(Re)dedication and Tasks Incomplete

In postscript to “Thirty on Psalm 30,” here are some related words from R. Aviva Richman, faculty of Hadar. Meant as a teaching for Chanukah, this strikes me as just as applicable to beginning a new calendar year or, indeed, to starting any new day:

The work of hanukat habayit [dedication of the house], then, takes place in multiple spheres—in our homes, in our communal structures, and in our own bodies independent of any particular larger structure. Any narrow focus on one of these aspects of hanukat habayit to the exclusion of others will necessarily leave gaps—some people will not be able to fully participate in the critical transformation that is Hanukkah if we neglect any of these modes.
— “Communal and Private (Re)dedication

Richman goes on to urge that we work “within all of these sites of rededication, to create homes, communal structures, and selves where brokenness is allowed to be visible and can be transformed into rejuventation and healing.”

The idea of allowing brokenness to show and become rejuvenated also reminds me of the Marge Piercy poem, “The task never completed”:

No task is ever completed,
only abandoned or pressed into use.
Tinkering can be a form of prayer.

Each night sleep unravels me into wool,
then into sheep and wolf. Walls and fire
pass through me. I birth stones.

Every dawn I stumble from the roaring
vat of dreams and make myself up
remembering and forgetting by halves.

Every dawn I choose to take a knife
to the world’s flank or a sewing kit,
rough improvisation, but a start.

— from The Art of Blessing the Day (NY: Knopf, 1999)

This poem, like Psalm 30 in its position in the morning liturgy, knows that making a truly fresh, joyful start involves acknowledging that weeping spent the night. (Re)dedicating the house — in multiple spheres — requires knowing where a knife or a sewing kit is needed.

(Thirty on Psalm 30)

“Spend the Night”

My original thought, when I began this series of posts on Psalm 30, revolved around complexities of emotion as our nation responded to hate-driven, racist shootings in Louisville (10/24) and Pittsburgh (10/27), added to the host of other “situations and states of mind — griefs, or joys, that may be brand new, or three or 20 or 400 years old” — already present for individuals and communities. I wrote then, as I launched one of my annual “National Novel Writing Month-Rebel” projects, that I hoped focusing on the psalm’s “powerful language will help us through these days of turmoil and toward something new, stronger and more joyful, as individuals and as community.”

Two months out, I still have much to process, but I’ve learned a lot. I plan to continue working toward some sort of coherent collection of thoughts, resources, and questions on Psalm 30. Meanwhile, as I bring this series to a close, I am reminded of the teaching I shared earlier from Rabbi Diane Elliot:

When I take time to work with a word or a phrase — chanting it in my own time, rolling it around in my mouth, and letting it move through my whole body — then when I say the phrase quickly, all of that backstory is there for me. It can move me into a stream of consciousness.
— IN Making Prayer Real, p.74 (original post with citation)

I hope some of what I’ve shared has served a similar function for words and phrases of Psalm 30, and that the “backstory” has been, or will be, helpful to readers. We’ve spent time, for instance, with “glory” and “pit,” with “the House” and “dedication,” as well as with phrases, whole verses, the full psalm, and a “ring” of psalms. And, because it’s still on my mind, here are a few more thoughts on the most recent word-focus: “יָלִין [yalin],” in its various translations.

Overnighting, by any other name

The Evan-Shoshan Concordance (Jerusalem: Kiryat Sefer, 1998) lists “לוּן,לין” (lun, lin) as one word with two meanings, 71 occurrences of the first which relates to overnighting, and 14 occurrences of the second, which is generally translated as something like “grumble” or “murmur”: “And the people murmured [וַיִּלֹּנוּ] against Moses, saying: ‘What shall we drink?'” (Ex 15:24), e.g.

Strong’s Concordance, originally published in 1890, sorts and numbers 8674 root words in the Hebrew Bible. “לוּן” — which they transliterate as “luwn (loon)” — is #3885. Depending on the on-line source, Strong’s finds 83-87 occurrences, combining the two meanings: “to lodge, pass the night, abide” and “to be obstinate, grumble.” (See below on the discrepancy in the two sources and general information on the Strong’s source I prefer.)

Many instances of “לוּן” in Tanakh are pretty prosaic. But some notable, more poetic uses are

  • Ruth 1:16, Ruth to Naomi: “…where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge…”
  • Ruth 3:13, Boaz to Ruth: “Stay for the night,” or “Lodge here for the night,”*
  • Prov 15:31, “He whose ear heeds the discipline of life Lodges among the wise”
  • Song 1:13, “My beloved to me is a bag of myrrh Lodged between my breast” or “My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh, that lies between my breast” **

— JPS 1985, except:
*Brenton Septuagint, 1884
**World English, 1997

And it’s the JPS version of the last verse here which Robert Alter recently cited as the impetus for his decades-long project to translate the Tanakh himself.

