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Psalms 121:6:

יוֹמָ֗ם הַשֶּׁ֥מֶשׁ לֹֽא־יַכֶּ֗כָּה וְיָרֵ֥חַ בַּלָּֽיְלָה׃

The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.

I understand that the sun "smiting" you can cause sunburn and heat stroke. But what harm can the moon cause?

Metzudat David commentary says the moisture of the moon can cause sicknesses (kudos to DoubleAA for explaining). What does this mean? AFAIK, the moon has no moisture. Do they mean dew at night? That doesn't come from the moon, and dew is not damaging from what I know.

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    I always understood this to be metaphorical, rather than literal. – Noach MiFrankfurt Dec 18 '15 at 19:56
  • @NoachmiFrankfurt if you can explain how it's metaphorical in a way that answers or obviates this question, and especially if you can source that explanation, then I recommend you post an answer. – msh210 Dec 18 '15 at 20:23
  • @msh210, be"h I'll try to look for mekorot in the local b"m over Shabbat. – Noach MiFrankfurt Dec 18 '15 at 20:24
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    You could fall asleep on a beach and then the tide comes in and drowns you. Or you could get eaten by werewolves. – Clint Eastwood Dec 18 '15 at 23:09
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    Perhaps it's a protection from lunacy. – HaLeiVi Dec 20 '15 at 17:50
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The Idea in Brief

The verse is not speaking about any harm from the sun (or even the moon), but instead speaks to harm that occurs night and day; in this respect, the psalmist speaks to divine protection 24/7, which encompasses the time period during the time of the sun (daytime) and time of the moon (nighttime).

Discussion

The Tehellim were sung, and the way this verse was sung in this Psalm had placed a logical pause after the first word according to the system of cantillation. Please click on the image below to enlarge.

This image provides the visual breakdown of the verse according to its cantillation structure. That is, the first word of the verse is marked by the Athnach disjunctive accent, and therefore forms the main division of the verse. In this regard, the remainder of the verse is modifying the first word, because the verse words stands alone in the first division because of the Athnach.

At this juncture, the following paragraphs explain why cantillation is important to understand how they relate to the meaning of verses.

The role and meaning of cantillation in Hebrew Scripture

During the 19th Century, the Bible scholar Dr. William Wickes reintroduced and brought new perspectives to light concerning Hebrew cantillation, and how this cantillation was in direct relation to the logical parsing and arrangement of the verses of the Hebrew Bible. That is to say, the cantillation not only provided the musical accompaniment, but set the logical arrangement of Hebrew verse. In this regard, Dr. Wickes writes the following in the introduction to the first volume of his book based on his observations from the Talmud and other rabbinic sources.

Please click this image to enlarge or view the source online

This image provides a quote from the book written by Dr. William Wickes in the 19th Century. In the first chapter of the first volume of this book, Dr. Wickes writes that Hebrew Scripture was written according to a system of verse divisions, but these divisions were logical. These logical divisions were assigned musical annotations, which we "see" as Hebrew cantillation.

In this regard, the written cantillation provided both the musical and logical arrangement of the Scriptures based on a system of divisions (or dichotomy), for which Dr. Wickes writes an entire chapter. In summary, this system of divisions and sub-divisions enabled the listener of the Scripture to (a) enjoy the Scripture musically, (b) understand the Scripture logically, and (c) memorize the Scripture systematically.

The conclusions of Wickes were affirmed by the late Jewish scholar, Profesor Israel Yeivin, from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The following source citation (below) comes from Page 172 of his book, Introduction to the Tiberian Masorah (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1980).

Please click on the image below to enlarge.

This image is a quote from the book written by Professor Israel Yeivin of Hebrew University, who affirms and therefore validates the findings of Dr. Wickes.

Simplified Version of the Division

Based on the explanations noted in the previous paragraphs, the following is my own rendering of the logical division of this verse in order to better explain the idea. Please note that the first word of the verse (where the main division occurs) is modified by the remainder of the verse, which is also sub-divided. This second part (with the sub-division) becomes the logical complement of the first word.

Please click on the image below to enlarge.

This image is a simplified version of how the logical structure of the verse. That is, the verse explains how one phrase modifies another phrase, and how those two phrases modify the first word of the verse, which stands alone because of the division made by the Athnach upon that word.

So, based on the cantillation division -- marked by the Great R’bhîa (ְבִיעַ גָּדוֹל) and Little R’bhîa (רְבִיעַ קָטוֹן) -- the phrase mentioning the moon complemented the phrase mentioning the sun, and this entire clause, in turn, modified the first word of the verse (day).

