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Tehillim 145:16 (Sefaria's translation):

פּוֹתֵחַ אֶת־יָדֶךָ וּמַשְׂבִּיעַ לְכָל־חַי רָצוֹן׃

You give it (the food mentioned in the previous pasuk) openhandedly, feeding every creature to its heart’s content.

Maybe in David HaMelech's time (when he said this Tehillim) all people and animals were שבעים according to their רצון, however, nowadays we know there are starving people and even if people are not starving they are not 'being fed to their heart's content'.

If so, how can I honestly recite this verse and mean it?

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“Umasbi'a lechol chai ratzon – …and cause satisfaction for every living being…” At this point, attempts to parse the grammar falter. “Ratzon” can means desire, as we see in a few verses, “Retzon yerei'av ya'aseh – He performs the desires of those who feel awe for Him.” Or it could mean desirability, as in the end of the Amidah: “Yihyu leratzon imrei fi – May the utterances of my mouth be desirable.”

One possible argument in favor of the latter is that it would seem odd that in this verse Tehillim describes Hashem as fulfilling the desire of all living things, whereas a little later the praise is limited to doing the desires of those who merit it. On the other hand, one speaks of satisfying and the other of performing – two different things.

But there is no preposition linking it to the rest of the phrase, so the meaning is obscure. We also do not know whose desire or desirability is being discussed – Hashem’s or ours.

The Targum renders it, “And satisfies for every living being their desires.” Similarly, Rav Hirsch, in his siddur, has “satisfy the desire of every living thing”. The Metzudah and ArtScroll siddurim take the same approach. But that would more usually be “retzon kol chai”.

Shemos Rabbah (beginning of Ch. 24) points out that the Tehillim does not say “hunger” because, as we all know from experience, the hungers of a person are not always satisfied. Rather, it refers to Hashem’s Ratzon, that Hashem gives according to His Will. However, that is an idea more usually written “beratzon – in/through His Will.”

In his book on tefillah, Rav Schwab repeats a devar Torah said at his Sheva Berachos. Why is Ashrei is written as an alphabetic acrostic? The alef-beis structure represents the natural order. When we thank Hashem for satisfying our needs, we are speaking of his doing so through natural means. He does not support us by showering money upon us. Rather, Hashem provides us with material success. Rav Schwab therefore suggests that “ratzon” means desirability, and that we are praising Hashem as the One who bestows the desirability and charisma upon His creations necessary for succeeding at business.

Rav Kook offers a unique alternative. Man needs purpose, goals, something to strive for. Without wants, there is no concept of mission; boredom and ennui quickly set in. Rav Noach Weinberger says that man is a happiness seeker. Thomas Jefferson speaks of the “pursuit of happiness”. Happiness can even be defined as the emotion that drives a search, which is why we feel more happiness during the pursuit than once we have gotten used to having our goal. Along similar lines, in Borei Nefashos we thank Hashem for creating “the many souls and their lacks”. Hashem satisfies us by giving us desires. We thank Hashem for giving us purposeful existence, meaningful lives.

Having needs has a second advantage, in addition to the one discussed by Rav Kook. After the sin of tempting Chavah to take the forbidden fruit, the snake is punished that it go on its stomach and that its food will be dust. Rashi repeats Chazal’s question: How is this a punishment? Is it not good to have food wherever one goes? The punishment was in the implied statement. Hashem did not want to be bothered by the requests and needs of the snake. By giving us needs, Hashem pushes us to pursue a relationship with Him. This provides a nice counter-balance – Hashem supplies our needs, but not to the point that we are free of needing to have a dialogue with Him.

And then there are the interpretations in LN6595's answer.

I would like to suggest that the ambiguity is intentional. That, in fact, David and the One Who inspired him intended each of these meanings – and others of which I am unaware and I did not identify in this essay. This is what makes a tefillah rich. Each verse has layers of meaning so that even after years of three-times-daily repetition, there are still knew thoughts to inspire. Each time we say Ashrei we may be saying the same words, but the intent behind those words could be something that speaks particularly to what we wish to express to Hashem at that moment.

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  • Wonderful! (Where is the Rav Kook that you referenced?) – Gavriel Feb 16 '19 at 20:19
  • Poetic[/ironic] that the most ambiguous verse in the Psalm is the one that Chazal say must be said with correct intention. – Double AA Feb 17 '19 at 0:49
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I’d like to propose an answer of my own, which I have not seen anyone say, based on the continuation of the Pesukim: “Hashem is righteous in all His ways...Hashem is close to those who call Him, to those who call Him sincerely. The will (רצון) of those who fear Him He does, and their cries He hears, and He saves them, etc.”

Bamidbar Rabbah 11:7:

כָּתוּב אֶחָד אוֹמֵר (תהלים קמה, יח): קָרוֹב ה' לְכָל קֹרְאָיו, וְכָתוּב אֶחָד אוֹמֵר (תהלים י, א): לָמָּה ה' תַּעֲמֹד בְּרָחוֹק. עַד שֶׁלֹא נֶחְתַּם גְּזַר דִּין קָרוֹב ה' לְכָל קֹרְאָיו, מִשֶּׁנֶּחְתַּם גְּזַר דִּין לָמָּה ה' תַּעֲמֹד בְּרָחוֹק.