“Lodged”?!

Author Avi Steinberg asked Alter what was wrong with existing Bible translations, i.e, “what motivated him to undertake this massive project.” In response, Steinberg writes, Alter “offered an example, reciting for me the Song of Songs, Chapter 1, Verse 13, as it appears in the popular translation of the Jewish Publication Society.” The story continues:

“Lodged?” Alter said to me, his startling blue eyes widening. “Like a chicken bone?”

Alter’s own translation of the verse — “A sachet of myrrh is my lover to me,/All night between my breasts” — is far more seductive, with its meowing alliteration of Ms, his triplicate myrrh-my-me, which echoes the rolling three Rs of the Hebrew, tsrorr hamor.

…By dropping the verb [יָלִין] entirely from the translation, the dramatic urgency and nocturnal mood of the verb is somehow deepened. If the old Hebrew word is now veiled in the English, it is also more present, under the covers.
New York Times Sunday Magazine, 12/20/18

Steinberg goes on to use this particular verse to illustrate what he calls Alter’s “composite art,” harmonizing voices of the past — including the 1995 The Song of Songs: The World’s First Great Love Poem by Chana Bloch and Ariel Bloch — and present.

There is much more to say, at some point, about translation in general and of the Bible specifically, about Alter’s work and the functions of biblical translation. But I want to bring this idea of dropping the verb to intensify the mood back to Psalm 30.

Formerly Known as “Lodge”

Alter and Steinberg direct a lot of attention to the imagery and poetry of Song 1:13, and to the need to re-translate “lodged,” in specific. Both speak extensively, given the length of the feature, about the interplay of erotic and poetic there and Alter’s eagerness to restore “original colors and shadings” that may have “faded under the accumulations of theological and historical readings.”

Alter’s commentary in the (2015) Song of Songs calls 1:12 “an appropriately sexy beginning to this richly sensual poem,” and lauds the “combination of delightfulness and sensuality” in 1:13. Alter’s commentary (2007) calls Psalm 30 a “thanksgiving psalm,” de-emphasizing the half of the psalm which expresses non-gratitude, thus flattening feeling and removing nuance. Where inadequate translation of “יָלִין [yalin]” in Song of Songs apparently launched a 3000-page, multi-decade project for Alter, the same verb yields “beds down” in Psalm 30 and a comment about the poet’s “upbeat vision of life.” There is no musing about what it might mean to “bed down weeping,” or how it would be to do so and then find joy in the morning….

Other translations and commentaries for Psalm 30 have been modified to fit liturgical use or even specific musical settings; the psalm has also been adapted for personal devotional recitation. It seems clear Alter has different goals in mind. And the overall poetry and purpose of the Psalms differs from that of Song of Songs. But can we use some of our explorations of the verb formerly known as “lodge” in Song of Songs to restore some “original colors and shadings” to Psalm 30?

Night and Not

In 1967, the Rolling Stones were scheduled to perform “Let’s Spend the Night Together” on the Ed Sullivan Show. But Sullivan thought the title line too racy for a family show, so the band agreed to remove “night” from the performance and substitute “time.” (Story here, along with an odd montage video; full 1/15/67 song below).

Still, we can hear spots where Mick Jagger lowers or muffles his voice and the audience loudly fills in the original “night.”




Just as some feelings around “abide” may be forever changed by a movie (see previous post), the phrase “spend the night” is forever colored for some of us by this weird blip in popular culture. Not sure what, if anything, this means for understanding Psalm 30. But I think it does illustrate that folks hear what they expect or want to hear…or they shout it out themselves if an adjustment doesn’t suit them.

In the case of personal and communal prayer, I think we have some latitude in terms of how we interpret a particular piece of liturgical poetry, maybe even an obligation to help our communities relate meaningfully, perhaps provocatively, to the prayers. What that means for proper translation of sacred text may be a different story.


30 of 30 on Psalm 30
No Longer National Novel Writing Month, but here, finally, is the last installment of this series on Psalm 30.


NOTE:
Concordance Discrepancies
The Evan-Shoshan Hebrew concordance lists “lanu” in Isaiah 10:29 as an instance related to overnighting. But Strong’s treats this “lanu” as the preposition. Both take v’lanu in Judges 19:13 as the overnight-related word (#3885 in the Strong listing). I am not sure how often such differences occur, but it’s something to keep in mind.

