I Called; We Called

Returning to the music of “Wordless Verses,” the melody Benshimon shares is one of those created by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach for the psalm.

There is a straightforward rendering of the chant posted on Zemirot Database. Its melody, used in many congregations and other settings, focuses on two lines of Psalm 30, verses 9 and 11, usually translated as something like “To you, God, I call, and to God I will plead. Hear, O God, and have mercy on me, be a help to me!”

This translation, from Siddur Eit Ratzon, is intended to be “sung to the same melody” — no information about which melody that is, but the translation does seem to scan with this particular, popular tune:

אֵלֶיךָ יְהוָה אֶקְרָא; וְאֶל-אֲדֹנָי, אֶתְחַנָּן
Elecha HASHEM ekra; v’el adonai et-chanan
It is to You that I cried out,
it is to You I did appeal — v.9
שְׁמַע-יְהוָה וְחָנֵּנִי; יְהוָה, הֱיֵה-עֹזֵר לִי.
Sh’ma HASHEM v’choneini; HASHEM heyeih ozer li
Hear me, HASHEM, show me Your light, [be gracious]
please help me draw from Your strength — v.11

Note: “Show me Your light,” although it works with the chant, is an unusual interpretation of what is more commonly rendered, “be gracious to me.”

Calling and Response

“Three Israelis in Phoenix Arizona” recorded at this version at Fiddler’s Dream Coffeehouse. You can hear a little of the call-and-response that many congregations employ with this chant.

In Making Prayer Real, Rabbi Nehemia Polen writes:

…The Baal Shem Tov taught his students that every prayer is answered immediately. It’s reported that his students raised their eyebrows, so it’s not as if people are crazy or stupid, but he insisted, yes, every prayer is answered the instant it is uttered. That is the moment.

What we really want always is intimacy–with God, however I understand God; with other human beings; with the universe; with my own deep self. And when I do this, I feel that intimacy immediately, and that’s “yes.” That’s “yes.”
–p.89 (full citation at Source Materials)

By allowing us to “cry out,” and so be answered, the chant, “Elecha HASHEM Ekra — It is to You that I cried out,” is one way that the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching comes to life.

The “Three Israelis” — identified as “Oren, Ronen, and Ari” in the video — demonstrate another way the chant works in terms of the teaching above: A leader, often with more voices joining in support, calls out, and then others in the room call out, too, separately —

Voice set 1: Elecha — It is to You
Voice set 2: Elecha — It is to You

This is repeated with the second phrase of the verse —

Voice set 1: HASHEM ekra — I cried out
Voice set 1: HASHEM ekra — I cried out

Finally all join together in closing out the verse —

Together: V’el Adonai et-chanan — it is to You I did appeal

Similarly with verse 11:

Voice set 1: Sh’ma HASHEM — Hear me, O God
Voice set 2: Sh’ma HASHEM — Hear me, O God
Voice set 1: v’choneini — Show me Your Light (be gracious to me)
Voice set 2: v’choneini — Show me Your Light (be gracious to me)
Together: HASHEM heyeih ozer li — please help me draw from Your strength

Chanting separately and together, we offer and receive some of the human connection Rabbi Polen suggests is part of the way prayer is answered.

14 of 30 on Psalm 30
As a National Novel Writing Month Rebel, I write each day of November while not aiming to produce a novel. This year I focus on Psalm 30 (“Thirty on Psalm 30”) in the hope that its powerful language will help us through these days of turmoil and toward something new, stronger and more joyful, as individuals and as community. Whole series (so far)…. apologies to anyone who finds multiple-post days too much.

Wikipedia has a nice summary of Shlomo Carlebach’s life and work, including controversy about his approach to outreach as well as accusations of sexual impropriety. A quotation from the rabbi’s daughter, Neshama Carlebach, says: “I accept the fullness of who my father was, flaws and all. I am angry with him. And I refuse to see his faults as the totality of who he was.” (“My Sisters I Hear You,” in Times of Israel January 2018).


Published by


Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages WeLuvBooks.org, blogs on general stuff a vspatz.net and more Jewish topics at songeveryday.org and Rereading4Liberation.com

2 thoughts on “I Called; We Called”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s