom.
PART 5. FROM FURY TO SWEETNESS. Moshe appeals to Hashem to relent from His anger and give His people an opportunity to properly fulfill their mission once more. We look forward to experiencing Hashem’s attitude of sweetness and approval of what we do in our desire to please Him.
(יג) שׁוּבָה ה’ עַד מָתָי וְהִנָּחֵם עַל עֲבָדֶיךָ: (יד) שַׂבְּעֵנוּ בַבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ וּנְרַנְּנָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה בְּכָל יָמֵינוּ: (טו) שַׂמְּחֵנוּ כִּימוֹת עִנִּיתָנוּ שְׁנוֹת רָאִינוּ רָעָה: (טז) יֵרָאֶה אֶל עֲבָדֶיךָ פָעֳלֶךָ וַהֲדָרְךָ עַל בְּנֵיהֶם: (יז) וִיהִי נֹעַם אֲדֹ־נָי אֱלֹקֵינוּ עָלֵינוּ וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדֵינוּ כּוֹנְנָה עָלֵינוּ וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדֵינוּ כּוֹנְנֵהוּ:
(13) Turn back, Hashem. How much longer? Change Your attitude toward Your servants. (14) Gratify us in the morning with Your kindness. Then we will sing and rejoice all our days. (15) Give us joy as the days when You afflicted us, the years [when] we endured misfortune. (16) May Your [continuing] work [of Creation] be apparent to Your servants, and Your glory upon their children. (17) May the sweetness of Hashem, our God, be upon us. May the work of our hands be firmly achieved for us. The work of our hands, let it be firm.
Learning the Mizmor
PART 1. G-D AND TIME.
(א) תְּפִלָּה לְמֹשֶׁה אִישׁ הָאֱלֹקִים
This mizmor is a tefillah composed by Moshe Rabbeinu — תְּפִלָּה לְמֹשֶׁה , a man of G-d — אִישׁ הָאֱלֹקִים , who was granted the power of nevuah (prophecy), enabling him to foresee the future tragedies that would befall Klal Yisrael. The mizmor had been passed down though the generations and when David discovered it he incorporated it into his Book of Tehillim. It is the first of a series of 11 such mizmorim.
אֲדֹ־נָי מָעוֹן אַתָּה הָיִיתָ לָּנוּ בְּדֹר וָדֹר:
Hashem, You have been our lifegiving home of flowing time — אֲדֹ־נָי מָעוֹן אַתָּה לָּנוּ הָיִיתָ in every generation — בְּדֹר וָדֹר since before time existed.
(ב) בְּטֶרֶם הָרִים יֻלָּדוּ וַתְּחוֹלֵל אֶרֶץ וְתֵבֵל
וּמֵעוֹלָם עַד עוֹלָם אַתָּה אֵל:
Before the primeval mountains were brought forth — בְּטֶרֶם הָרִים יֻלָּדוּ , and before You fashioned the earth and the inhabited world — וַתְּחוֹלֵל אֶרֶץ וְתֵבֵל , and from all of the past and to all of the future,— וּמֵעוֹלָם עַד עוֹלָם , You are forever G-d — אַתָּה אֵ־ל , perfect in Your benevolence and perfect in Your omnipotence. Since You have always existed, there is nothing that can be added to You. You have always been complete and will always be complete.
PART 2. MAN AND THE RIVER OF TIME.
(ג) תָּשֵׁב אֱנוֹשׁ עַד דַּכָּא
וַתֹּאמֶר שׁוּבוּ בְנֵי אָדָם:
Man is a transitory being. In his old age You take away his strength and humble him. Then You return man to the dust — תָּשֵׁב אֱנוֹשׁ עַד דַּכָּא from which he was fashioned. And You say, “Return to your previous state, O sons of man.” — וַתֹּאמֶר שׁוּבוּ בְנֵי אָדָם for your brief time on earth is up.”
(ד) כִּי אֶלֶף שָׁנִים בְּעֵינֶיךָ כְּיוֹם אֶתְמוֹל כִּי יַעֲבֹר
For the duration of a person’s lifetime in Your eyes, even if were to be a thousand years — כִּי אֶלֶף שָׁנִים בְּעֵינֶיךָ , like that of Adam, it is like a day gone by — כְּיוֹם אֶתְמוֹל כִּי יַעֲבֹר , and like a watch in the night — וְאַשְׁמוּרָה בַלָּיְלָה , whose swift passage is not even marked by a visible event in the night skies.