In addition, the Bible Hub version of Strong’s lists “grumblings/murmurings” as a separate word from “grumble/murmur.” Therefore, their count of #3885 (“grumble” as well as “lodge, abide,…”) differs from what is listed on other sites. Again, worth noting.

In addition, Bible Hub has some glitches due to coding or proofreading errors, including one relevant to root #3885: The verse pages for 1 Kings 19:9 include an instance of #3885 — וַיָּ֣לֶן [way·yā·len)], “and spent the night” — with appropriate links. One of the summary pages matches this information, while another does not (as of 12/27/18; I reported the mix-up, so it might be fixed in future.)

I don’t know if such glitches are rare or common, but this does suggest double-check before completely relying on any one page in any search of importance. I still highly recommend this Bible Hub, though.

Bible Hub
Bible Hub is a Christian site, and it does not hide that; there is even a “statement of faith” for readers who want that and really search it out (scroll to the bottom menu, visit “About,” and then follow the link). “However,” they write, “we wish to encourage everybody, regardless of their belief system, to use this site to learn more about the Bible.”

I find the site very usable — more so than many others on the web — for Hebrew bible, without intrusive Christian content, as long as one sticks to Bible and translation, not commentary.

It is very powerful, quick and easy to use, and incorporates some handy resources, like Strong’s Concordance. Their parallel translations offer many versions of one verse on the same page — from various Christian denominations, with a few Jewish versions — plus key Hebrew words with links to concordances and dictionaries. It is also possible to read the full Hebrew text and transliteration with links to more on each word. Many other options — so many, in fact, that I sometimes find it hard sometimes to navigate to a specific format. But I don’t know any other site that offers as many options…for free.

TANSTAAFL, of course, but the ads are relatively small, not obtrusive, and not evangelical — unless I’m completely oblivious (which does happen with me and ads, I’m told).

Sefaria is a differently powerful tool, and Mechon-Mamre is useful as well. Bible.ort.org works very well for Torah and Haftarah, especially if leyning is a goal. But Bible Hub is one of my favorite on-line tools for Bible basics. (I don’t use the app, but that is an option for those who prefer.)
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Weeping Abides or Does it Lodge?

2

“Joy comes in the morning,” or a similar translation of “v’laboker rinah,” is probably the most often quoted phrase in Psalm 30. The phrase preceding this, however, is one that translators disagree on rendering. Exploring the many ways “יָלִין [yalin]” is translated has made it a favorite word of mine. Here, in the penultimate set of comments on Psalm 30, from a series that began November 1, are some thoughts about this word and about translation of bible and prayers, more generally.

Complexities of Verse 6

Here is the Hebrew, along with transliteration:

כִּי רֶגַע, בְּאַפּוֹ– חַיִּים בִּרְצוֹנוֹ:
בָּעֶרֶב, יָלִין בֶּכִי; וְלַבֹּקֶר רִנָּה.
ki rega’ b’appo — chayyim birtzono
ba-erev yalin bekhi; v’laboker rinah

Here is one translation:

…for momentary is His anger, lifelong His favor.
6: By night weeping abides,
but morning brings joy!
— pp.193-94, My People’s Prayer Book
See below for citation and note on anger/favor

6: “Weeping abides” Literally, “weeping spends the night,” but we don’t have a verb for that in English. Another possible reading of the Hebrew is “one spends the night weeping.”
— p. 195, J. Hoffman (TRANSLATION), one of several commentary threads in My People’s Prayer Book

I chose this translation, instead of those more often quoted in this blog (JPS 1917 and JPS 1985, found at Mechon-Mamre and Sefaria, respectively), because I think it makes clear some of the complexities and because it specifically discusses the verb “יָלִין [yalin].”

I also like the above translation because it employs the less usual verb “abides” for “יָלִין [yalin].” (More on this below.) More common translations of the same verb in Psalm 30:6 are “weeping may…

  • stay for the night,”
  • last…,”
  • endure…,” or
  • tarry…”

The latter is used in the 1917 JPS, the King James Version (1611) has “endureth,” and Christian Standard (Holman, 2017) has “may stay overnight.”

A few variations are

  • “One may lie down weeping at nightfall,” 1985 JPS
  • “Tears may flow in the night,” Good News, 1992
  • “Weeping may lodge for the night,” Int’l Standard Version 1996-2012
  • “One may experience sorrow during the night,” NET, 1996-2006*
  • “At night we may cry,” Contemporary English, Amer. Bible Society, 2006
  • “At even remaineth weeping,” Young’s Literal, 2013

*New ENGLISH Translation, not to be confused with Evangelical and other NETs.

