In Tehillim 23, David says "Even when I walk in the valley of darkness, I will fear no evil for You are with me". Someone asked me if this "valley of darkness" is metaphorical or physical and, either way, what it refers to more specifically. I consulted Rashi on Tehillim 23:4, who says:

in the valley of darkness: Heb. צלמות, in a land of darkness. He alludes to the desert of Ziph (I Sam. 23:13 28). Every [mention of] צלמות is an expression of darkness. Dunash ben Labrat defined it [in this manner].

I Samuel does talk about the desert of Ziph (23:24). But according to Strong's concordance (Christian web site, only concordance I could find online) the word צלמות occurs several other times in Tehillim too: 44:20 ("you covered us with darkness"), 107:10 ("Those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, prisoners of affliction and iron"; Rashi compares to people in dungeons), 107:14 ("He took them out of darkness and the shadow of death"). Those other uses of the word appear to be more general, not referring to particular events.

The other psalms that use this phrase, and 23 otherwise, seem to be more general praise of God. If 23 does allude to a specific event as Rashi says, where do we learn this?

  • How about חצר מות? Dec 22, 2014 at 2:21
  • @Matt where? I don't see it in 23. Dec 22, 2014 at 2:22
  • Sorry, I meant to give a source. Beraishis 10:27 - Rashi there says something similar and I'm not sure how to interpret it Dec 22, 2014 at 2:29
  • And I believe that חצרמוות is also a real place in Yemen or something Dec 22, 2014 at 2:30
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    @MonicaCellio I'd forgotten about that post too and found it recently when searching. The classic Hebrew concordance in this answer on HebrewBooks is organized by shoresh.
    – Isaac Moses
    Dec 23, 2014 at 17:33

2 Answers 2


Tehilim is like (lihavdel) poetry it can be interpreted differently and the author had all the meanings in mind

see Rashi on 23.2

...David recited this psalm in the forest of Hereth (I Sam. 22:5). Why was it called Hereth? Because it was as dry as a potsherd (חרס) and the Holy One, blessed be He, moistened it with the good of the world to come (Mid. Ps. 23:6).

(RaDaK 23.2 also brings this and in 23.4 brings about the desert of Ziph)

i saw in the english translation rashi's source

"(Mid. Ps. 23:6)" = midrash tehilim 23:6

there is says what rashi says and that this is another way of interpreting this (and brings other ways of understanding what this Psalm is referring to).

RaDaK 23.1 first explains that this Psalm can be talking about king Dovid's salvation or what the jewish people will say after there salvation from babalon and then 23.2,4 that this is talking specifically about Hereth and Ziph


According to the Babylonian Talmud, b. Pesahim 10:1, IV.34.A (Folio 111A), the meaning of "darkness" is in reference to demonic power. In the following passage cited, the literal allusions to tree shade are in reference to invisible darkness (demonic power), which is "darkness." Please click the image to enlarge.

b. Pesah. 10:1, IV.34.A (Folio 111A)

Conversely, the Talmud makes reference in b. ‘Abodah Zarah 1:1, I.2.VV (Folio 3A) to "light" as the power from the most Holy One, who breaks the power of bondage in "darkness." Please click the image to enlarge.

b. Abod. Zar. 1:1, I.2.VV (Folio 3A)

In the context, the Hebrew Bible indicates that David suffered at the hands of King Saul. According to 1 Shmuel 16:14-15, an "evil angel" came upon King Saul, who then tried to kill David (1 Shmuel 18:10-11 and 1 Shmuel 19:9-10). It was David's psalms played on the harp that had calmed King Saul and caused the "evil angel" to depart (1 Shmuel 16:16 and 1 Shmuel 16:23).

In summary, if the Scripture is "light for the feet" (ref. Psalm 119:105), then the Scripture provides spiritual power ("light" against "darkness"), especially when played to music (e.g., the psalms).

Neusner, Jacob (2011). The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, passim.

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