In other words, the gist of the verse is that the Psalmist was singing about the experience of divine protection 24/7, because the “day” is defined as the time during the presence of the sun, which is complemented by the time during the presence of the moon. This time encompasses what the Psalmist calls a “day.”

Therefore it is neither the sun or the moon that is hurting anyone, but instead it appears that harm is the implicit subject. This interpretation also appears in the Targum, but is more explicit.

Targum Psalms

The Targum Psalms makes it clear that the sun and the moon are not the subjects of the verb, but the subject instead is the harm that occurs during the mornings and nights. Please click on the image below to enlarge.

This image is a quote of the verse in Aramaic taken from the Targum Psalms.

My own literal word-for-word translation from the Aramaic is as follows:

Tehellim 121:6 (Targum)
6 In daytime during the ruling sun, the mornings will not strike you nor the nights during the ruling of the moon in the nighttime.

Please note that the Targum moves the emphasis away from the sun or the moon as the subject of the verb, and instead implies harm during the times of the mornings (when the sun is present) and during the times of nights (when the moon is present). The idea here then is divine protection 24/7.

In conclusion, the Targum Psalms was composed before the 5th Century, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia. Several years later in the 9th and 10th centuries, the Masoretes codified the Masoretic Text, which ascribed cantillation marks to the Scriptures based on the logical division of words and phases. In other words, the prevailing oral tradition understood in the 5th Century again appears in the 9th and 10th Century, when the Masoretes codified the Hebrew Bible.

In summary, from the perspective of these two sources, the interpretation of this verse indicates that the Psalmist proclaimed divine protection 24/7, which encompasses the time period during the time of the sun (daytime) and time of the moon (nighttime).

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    The relevant part of this answer is that there's nighttime harm but not literally from the moon. And the targum supports that. But the stuff you mention about the cantillation seems completely irrelevant to your answer. That the first word complements the entire rest of the verse has nothing to do with the substantive part of you answer and doesn't help to answer the question. – msh210 Dec 20 '15 at 2:44
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    See also meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/q/3426. – msh210 Dec 23 '15 at 5:35
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    This is one situation, where I had decided to wait out a while to see what other comments were before I chime in. I really have to dig into the cantillation discussion to get a grasp of it and then judge its relevance to answering my question. Regardless, as a Torah reader, I find ANY discussion about cantillation interesting, so, at worse, this would be good incidental commentary. Even with that, your answer seems quite "overwhelming" in its technical jargon and layout (with the graphics and such.) I appreciate the effort, but again, it seems quite overdone. – DanF Dec 23 '15 at 14:41
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    @DanF - What more exciting pleasure than to delve and immerse ourselves in the study of Scripture? Was not your original question answered? That is, neither the sun nor the moon are harming anyone. It is instead protection from the danger during these times (of day and night). – Joseph Dec 23 '15 at 19:51
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    @Joseph Thanks for the compliment. I'm a Torah reader at my synagogue, so I have the time and joy to view verses very analytically, esp. if I notice anomalies or strange nuances in the Hebrew, such as here. Yes, it seems that the question was answered, but more in the answer below, than, here. I can't say if the above answer does the job as I need the time to study it, better. For now, I'm allowing benefit of doubt. As I stated in a previous comment, I'm overwhelmed by a flood of detail, here. Doesn't mean it's an inappropriate answer. What you state, duplicates the answer, below, BTW. – DanF Dec 23 '15 at 22:19
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Many predators are more active during full moons, wolves are the classic example. Lions on the other hand wait until just after a full moon to become more active, as the moon rises later in the evening and thus affords the lion some time after sunset with total darkness. In some areas, though, small mammals actually can see their predators better during a full moon and thus they are more active as well.

For humans, we tend to stay indoors when there is no moon shining yet will happily take a "moonlight stroll" when there is a full moon. With a false sense of security due to the moonlight, we are very likely to trip or otherwise hurt ourselves at night during the full moon. Every Golani trainee soldier knows to expect his commander to surprise them with a night hike during a full moon.

In short, the moon's cycle, or more specifically the amount of light that the moon reflects towards Earth, has profound effect on many creatures. The psalm apparently recognizes that harm is possible during this time, and so hopes for it to not occcur.

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How about it means that you receive protection from attackers you can see during the day and from things in the darkened that you cannot see. Meaning spiritually - some battles are evident and others we are not aware of.- Amy

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