Rav Kook Torah

Psalm 19: The Power of Holy Speech

How can we deepen our appreciation for gedulat Hashem — God’s infinite greatness?

The nineteenth psalm offers two methods. The first is by reflecting on the universe’s beauty and internal order. Thus, the first half of the chapter describes the power and majesty of the heavenly bodies. “The heavens declare God’s honor, and the skies speak of the work of His hands” (19:2).

With the eighth verse, however, the psalmist makes an abrupt change. He then utilizes a second method to contemplate God’s greatness. The rest of the psalm reflects on the Torah — its qualities of truth, clarity, and perfection. The Torah, he notes, restores the soul. It provides wisdom, even to the foolish; and its laws enlighten and gladden the heart.

Words of My Mouth, Reflections of My Heart

The psalm closes with a request:

“יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי-פִי וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ, ה', צוּרִי וְגֹאֲלִי.” (תהילים י"ט:ט"ו)

“May the words of my mouth and the reflections of my heart find favor before You — God, my Rock and Redeemer.” (19:15)

Why is God referred to here as “my Redeemer"? And why does the psalmist mention ‘the words of my mouth’ before ‘the reflections of my heart’ — do not people first think and only afterwards speak?

The psalm notes our innate fallibility. “Who understands errors? Restrain Your servant from deliberate sins too; let them not dominate me” (19:13,14).

We may recognize the truth of God’s Torah, but we have difficulty observing the Torah as faithfully as we should. We are held back, due to innate human weakness, the limits of human intellect, and personal character flaws. The raging storms of our physicality can overwhelm the spiritual light within as it yearns for ever-greater holiness. How can we protect and nurture our aspirations for holiness?

Two Spiritual Gifts

The answer lies in two God-given gifts. One internal, and one external.

The first gift is the heart’s inner core of purity. When the psalmist speaks of “the reflections of my heart,” he is referring to this inner kernel of holiness. Ultimately, we will uncover within ourselves rays of pure, Godly light. When we are able to free ourselves from the darkness of our imaginings, when we are able to overcome our hesitancy and fear and look towards the inner self, then our heart’s thoughts will always be imbued with holiness. Our heart’s reflections will be illuminated with light from the source of true, elevated life.

In qualitative terms, the heart’s inner holiness transcends entire worlds. But quantitatively, it may be overwhelmed and stifled by the rush of everyday life. Therefore, God provided us with a second, external gift: the power of holy speech. When we verbalize God’s holy words in Torah study and prayer, we are able to revive the dormant holiness of the inner heart. The lofty kernel, our true essence, is like a princess who was kidnapped against her will. We may rescue her by employing our faculty of holy speech. This is the secret power of speech when it articulates the hidden treasures residing in the soul.

Thus the psalmist refers first to “the words of my mouth.” Our words in Torah and prayer are then able to revive our inner core of holiness — “the reflections of my heart.” We pray that both of these spiritual gifts will enable us to live favorably before God — “my Rock and Redeemer” — the One who redeems us from the emptiness of mundane life.

(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. II, pp. 60-61)

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