In his youth a man may think he will have a long life, but his vision encompasses only the brief span through which he lives. He cannot grasp the significance of time on the larger scale of history. Furthermore once the time has passed, what difference does it make whether it seemed long or short? It’s over.
(ה) זְרַמְתָּם שֵׁנָה יִהְיוּ
בַּבֹּקֶר כֶּחָצִיר יַחֲלֹף:
You cause the years of a man’s life to flow past — זְרַמְתָּם , like a swift-moving river so that they become like a dream in the midst of sleep — שֵׁנָה יִהְיוּ that is quickly forgotten. By morning they are gone like grass that has wilted — בַּבֹּקֶר כֶּחָצִיר יַחֲלֹף in the light of day.
(ו) בַּבֹּקֶר יָצִיץ וְחָלָף
לָעֶרֶב יְמוֹלֵל וְיָבֵשׁ:
And even if a man’s energy blossoms in the morning of his life it wilts — בַּבֹּקֶר יָצִיץ וְחָלָף as the years go by, and by the evening of life it withers away and is dried up — לָעֶרֶב יְמוֹלֵל וְיָבֵשׁ . The enthusiasm of youth is replaced with the despondency and resignation of old age. Instead of doing teshuvah in view of the time when he will have to give an accounting of his actions, he lets wither the very good deeds he had set out with in his idealistic youth.
PART 3. MAN’S FAILING.
(ז) כִּי כָלִינוּ בְאַפֶּךָ
As a result, instead of “death” being merely a long sleep, our lives have been cut short for we are consumed by Your anger — כִּי כָלִינוּ בְאַפֶּךָ , and we are terror-struck by Your fury — וּבַחֲמָתְךָ נִבְהָלְנוּ . Thus, our sins have have prevented us from rising to our full potential.
(ח) שַׁתָּה עֲוֹנֹתֵינוּ לְנֶגְדֶּךָ
עֲלֻמֵנוּ לִמְאוֹר פָּנֶיךָ:
You have set our sins before You — שַׁתָּה עֲוֹנֹתֵינוּ לְנֶגְדֶּךָ and they have angered You. You have set our hidden and unfulfilled potential before the light of Your face — עֲלֻמֵנוּ לִמְאוֹר פָּנֶיךָ . You have been angered by the sins that we committed out of ignorance because of the implied insult to Your Torah, which came to us from the light of Your face.
(ט) כִּי כָל יָמֵינוּ פָּנוּ בְעֶבְרָתֶךָ
כִּלִּינוּ שָׁנֵינוּ כְמוֹ הֶגֶה:
For in this bitter Exile all our days pass by in Your fury — כִּי כָל יָמֵינוּ פָּנוּ בְעֶבְרָתֶךָ . Through our sins we waste our years like quickly spoken words — כִּלִּינוּ שָׁנֵינוּ כְמוֹ הֶגֶה .
(י) יְמֵי שְׁנוֹתֵינוּ בָהֶם שִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה
וְאִם בִּגְבוּרֹת שְׁמוֹנִים שָׁנָה
Because of our sins that You have set before You, the days of our life are but seventy years — יְמֵי שְׁנוֹתֵינוּ בָהֶם שִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה , or if they are empowered with natural strength, eighty years — וְאִם בִּגְבוּרֹת שְׁמוֹנִים שָׁנָה . Very few can expect to live longer than that.
וְרָהְבָּם עָמָל וָאָוֶן
כִּי גָז חִישׁ וַנָּעֻפָה:
Their days of pride during these years are but trouble and sorrow — וְרָהְבָּם עָמָל וָאָוֶן for pride is quickly cut down and we fly to the grave as swiftly as a bird — כִּי גָז חִישׁ וַנָּעֻפָה .
PART 4. LEARNING TO UNDERSTAND TIME.
