By Rochelle Maruch Miller
The Steinsaltz Tehillim, a completely new English translation of Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz’s pioneering commentary on Sefer Tehillim, was released by the Steinsaltz Center and Koren Publishers in February. The unique volume seeks to assist the contemporary reader by bridging the gaps in language, outlook, and culture between us and the world of Tehillim, empowering each person to communicate with Hashem with confidence and understanding.
Though lofty, this goal is achieved via the pairing of a multifaceted commentary and an aesthetically pleasing design. Problematic passages are elucidated, obstacles to understanding are removed, and the language and context are concisely clarified at the most basic level to make Sefer Tehillim accessible to readers of all backgrounds.
“What emerges from most of the psalms is not the voice of a specific historical figure but rather that of Everyman,” states Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz in the volume’s introduction. “As the bounds of the personal are transcended, the psalms enter the realm of the universal.”
“Despite all the differences between them, the psalms share one characteristic truth. There is no smoothing of rough edges, no attempt to ignore or gloss over difficult issues to create a sense of harmony. Indeed, many of the psalms have a kind of built-in dissonance that results from the Psalmist’s refusal to relinquish a point of truth even at the expense of disrupting the overall melody. Undoubtedly, this aspect of Psalms is partially why it continues to speak to so many people in all corners of the world. While Psalms very much belongs to a certain place (the Land of Israel), and a specific period (the Biblical era), it nonetheless transcends all boundaries of space and time.”
The Steinsaltz Tehillim’s commentary consists of several parts. The literal translation of the verses appears in boldface, while brief explanatory comments and elaborations are woven into the Biblical text in non-bold typeface. Thanks to its aesthetically pleasing layout and design, the Rav’s commentary on Sefer Tehillim is as convenient for the user to learn and internalize as possible.
The commentary seeks to concisely clarify the language and context at the most basic level, so as not to encumber the reader. Consequently, it is not committed to a particular exegetical method and does not systematically defer to any particular commentator.
“Apart from its literary value, Psalms enjoys an exceptional status in the Biblical canon,” the Rav explains in his introduction. “No book in the Bible has evoked more tears or more words of gratitude and joy. Over the course of Jewish history, Psalms has been utilized more than any other book, not just by poets, but by all who seek to articulate the appropriate words and phrases with which to beseech, express gratitude to, pour out the sorrows of their soul to, or simply have a conversation with G-d. Whether it is a lonely widow weeping over her travails, a leader grappling with a military or political crisis, or an individual inspired to sing a song of thanksgiving, Psalms provides a mouthpiece for everyone. Indeed, if King David is termed ‘the sweet singer of Israel,’ (II Shmuel 23:1), it is because he sang the song of an entire people.”
Rabbi Steinsaltz adds, “in places, the Book of Psalms maintains sparks of mystical inspiration. These are embedded within the text and can be understood as simply poetic expressions of spirituality that are never fully articulated. This, too, accounts for part of the potent appeal of Psalms. Despite the gamut of human experience and emotions it conveys, its underlying melody is never extreme. Penetrating questions, existential doubts, unbearable pain, and unbridled joy as well are all hinted at, but never fully explicated. It is as if, alongside each psalm, the Psalmist has left a blank sheet for every reader to inscribe his own poetry.”
Guided by the trailblazing philosophies of Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, the Steinsaltz Center (steinsaltz-center.org) is a unique pedagogical accelerator that stands as a paragon of innovation, intellectualism, and inclusivity, developing tools and programming that encourage the in-depth study of the foundations of faith and make the world of Jewish knowledge accessible to all. The Steinsaltz Center publishes and disseminates the pioneering and original translations and commentaries of Rabbi Steinsaltz, which break from traditional exegesis to provide future scholars and lay people alike with fluid explanations of core Jewish sources that set the stage for profound and creative engagement with the texts.
A multi-generational labor of love, the Steinsaltz Center is recognized as an unparalleled purveyor of Jewish knowledge, having established venerated educational institutions around the world and produced more original commentaries on core Jewish texts — and in more languages — than any other public or private entity of its kind. Collaborating with Koren, the Steinsaltz Center has published the entirety of the Jewish canon, including the Tanach, the Talmud, the Mishnah, the Mishneh Torah, and Tanya.
In the coming months, the Steinsaltz Center will publish the next two volumes of the Steinsaltz Tanach; a Russian edition of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s Reference Guide to the Talmud, an indispensable resource for students at all levels, which has been a bestseller in English and Hebrew for three decades; Judaism in Jeans, a user-friendly exploration of the secrets of Jewish tradition, law, thought, and spirituality; and the final volumes of the Noe Edition Koren Talmud Bavli series, an elegant and intuitive English-language edition of the Babylonian Talmud that is shaped by Rabbi Steinsaltz’s acclaimed translation and commentary.
Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative media consultant, lecturer, and educator, and writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She welcomes your comments at Rochellemiller04@aol.com.