All of the above translations, with the exception of the 1985 Jewish Publication Society and My People’s Prayer Book, can be found on the very useful Christian resource site, Bible Hub.

Lingers, Beds Down, Abides, and Lodges

Lingers and Beds Down
Sim Shalom chooses a less usual verb for “יָלִין [yalin]”:

Tears may linger for a night,
but joy comes with the dawn.
— Rabbinical Assembly, 1989

“Lingers” can have a light, harmless, connotation: We might linger over coffee or a cross-word puzzle, for example, without ill effect, unless we’re delaying someone else or needed activity. So, tears might stick around past their desired or expected departure time without provoking abject desperation. It’s more sinister, however, when symptoms or doubts, fears, and grief linger — and in that sense, lingering tears could make for a deeply troubled night. The verb might work in both senses, for Psalm 30.

Similarly, Robert Alter opts for a less usual expression:

At evening one beds down weeping,
and in the morning, glad song.
The Book of Psalms: a translation with commentary (NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007)

Rather than dwelling on possible consequences for the psalmist of “bedding down weeping,” Alter explains this verse by saying, “This upbeat vision of life has, of course, been manifested in recent experience of the speaker.”

Alter does say that verse 9 “recalls the words of desperate supplication that he [the psalmist] addressed to God from his straits.” This seems a distant, maybe faint, memory, though, as Alter translates and comments on psalm 30, which he describes, simply, as “a thanksgiving psalm.”

Both “lingers” and “beds down” are choices that seem a little distant from the general usage of lamed-vav-nun in the Bible: Jacob is neither lingering nor bedding down in the ladder and wrestling incidents (Gen 28:11, Gen 32:22), for example, and neither verb would work for leaving the Pesach sacrifice over til morning (Exod 34:25). In context of the psalm, though, these phrases provoke some thought about how we understand our own and others’ relationship to weeping:

Does it show up and linger, uninvited, like a bad cold?
Do we have the choice to bed down without it? Should we?
Or is it a property of the night?
Are tears and joy, weeping and glad song an inevitable and regular cycle?
Can we, as individuals or communities, ever view the weeping as long ago and focus on the song?

Abides
I should probably confess here that, while I love several of the Coen brothers’ movies, “The Big Lebowski” was not originally, and never became, a favorite of mine. But I realize that many people today, because of that film, attach specific connotations to “abides.” (See, e.g., “The Dude Abides.”)

Even Merriam-Webster knows this:

Comments by users of this dictionary suggest that many people who are interested in the meaning of the word abide are motivated by one of two rather distinct things: the Bible, in which, for instance, Jesus calls upon his followers to “abide in me”; and the movie The Big Lebowski, in which Jeffrey Lebowski (aka “The Dude”) proclaims that “The Dude abides”….The exact meaning of “The Dude abides” is a topic of some debate, but clearly there is some notion of the constancy of Lebowski himself—metaphysically perhaps—being asserted.
— Merriam-Webser’s abide page, scroll way down

For me, “weeping abides” carries the meaning of “remaining stable or fixed in a state” or “continuing in place,” which I find captures at least one mood of the psalm: there is exultation and praise for rescue, but that doesn’t necessarily imply that the depths were fleeting or trivial. “Abides” captures the psalm’s palpable sense of despair and fear remaining fixed long enough to leave a mark — whether on an individual or a people.

Perhaps fans of The Dude also hear “weeping abides” in a way that fits with verse 6’s cyclical rhythm and the psalm’s overall sense — reinforced in daily recitation — that life is full of ups and downs, and that we, individually and communally, must learn to ride them out and celebrate joy when it manifests. (Fans please share your thoughts.)

I am unsure if the 1998 film had reached cult status when My People’s Prayer Book chose the verb “abide” for its translation. I think it’s fair to say that the movie’s popularity changed the way many people heard the word in later years. But I also venture to say that language is always changing in both predictable and unpredictable ways which affect how Bible translations are heard post-publication.

Lodges
Discussing “יָלִין [yalin]” (above), Joel Hoffman says: “We don’t have a verb for [‘spend the night’] in English.” We do, however, have the travel-industry argot in which “overnight” is a verb — although I think it fails to strike the right mood for Psalm 30. And, while “lodge,” on its own, is more general than “spend the night,” it’s pretty close. Moreover, “lodge” has several meanings that work with verse 6:

  • weeping may be temporarily residing before joy comes in the morning;
  • tears might be quartered with us (like it or not) til morning’s reprieve;
  • weeping might be fixed in place until dawn.

