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Who Wrote the Book of Psalms?

Who Wrote the Book of Psalms?

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Question:

I was always under the impression that King David was the author of the book of Psalms (Tehillim). But as I read through the psalms, I saw that many of them are attributed to other composers: Moses, Asaph, Heiman, and others. What’s the deal?

Answer:

A quick perusal through the Book of Psalms will reveal numerous chapters attributed to various great personalities. The Talmud enumerates ten authors other than King David. “David composed the Book of Psalms through ten elders: Adam, Melchizedek, Abraham,1 Moses, Heiman, Yedutun, Asaph, and the three sons of Korach.”2 Furthermore, according to the Midrash, Jacob recited psalms during his 20-year stay in Laban’s home.3

Clearly, many psalms were composed and recited many generations before King David, yet Psalms is popularly known as the book of King David! The Talmud states that Rabbi Meir would say, “All the praises stated in the book of Psalms were recited by David, as it is stated: ‘The prayers of David, son of Yishai, are ended (kalu).’4 Do not read kalu; rather, read kol elu, ‘all of these’”—which indicates that the entire book of Psalms consists of the prayers of King David.5 To paraphrase the Yiddish words of Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, "The other said the words of Psalms, but he expressed them.6"

To clarify this conundrum, we must first properly appreciate the unique stature of Psalms. It is the only book in Tanach that is compared to the Torah itself.7 More than just a collection of beautiful songs composed by various authors, it is considered the “Bible of Prayer.” Just as all of Torah is sourced in the five books of Moses, prayer in Judaism is sourced in the five books of Psalms. For all generations, Psalms gives every Jew, be he a great sage or a simpleton, the ability to best express and articulate supplication and thanksgiving to his Creator.8

Why, of all the great leaders of history, did G‑d ordain King David, the “Sweet Singer of Israel,”9 to be the one to redact the songs of praise from the beginning of time, and to bequeath to the Jewish nation the gift of prayer?10

Because during his entire life, King David was immersed in the constant recitation of psalms. In times of trouble and success, as a hunted fugitive11 and as the victorious king at the pinnacle of royalty and greatness,12 his lips never ceased to sing the praises of G‑d.

Although many psalms were originally composed by others, it was King David’s recital that established them as immortal songs of praise.

Read more about King David and the book of Psalms here.

Footnotes
1.
Psalms 89. Eitan HaEzrachi refers to Abraham (see Talmud, Bava Batra 15a).
2.
Talmud, Bava Batra 14b.
3.
Bereishit Rabbah 68:12.
5.
Talmud, Pesachim 117a.
6.
Maamarei Admor Maharash, Derusay Chatunah (Hanachot), page 187.
7.
Midrash Tehillim; foreword to Psalms by Rabbeinu Yosef ibn Yahya.
8.
See Maamarei Admor Hazaken 5565, vol. 1, page 56.
10.
Yalkut Shimoni, Tehillim 613: “May the words of my mouth be acceptable” (Psalms 19:15): King David prayed that his words should be inscribed for posterity.
11.
Psalms 52 and 54.
12.
See Talmud, Berachot 4a.
Rabbi Levi Greenberg is the director of programming at Chabad Lubavitch of El Paso, Texas.
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Yitzchak Chaim July 11, 2015

Difference between knowing and knowing King David was a man after Hashem's heart because of the depth and understanding by which he prayed. He realized that the main point of prayer was not to seek blessings, acquire visions, show gratitude or even teshuva. These things are all motivations to pray and are very important, but the real purpose for prayer is to feel the holy oneness with Adonai. David's love for G-d through music was like no other man. The serenity that one can feel in a moment of complete love; singing, dancing, and playing music is timeless. Therefore, that is the bridge between the heavens and earth.
Many Psalms were written down and prayed before David but it was David that carved them into his heart. Every Jew should be praying every minute he is alive. David recited Psalms all day everyday either by mouth, music, or thought.
The Torah is just an old scroll without us to read it. We have the responsibility to make ancient stories and prayers real in ourselves. This is the formula for Mashiach and miracles. Reply

Malachi Nwaokike Nigeria June 30, 2015

Why is king David called a man after God's own heart? Reply

sed June 30, 2015

Wow, I have learnt something new, always attributed them to David. Reply

Esther ny June 27, 2015

nice artwork! who is the artist? Reply

Anonymous Palm Desert, Ca/ USA via chabadps.com June 26, 2015

Psalms Very interesting. I always thought Dovid HaMelech wrote all the psalms

Thank you for the info and wishes to you and family for a Peaceful and Gut Shabbos

Yocheved Reply

Anonymous Australia June 23, 2015

interesting i always wondered about that too, thank you! Reply

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