Rav Kook Torah

Psalms 1-2: Two Aspects of Spiritual Growth


One Chapter or Two?

Unlike other books in the Bible, the book of Tehillim (Psalms) has clearly delineated chapters. Usually an obvious break is made from the previous chapter, as each psalm is introduced with a brief inscription, such as: “To the chief musician,” “A song of David,” or “A song of Assaf.”

The second chapter, however, opens with the words, “Why do the nations rage?” It lacks the usual introductory phrase. In fact, the Talmud (Berachot 10a) states that the first and second chapters are really one psalm.

Nonetheless, the content of these two psalms differs greatly. The first chapter discusses the spiritual and moral state of the individual:

“Happy is the one who did not walk in the counsel of the wicked... but whose delight is in God’s Torah, and in His law he meditates day and night... He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, bringing forth its fruit in its season...”

The second psalm, on the other hand, speaks, not of the individual, but of Jewish people and their belligerent neighbors:

“Why do the nations rage in vain... against God and His anointed king? ... He Who dwells in heaven laughs. God mocks them.”

What connects these two divergent topics? How could the Sages consider them one unified psalm?

Personal Growth and Communal Service

We perfect ourselves by refining our traits and actions. But we cannot achieve true spiritual growth without also striving for the good of the community and the nation. And through the betterment of the Jewish people, we work toward the betterment of all nations.

On the other hand, we should avoid working solely for the good of society and fail to invest in our own personal development.

The two levels are interdependent. True communal perfection can only take place when its members are fulfilled and perfected. And we cannot develop personally without striving with all our hearts for the betterment of the community. Therefore, these two chapters — “Happy is the person” and “Why do the nations rage?” — are really one psalm, reflecting on the common theme of spiritual growth as an individual and as a member of society.

When combined, these two chapters begin and conclude with the word Ashrei — “happy”. Together, they unite these two interrelated facets of personal growth and communal involvement.

(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, p. 47)