I find that all of these meanings work for me when I read, “Weeping may lodge for the night, but shouts of joy will come in the morning” (International Standard Version). This translation prompts me to ask different questions about how this lodger arrived at my door and where we will go from here.

But landlords no longer advertise “lodgings,” and it is more common now to “lodge a complaint” than “lodge in town.” When is a word too old-fashioned to make its point? And what do we lose when we allow words to fall out of favor or lose varieties of meaning?

Can any mortal mixture of earthly mould
Breathe such divine enchanting ravishment?
Sure something holy lodges in that breast
and with these raptures moves the vocal air;
to testify his hidden residence
— Milton, Comus (1634)

This piece was posted on 12/25/18 and updated 12/26 with some slight edits (grammar, typos, ordering, but no substantive change) and addition of citations for other uses of “יָלִין [yalin]” in Genesis and Exodus.


29 of 30 on Psalm 30
Being the penultimate in this No Longer National Novel Writing Month series on Psalm 30 (“Thirty on Psalm 30”) begun as a NaNoWriMo-Rebel project. Whole series (so far).


CITATION NOTE:
My People’s Prayer Book: Traditional Prayers, Modern Commentaries. Hoffman, Lawrence A., ed. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights. Ten volumes published over several years. Volume 5: Birkhot Hashachar (Morning Blessings), 2001.
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ADDITIONAL NOTE:
My People’s Prayer Book is rare (unique? I haven’t seen it anywhere else) in its decision to include the “momentary…favor” half of verse 6 as the closing phrase of verse 5, emphasizing its connection to the preceding thought. Joel Hoffman includes this note:

5 “Momentary is His anger, lifelong His favor” Our translation follows one common understanding of the enigmatic Hebrew here, the other being “momentary is His anger; life results from His favor.” Yet a third possible reading of the Hebrew is “a moment of His anger, but long life is His will” (that is, “He wants a moment of His anger but long life [for us]”)
— pp.193, 195

For a variety of reasons, I personally do not dwell much on this phrase when reciting Psalm 30. The topic of God’s anger and favor is way too big and difficult for me to tackle at all. I don’t think my thirty posts on this psalm have even approached it, and I’m leaving it entirely, perhaps for another time. But, as always, glad to hear from anyone who does dwell on it and/or has resources to share.
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Locating Psalm 30, Redux

In the divisions of psalms for weekly or monthly recitation of the book, the ring of psalms we’ve been exploring is split over two days. Neither recitation cycle is my practice, so I don’t know how the pause affects reading. (If any reader has a weekly or monthly recitation practice, please let us know your thoughts.) And I don’t know of meditations or other teachings that focus on the daily groupings. (Anyone have resources to share?) But I do spend time with the Raphael Abecassis paintings which divide daily readings in this Sefer Tehillim.

“Firmament Between the Waters” for Day Two divides Psalms 28 and 29 from Psalm 30.

Abecassis

from “Firmament Between the Waters,” by Raphael Abecassis

Apropos of the ring of connection between Psalms 28-30, this painting offers an interesting link between “The God of glory thunders” (Psalm 29:3) and “Therefore, Glory will sing praise to You, and will not be silent” (Psalm 30:13).

insetFirmament

detail: R. Abecassis, “Firmament Between the Waters”

More about Abecassis and his artwork.

28 of 30 on Psalm 30
No Longer National Novel Writing Month, but continuing the focus on Psalm 30 (“Thirty on Psalm 30”) begun as a NaNoWriMo-Rebel project. Whole series (so far).

NOTE:
Five Books
1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106, and 107-150.
Weekly Recitation
Sunday: 1-29; Monday: 30-50; Tuesday: 51-72; Wednesday: 73-89; Thursday: 90-106; Friday: 107-119; Saturday: 120-150.
Monthly Recitation
…Day 4 of 30: 23-28; Day 5: 29-34….
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NOTE:
Psalms, Paintings: Raphael Abecassis, MOD.
(c) 2002. All rights reserved to the Ministry of Defense, Israel. ISBN 965-05-1179-2.
In addition to illustrated borders around psalms and prayers, the book has paintings to introduce each of the seven weekly divisions of psalms as well as a smattering of smaller illustrations and elaborate end papers.

MOD_Psalter

There is a larger, bilingual volume called “The Psalms of David” that appears to have similar illustrations.