One passuk says, “Hashem is close to all who call Him,” and another passuk (Tehillim 10:1) says, “Why, Hashem, do you stand far away?” Before the decree is sealed, “Hashem is close to all who call Him.” Once the decree is sealed, “Why, Hashem, do you stand far away?”

Perhaps the passuk of “You open Your hand” is only fulfilled when the later Pesukim are as well - when one “calls out sincerely,” and when done so before the decree is sealed. Whether that’s sufficient for the passuk to be “violated” I imagine would vary by the person; however, “Hashem is righteous in all His ways” and will only induce suffering when justice absolutely demands it.

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  • Nice! Liked it very mush! – Al Berko Feb 14 '19 at 18:57
  • I think you point to the idea similar to מזונותיו של אדם קצובים לו מר"ה לר"ה - while the suppliment is allocated according to everyone's needs, many things cause delays and reduction. – Al Berko Feb 14 '19 at 19:03
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In his commentary to Berachot 4b, R. Ezekiel Landau notes that the word רצון used in this verse appears out of place. If the verse was referring to every creature receiving all of its sustenance needs it should have used the word מזון or שובע which would directly mean that. R. Landau therefore argues that the word רצון suggests that it is referring not to the fulfillment of the needs, but to the person's attitude. It is saying that God gives people the will/fortitude to be satisfied with what they receive, even if they should have received more for their needs:

ונחזור לענינינו שסידור א"ב הוא ופסוק פותח את ידיך ומשביע לכל חי רצון יש לנו בו דקדוק דהוה ליה למימר ומשביע לכל חי מזון או שובע מהו לשון משביע רצון ואומר אני שדבר זה אמר דוד כלפי מי שמזונותיו מצומצמים בדוחק ובעוני שהקב"ה נותן וחונן לו דיעה לשמוח בחלקו ואיזה עשיר השמח בחלקו ואין לך מדה טובה כמדת ההסתפקות ולקמן סוף פרק שני אמרו כל העולם ניזון בשביל חנינא בני וחנינא בני די לו בקב חרובין וכו' דוק בדבריהם שלא אמרו וחנינא אין לו אלא קב חרובין אבל אמרו די לו בקב חרובין שהיה לו בזה די והותר וקיבל זה ברצון כאדם שיש לו די כל צרכו וזהו שרמז בפסוק זה פותח את ידיך ומשביע לכל חי רצון שישביעו במה שנתן לו בדעתו שישמח בחלקו ויהיה זה כאילו נתמלא כל רצונו

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  • "God gives people the will/fortitude to be satisfied with what they receive" - יש לו מנה רוצה מתים you mean? – Al Berko Feb 14 '19 at 19:08
  • @AlBerko Isn't that the opposite? That's saying that people aren't satisfied with what they have. – Alex Feb 14 '19 at 19:10
  • exactly, so how do Hashem make them satisfied with what they have? – Al Berko Feb 14 '19 at 19:17
  • @AlBerko Perhaps it's possible to be satisfied with what you have yet still want more. In any case, I don't rule out the possibility that he may have just substituted one question for another. – Alex Feb 14 '19 at 19:19
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I saw a number of answers among the meforshim. They all translate the Pasuk differently, minimizing the difficulty.

1) Metzudas David: You open Your hand and satisfy all the living according to its desire (as in bread for people, hay for horses, plankton for fish).

2) Malbim: Your [exercise of] Ratzon satisfies all the living. (Or possibly, When You have Ratzon You satisfy all the living.) Ratzon is the subject, what is opening the hand of Hashem. [I'm a little lost with the anthropomorphizing here.]

3) Zohar 1: You open Your hand, and fill every living thing with desire [for ex. the desire to live. All living things have wants.]

4) Zohar 2: Open Your hand and satisfy all the living [a request, not a statement]

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  • (1) Your number 3 was countered in the comments to the question, where it was said: "Then it would have to be פְּתַח". i(2) Why aren't people or animals who are starving to death included in "all the living"? – Tamir Evan Feb 14 '19 at 17:26
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    @TamirEvan You're right, I shouldn't have mixed my own idea with the ideas of the Rishonim. I removed that piece from the answer. As far as your first question goes, it's the way of the medrashim (including the Zohar who gives that explanation) to sometimes disregard grammar. But if I'm reading the Minchas Shai correctly, the spelling is פְּתַח even though we read it with a vuv. – LN6595 Feb 14 '19 at 17:38
  • [Re: your answer to my first point:] Plausible enough, but a quote (or at least, a cite) to that effect would be better. – Tamir Evan Feb 14 '19 at 18:01
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    I don’t follow how the Metzudos affects the question at all. – DonielF Feb 14 '19 at 19:00
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I heard [myself saying] once:

משביע לכל חי רצון can mean (in Hebrew) "providing/making everyone [to] desire]". The very idea that we want things is not trivial as it might seem, some people get so distressed and depressed they totally lose their desires. So G-d provides all with desires (as opposed to "fulfilling those desires").

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