(יא) מִי יוֹדֵעַ עֹז אַפֶּךָ
In such a short lifespan who can acquire the understanding to know the intensity of Your anger — מִי יוֹדֵעַ עֹז אַפֶּךָ and guard himself from exposing himself to it? Your fury is great like Your awesomeness — וּכְיִרְאָתְךָ עֶבְרָתֶךָ , which we have sadly not learned to appreciate.
(יב) לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע
וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה:
Teach us to count our days — לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע , and be more conscious of the limited time available to us. Then we will be motivated to strive harder to acquire a heart of wisdom — וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה .
PART 5. FROM FURY TO SWEETNESS.
(יג) שׁוּבָה ה‘ עַד מָתָי
וְהִנָּחֵם עַל עֲבָדֶיךָ:
Turn back to us, Hashem — שׁוּבָה ה’ . How much longer will You forsake us — עַד מָתָי ? Change Your attitude toward Your servants — וְהִנָּחֵם עַל עֲבָדֶיךָ from anger to pity.
(יד) שַׂבְּעֵנוּ בַבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ
וּנְרַנְּנָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה בְּכָל יָמֵינוּ:
Gratify us in the morning of every new day with Your kindness — שַׂבְּעֵנוּ בַבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ , so that we may confidently face what the day will bring. Then we will surely sing and rejoice all our days — וּנְרַנְּנָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה בְּכָל יָמֵינוּ .
(טו) שַׂמְּחֵנוּ כִּימוֹת עִנִּיתָנוּ
שְׁנוֹת רָאִינוּ רָעָה:
Give us intense joy just as there were days when You afflicted us intensely — שַׂמְּחֵנוּ כִּימוֹת עִנִּיתָנוּ , in all the years when we endured misfortune — שְׁנוֹת רָאִינוּ רָעָה .
(טז) יֵרָאֶה אֶל עֲבָדֶיךָ פָעֳלֶךָ
וַהֲדָרְךָ עַל בְּנֵיהֶם:
May Your continuing action to sustain Creation be apparent to Your servants — יֵרָאֶה אֶל עֲבָדֶיךָ , and may it not be limited to one generation, but let Your glory be visible upon their children — פָעֳלֶךָ וַהֲדָרְךָ עַל בְּנֵיהֶם .
(יז) וִיהִי נֹעַם אֲדֹ־נָי אֱלֹקֵינוּ עָלֵינוּ
As for us, may our actions please You so that the sweetness of the Presence of Hashem, our G-d, will be upon us — וִיהִי נֹעַם אֲדֹ־נָי אֱלֹקֵינוּ עָלֵינוּ for having fulfilled Your wishes.
וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדֵינוּ כּוֹנְנָה עָלֵינוּ
וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדֵינוּ כּוֹנְנֵהוּ:
May the work of our hands in serving You be firmly achieved for us — וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדֵינוּ כּוֹנְנָה עָלֵינוּ so that it is well grounded on Your teachings and on on our abilities. May the work of our hands in everything else we do be firmly grounded — וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדֵינוּ כּוֹנְנֵהוּ so that what we produce will have lasting value and will be effective for what it is intended.
The primary sources used in the interpretation of the verses in this mizmor are listed below.
א – רש”י, רד”ק, מצודות, מלבי”ם, המאירי, בן־רמוך, רשר”ה
ב – אבן עזרא, מצודות, ספורנו, אבן יחייא, רשר”ה
ג – אבן עזרא, רד”ק, המאירי, בן־רמוך
ד – רד”ק, מצודות
ה – רש”י, רד”ק, מצודות, המאירי, הארת התפלה
ו – רש”י, אבן עזרא, ספורנו, אלשי”ך
ז – מלבי”ם, אלשיך, דעת סופרים
ח – מצודות, רשר”ה, נר לרגלי
ט – רש”י, אבן עזרא, רד”ק, המאירי
י – רש”י, אבן עזרא, רד”ק
יא – רש”י, מצודות, ספורנו, נר לרגלי
יב – אבן עזרא, מלבי”ם, המאירי, נר לרגלי
יג – רש”י, רד”ק, מצודות, המאירי
יד – מצודות, המאירי, רשר”ה
טו – רד”ק, המאירי, בן רמוך
טז – רד”ק, מלבי”ם, המאירי
יז – רש”י, רד”ק, מלבי”ם, המאירי, הארת התפלה