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Eighteen (or 19) Names, Seven Voices

In the last post, we considered a ring of connection linking Psalms 28, 29, and 30. (See “Psalms Near 30.”) One of the key elements was the repetition of God’s voice in Psalm 29. The seven mentions of God’s voice, along with the repetition of God’s name, also extend this ring of connection to the Shabbat and weekday Amidah.

God’s Name in Psalms 29 and 30

In discussing the origins of the Standing Prayer, with its eighteen foundational blessings, the Rabbis offer several explanations, including this one based on Psalm 29:

Corresponding to what were these eighteen blessings instituted… Rabbi Hillel, son of Rabbi Shmuel bar Nahmani, said: Corresponding to the eighteen mentions of God’s name that King David said in the psalm: “Give unto the Lord, O you sons of might” (Psalm 29)….
— B. Berakhot 28b, Koren Steinsaltz commentary

With regard to the nineteenth, they add:

Corresponding to what was the nineteenth blessing instituted? Rabbi Levi said: According to Rabbi Hillel, son of Rabbi Shmuel bar Nahmani …the nineteenth blessing corresponds to a reference to God in that psalm, where a name other than the tetragrammaton was used: “The God of glory thunders” (Psalms 29:3)….
— B. Berakhot 28b

We saw early on in this series a tradition that Psalm 30 was added to the liturgy under the influence of Jewish mystics because the psalm “mentions the name of God ten times, and Jewish mystics saw in this a hint of the s’firot, the ten aspects of the Godhead” (Siddur Lev Shalem ). I still count only nine appearances of YHVH in Psalm 30, however, couldn’t find a source that detailed the ten mentions of God’s name, and wonder if maybe the tenth was hidden. (See “The Whole Nine Yards.”)

In a similar vein to the Talmud’s handling of the nineteenth blessing, here is one way to find ten mentions of God’s name in Psalm 30:

שְׁמַע-יְהוָה וְחָנֵּנִי; יְהוָה, הֱיֵה-עֹזֵר לִי
Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me. O Lord, be my helper.

The formulation “O Lord, be my helper,” alludes to the meaning of the Tetragrammaton: “For I will be with you” (see Exodus 3:12-15, and Onkelos, according to Ramban‘s reading in his commentary on the words: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה eHyeh asher eHyeh). At all events, the combination הי הֱיֵה, Hashem heyeh, “O Lord, be,” is a play on the spelling of the two words.”
The Jerusalem Commentary, p.226

In this way, verse 11 suggests the tenth mention of God’s name in Psalm 30 without spelling it out directly. Hinting at the Name seems quite fitting with many themes of the psalm and with musical and chant settings for this verse in particular.

God’s Voice

Continuing their discussion of the Amida, the Rabbis touch on the seven blessings of the Shabbat Standing Prayer: 

Corresponding to what were these seven blessings of the Shabbat Amida prayer instituted?… Rabbi Halafta ben Shaul said: Corresponding to the seven “voices” which David mentioned on the waters; in other words, the seven times that “the voice of God” is mentioned in Psalms 29, which served as the source for the weekday prayer.
— B. Berakhot 29a

In the previous post, outlining a ring of connection between Psalms 28, 29, and 30, I suggested that Psalm 29’s focus on God’s voice can be read as a response to Psalm 28’s fears of God’s silence or idleness. And then Psalm 30 loops us back to Psalm 28’s themes of supplication, crying out, rescue from the pit, and God as strength and help.

As noted also in “Psalms Near 30,” the powerful, majestic, etal. voices of God — especially if considered in response to a personal plea for connection and rescue — seem reminiscent of God’s speeches in The Book of Job, chapters 38ff…

….Except that in Psalm 29 it’s the human speaker who is extolling God’s voices. And, based on the passages in Berakhot, the psalm is somehow the source of the Amida. So, God’s voice in all its shattering, shake-inducing fire in some sense prompts our Standing Prayer.

Is it that standing before God that eventually turns lament into dancing, undoes the sackcloth, and dresses us in joy? It’s a long way from “the pit” to a place where one’s “whole being might sing hymns to [God] endlessly.” The changes expressed in Psalm 30, which follows on the ring from Psalm 28 to 29 — and into the prayers Psalm 29 inspires — are huge and visceral. A little bit like Job, post-whirlwind, saying: “I had heard You with my ears, But now I see You with my eyes” (Job 42:5).


27 of 30 on Psalm 30
No Longer National Novel Writing Month, but continuing the focus on Psalm 30 (“Thirty on Psalm 30”) begun as a NaNoWriMo-Rebel project. Whole series (so far).


