Psalm 27 includes a powerful “single request,” one that is frequently offered as a song:

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the graciousness of the LORD, and to visit early in His temple.
אַחַת, שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת-יְהוָה– אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ:
שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית-יְהוָה, כָּל-יְמֵי חַיַּי;
לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם-יְהוָה, וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלוֹ

— Psalms 27:4, JPS 1917, borrowed from Mechon-Mamre
full translation at Mechon-Mamre; others linked here


“Single request” in absolute faith

According to The Bible with the Jerusalem Commentary, the “single request” encompasses seven expressions — with seven different nouns and seven different verbs — in verses 4-6:

dwell in the house of the lord
behold the beauty of the Lord
contemplate his Temple
hide me [yitzpeneini] in His tabernacle [sukkah]
hide me [yastireini; alt: “enfold” or “shelter”] me in the shelter of His Tent
lift me me up upon a rock
offer in His tent sacrifices
[alt: “bring Him offerings” or “come with offerings”]
— see p.206, The Bible with the Jerusalem Commentary

This commentary sees the remaining verses, 7-14, as “elaborat[ing] on that request,” and stresses the psalmist’s “absolute trust in God.” (p.200). The Jerusalem commentary focuses on the literal, pilgrimage aspect of the psalm while adding that the psalmist is also seeking “to live in Eretz Israel, and particularly Jerusalem [sometimes called “the house of the Lord”]” and, more generally, “to take refuge in God.”

Toward greater fragility

Commentary in Mahzor Lev Shalem, however, notes “the progress from ‘House’ to ‘sukkah’ to ‘tent,'” adding: “The movement in the psalm is to greater fragility.”

Moreover, the five-time use of the word אַל (al) —
do not hide,
do not act angrily,
do not forsake,
do not abandon, and
do not hand me over
— “reveals here that beneath the facade of confidence, great fear and feelings of abandonment are lurking.” (Mahzor Lev Shalem, p.44)

Jessica Minnen approaches fear and lack of confidence from the perspective of verse 2, “Evil ones draw near to me to consume my flesh”:

I recite this Psalm and for a few desperate and distracted moments envision every fear, every flaw, and every failure of the past year coming to life as animated corpses, zombies hungry for my flesh.

…it is precisely this discomfort that helps me turn to God and, with honest confidence, continue the Psalm:

“YHVH, I seek Your face!” (verse 8)

Here’s the rest of Minnen’s d’var tefillah, “Zombies, Elul and Psalms 27”

Seeking closeness

Or Hadash calls Psalm 27 “the companion of Psalm 23” in its personal plea for closeness to God:

The Temple becomes the symbol of the closeness of God and the protection offered to those seeking sanctuary. The desire to be in the Sanctuary is the desire to feel safe under God’s protecting Presence.
Or Hadash: A Commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom. Rabbinical Assembly, 2003. p.80

Another expression of closeness is found in the “gather me in” and “Teach me Your way…” (27:10-11) verses. This image is an especially helpful one for the season of repentance. (more on “gather me in/teach me”)


See also: Exploration 1 of 4. Look for parts 3 and 4 in the coming weeks.

Posted by vspatz

Virginia blogs on Jewish topics at "A Song Every Day" and manages the Education Town Hall and #WeLuvBooks sites. More at Vspatz.wordpress.com

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