Violence in Psalms Before Benching?

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Hi Rabbi Simon I was just wondering about why the last verse in psalm 137 that we sing before benching is so violent? Is it really advocating and praying for "clutching and dashing the infants against the rock"? Spencer Shaw


Good question. 

For one thing, maybe that is part of the reason why that Psalm is not nearly as popular as its Shabbos and Yom Tov counterpart, 126 (Shir ha-Ma'alot).

As a further, general observation, I would point out that the Scriptures often use imagery and expressions which are surprisingly earthy and seemingly unrefined, to our ears. For example the thinly veiled sexual allusions in this week's haftarah (Judges 5:27), or the almost coarse term for "male" in 1 Kings 14:10 (and elsewhere). Warfare and conquest often involve atrocities, and the Jews were subjected to horrific forms of just that at the hands of the Babylonians. The Psalmist foresees a time when Darius the Mede (Persia) will conquer Babylon and repay them in kind for their own unspeakable brutality. It is not so much a prayer as a recognition that what goes around comes around, and that Babylon's sadism and gloating will not last.

Kind regards

rabbi rashi simon

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Ask the Rabbi: Easy as א-ב-ג?
Dear Rabbi Simon,
I hope you fasted well yesterday.
Thank you for the insights into the Kinnot, making them easier to understand.
In the afternoon, I was listening to a shiur on Eichah on Torahanytime.  As an aside, the speaker mentioned that the 1st perek of Eichah is the source for the order of the alef bet as we know it.  Other chapters also follow the alef bet chronology but with ayin en peh interchanged.
He quoted Rabbi Shimon Schwab as his source.
Although he did not elaborate on this, surely Sefer Tehillim predates Megillat Eichah by centuries.  Several psalms are written in the alef bet order (e.g.
psalm 119).
Can you please clarify?
Thank you & best wishes.
PhilippeHi Philippe
TY for your sophisticated Q.
I have also heard that the question of the sequence of samekh and 'ayin is subject to dispute. It seems that there are indications that in Paleo-Hebrew the order is reversed from what we know. It is alleged that chapters 2, 3 and 4 of Eichah (chapter 5 is not alphabetical) reflect the original order. Of course, as you say, ch 1 conforms to the order with which we are family.
You are right that Tehillim predates Eichah, however a critic can claim that the order was redacted to bring it in line with the accepted/preferred sequence. This is particularly true for ch. 119, where each of the 8 vv per letter are their own group, and each set of 8 vv. can easily be repositioned. The question is in Ps. 34 or 145, if the internal logic of the passage sheds light on the correct sequence. In Ps. 34, some claim that the v. starting with the letter peh makes more sense to follow the verse starting with samekh (due to the common appearance of the word ra'). I am not convinced that this argument is compelling.
I will stick with the mesorah, that 'ayin belongs before peh. Best to look before speaking.
Rabbi Rashi Simon
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