NOTE:
Koren Talmud Bavli. Volume 1: Tractate Berakhot. Jerusalem: Koren, 2012.
This English in this bilingual edition combines translation, in bold type, with additional narration from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in ordinary font. The English-opening section also offers English notes, complete with illustrations, and full Hebrew text. The Hebrew-opening section provides traditional layout without translation. The 42-volume set is still being released. In addition to print editions, PDFs — which include the illustrations and all — are available for $9.95/each. Visit Koren for more information.

If you’re looking for a free, accessible English-only versions, visit Halakhah.com.

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NOTE:
Onkelos translates Exodus 3:14 without attempting to render key phrases into Aramaic:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh.” And He said, “Thus shall you say to the Israelites, ‘Ehyeh sent you to me.'”
Onkelos: On the Torah (Jerusalem: Geffen, 2006)

An additional note says that “Ibn Ezra regards Ehyeh as God’s name and asher ehyeh as a description of God’s nature.”

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Psalms Near 30

The last post discussed various divisions of the Book of Psalms, for study and recitation, as well as arrangement by “juxtaposition.”

Book One
In his introduction to The Jerusalem Commentary on Psalms, Amos Hakham writes:

The question about the order of the psalms was attributed in the Talmud to a heretic….But the conclusion stands regarding the system behind the arrangement of the psalms and it shows us the right way to examine the relationships between them” (p.XXXIV; see also previous post)

Juxtaposed Expressions
Hakham notes that “many psalms were juxtaposed because they contain similar expressions,” offering an example of the shared expressions — עֹז or מָעוֹז of strength, refuge, or stronghold — in Psalms 27-31:

  • Psalm 27:1 — יְהוָה מָעוֹז-חַיַּי
    The Lord is the refuge of my life
  • Psalm 28:8 — יְהוָה עֹז-לָמוֹ; וּמָעוֹז
    The Lord is their strength and refuge…
  • 29:11 — יְהוָה–עֹז, לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן
    The Lord will give strength to His people
  • 30:8 — בִּרְצוֹנְךָ, הֶעֱמַדְתָּה לְהַרְרִי-עֹז
    O Lord, by Your favor You made my mountain stand strong
  • 31:3 — הֱיֵה לִי, לְצוּר-מָעוֹז
    Be for me a fortified rock
  • 31:5 — כִּי-אַתָּה, מָעוּזִּי
    …For You are my stronghold
    The Jerusalem Commentary, p.XXXIV

Moreover, Hakham says, “Three consecutive psalms may be connected to each other in a ring (a-b, b-c, c-a).” In that spirit….

Ring of Connection

A>>B
Psalm 28 opens with a plea and a worry:

אַל-תֶּחֱרַשׁ מִמֶּנִּי
פֶּן-תֶּחֱשֶׁה מִמֶּנִּי

  1. be not Thou deaf unto me; lest if Thou be silent unto me
  2. do not disregard me, for if You hold aloof from me
  3. be not deaf to me, lest You remain idle regarding me
    — respectively: JPS 1917, JPS 1985, Jerusalem Commentary

Then criticizes those who

  1. give no heed to the works of the LORD, nor to the operation of His hands do not
  2. consider the LORD’s deeds, the work of His hands
  3. do not pay heed to the deeds of the Lord and to the work of His hands
    — respectively: JPS 1917, JPS 1985, Jerusalem Commentary

Psalm 28:6 uses the expression “שְׁמַע קוֹל תַּחֲנוּנַי — Hear the voice of my supplications.” Then, as if in response to fears of God’s silence or idleness, Psalm 29 extols God’s voice [קוֹל] seven times: upon the waters, powerful; majestic; breaking cedars; hewing flames of fire; shaking the wilderness; causing hinds to tremble and stripping forests bare.

None of this is a direct answer to the psalmist’s personal plea, of course. In fact, it is powerfully reminiscent of God’s outsize response to Job. But Psalm 29 is the antithesis of silence, surely, as well as a proclamation of the work of God’s hands.

B>>C
As Psalm 29 concludes, the scene is “His Temple” (v.9) — with images of God on the throne, giving “strength to His people” and blessing them with peace (vv.10-11) — while Psalm 30 is associated with the bringing of First Fruits.

The term “כָּבוֹד [glory]” appears four times in Psalm 29: “Ascribe to the Lord the glory and strength” (v.1), “Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name” (v.2), “The God of glory thunders” (v.3), and “…His Temple all say: Glory.” (v.9). Psalm 30 concludes with “כָּבוֹד [glory]” singing praise to God. In addition

C>>A
Images in Psalm 30 draw back toward Psalm 28: God as strength and help, crying out to God, and “those who go down into the pit” (30:4 and 28:1).

