Some people feel that the purpose of their lives is to “receive” blessings. As we shall discuss in this letter, David understood that the purpose of our lives is to “give” blessings, for this is the reason why Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, placed us on this earth. In other words, when we give blessings to others, we are serving Hashem. David therefore desired to become a source of blessing for others through developing the spiritual potential within his soul; moreover, he understood that the greatest blessing he can give others is to help them become a source of blessing, so that they too can serve Hashem by fulfilling the altruistic purpose of their creation.
In the concluding verse of Psalm 23, David prays:
“May only good and lovingkindness pursue me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6).
According to Ibn Ezra, one of the classical biblical commentators, David is making the following altruistic request:
I should become accustomed to always doing good and lovingkindness – good to my soul and lovingkindness to others through teaching them and instructing them to serve Hashem. Let this giving become part of my nature, so that if I would stop giving for a moment, the desire to give would pursue me!
David, the spiritual altruist, realizes that the greatest gift he can give to others is to help them discover the spiritual purpose of their existence as human beings created in the image of the Giving One. He realizes, however, that before he can give to others, he must first nourish his own soul, so that he has something substantial to offer. This is why he first asks Hashem to help him to do good to his soul, before asking Hashem to help him do acts of lovingkindness to others.
After praying for a life of serving the Divine purpose, David adds:
“And I shall dwell in the House of Hashem for long days” (Ibid). According to Radak, another classical commentator, the request for “long days” is a request for a long life, and in this context, David desires a long life of service.
The “House of Hashem” is a term which usually refers to the Temple in Jerusalem with the Ark of the Covenant or the Sanctuary that our ancestors built in the wilderness which contained the Ark, and which they brought into the Promised Land. David, a busy king who has to govern his people and to also protect his people through leading them in battle against the nations that attack them, desires to “dwell” in the House of Hashem. We can understand that he would want to visit the Sanctuary in order to pray and meditate, but how would he able to “dwell” there? Radak answers this question with an interpretation which differs with the interpretation of Ibn Ezra. Radak says that David is indeed asking that blessings of good and lovingkindness “pursue” him all the days of his life, but for a spiritual purpose. With these blessings, explains Radak, David would not be heavily burdened with worldly responsibilities and wars; thus, he would be able to seclude himself in the Sanctuary. According to Radak, David is offering the following reason for his desire to be secluded in the House of Hashem: “And I will prepare my heart and my thoughts for Your service and for Your unification.”
I found another answer in the commentary of Rabbi Hirsch on the following related prayer of David:
“One thing I have asked from Hashem, this I shall seek: Would that I dwell in the House of Hashem all the days of my life” (Psalm 27:4).
“The request ‘that I dwell in the House of Hashem’ cannot mean a physical dwelling in the actual House of Hashem. Even the Kohanim (priests) were not constantly in the Temple. The phrase rather describes that conception of life and the fulfillment of its duties which can make of any place a Divine sanctuary.”
Rabbi Hirsch explains that this concept is in the spirit of the Divine injunction which reminds us that Hashem is in the midst of our camp; thus, our camp should be holy (Deuteronomy 23:15). Rabbi Hirsch reminds us that the purpose of the Sanctuary is to enable the Divine Presence to dwell among our people, as it is written: “They shall make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I shall dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). Rabbi Hirsch explains that this goal will only be fulfilled, “if all our lives outside the Temple walls will be sanctified by the understanding, purity, and devotion taught within the Sanctuary.”
In this way, adds Rabbi Hirsch, the Divine Presence will be sought not only in the Temple, for this Presence “will be among us and with us wherever we go.” This is the deeper meaning of David’s request to dwell in the House of Hashem.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
A Related Teaching:
The concluding Hebrew words of Psalm 23 are, “VShavti b’beis Hashem l’orech yamim. This is often translated as, “And I shall dwell in the House of Hashem for long days.” Rabbi Hirsch offers an alternative translation, as the term shavti can mean, “I shall return.” Rabbi Hirsch therefore gives the following translation: “Then I shall return to the House of Hashem – forever.” In his commentary, he explains that David is saying: “Once the days of my wanderings on earth shall be at an end, ‘dying’ to me will be nothing more than a ‘return’ home, a return to the House of Hashem forever.”
Rabbi Hirsch explains that the term b’beis Hashem can mean “into” the House of Hashem, and he cites another example of how “b” can mean “into.” It appears in the verse which states that Aaron should send the goat, ba’midbar – “into the desert” (Levticius 16:22).