Moreover, Psalm 30:9 uses the expression “אֶתְחַנָּן — I made supplication,” while, as noted above, Psalm 28:6 uses the expression “שְׁמַע קוֹל תַּחֲנוּנַי — Hear the voice of my supplications.”

Thus, it seems to me, Psalms 28-30 form the kind of ring — A>>B>>C>>A — Hakham describes. I think perhaps the loop is also more complex, leading us to weave in other texts…. (more to come).


26 of 30 on Psalm 30
No Longer National Novel Writing Month, but continuing the focus on Psalm 30 (“Thirty on Psalm 30”) begun as a NaNoWriMo-Rebel project. Whole series (so far).

NOTE:
Five Books:
1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106, and 107-150.
Weekly Recitation:
Sunday: 1-29; Monday: 30-50; Tuesday: 51-72; Wednesday: 73-89; Thursday: 90-106; Friday: 107-119; Saturday: 120-150.
Monthly Recitation:
…Day 4 of 30: 23-28; Day 5: 29-34….
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Locating Psalm 30

The Book of Psalms is divided in several different ways: into five books, into seven and thirty sets for recitation over the course of a week or a month, and by attribution and other identifiers for the purpose of study. Using these divisions, Psalm 30 has a number of locations.

Book One
Psalm 30 is in the first of the five books — counted as one, not five, of the 24 bible books. Thematically, notes Amos Hakham in The Jerusalem Commentary:

    • “psalms in the first book relate to the kingdom of the house of David at its height,”
    • those in second reflect “times of trouble and defeat,”
    • in the third, a period of humbling of the kingdom, and
    • in the fourth and fifth, exile and rebuilding.
      — p.XXXV-VI

This does not necessarily imply that Psalm 30 and others in the first book are of earlier composition. With the exception of Psalm 137 — which mentions Babylonian Exile — there are no references to extra-biblical events to help in dating; scholars disagree as to whether Psalm 137 itself should be assigned to the period in Babylon, post-Exile — with some choosing to assign it, prophetically, to King David. Generally, scholars date the Book of Psalms, overall, from somewhere between David’s reign in 10th Century BCE and post-Exile, with collection as late as 4th Century BCE.

Some contemporary scholars seek dates based on linguistic aspects, specific biblical connections, or theological ideas. Previous posts in this series have discussed attempts to assign Psalm 30 to the Hasmonean or Levitical periods, based on its superscription. Encounters with the psalm today, however, for individual and communal prayer, can incorporate ideas around Temple service, re-dedication at Chanukah, and other historical associations without dating the psalm to a specific period.


Chronology
The Rabbis discuss chronology in the Book of Psalms when asked why Psalm 3, “when David fled from before Absalom his son” (see 2 Sam 15), appears before Psalm 57, “when he fled from Saul in the cave” (see 1 Sam 22), an event which happened earlier in David’s life:

for us who do derive interpretations from juxtaposition there is no difficulty. For R. Johanan said: How do we know from the Torah that juxtaposition counts? Because it says, [The works of God’s hands] are established [סְמוּכִים] for ever and ever, they are done in truth and uprightness (Ps. 111:8).
— (B. Berakhot 10a)

“סְמוּכִים,” translated in Psalm 118 as “established” (JPS 1917) or “well-founded” (JPS 1985), can also mean “nearby,” as in “adjacent (in space)” or “around (in time).”

The passage from Berakhot continues:

Why is the chapter of Absalom (Ps. 3) juxtaposed to the chapter of Gog and Magog (Ps. 2)? So that if one should say to you, is it possible that a slave should rebel (“nations shout, people plan in vain”) against his master, you can reply to him: Is it possible that a son should rebel against his father? Yet this happened; and so this too.

Hakham calls this a “polemical answer,” adding: “But the conclusion stands regarding the system behind the arrangement of the psalms and it shows us the right way to examine the relationships between them” (p.XXXIV).

Stay tuned for some juxtapositions around Psalm 30 — as this series winds down.


25 of 30 on Psalm 30
No Longer National Novel Writing Month, but continuing the focus on Psalm 30 (“Thirty on Psalm 30”) begun as a NaNoWriMo-Rebel project. Whole series (so far).

NOTE:
Five Books:
1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106, and 107-150.
Weekly Recitation:
Sunday: 1-29; Monday: 30-50; Tuesday: 51-72; Wednesday: 73-89; Thursday: 90-106; Friday: 107-119; Saturday: 120-150.
Monthly Recitation:
…Day 4 of 30: 23-28; Day 5: 29-34….
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