(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)

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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Mouse and Menorah

In Perek Shira, as noted in the previous two posts, verses from Psalm 30 join a chorus of praise in which “each of God’s creatures, plants and animals, mountains and rivers, sings out to its Creator in a special way.” Our prayers, are part of a “cosmic symphony” says Rabbi Arthur Green:

The prayers of Israel are recited in a special language and a distinctive form. There is a way in which they belong to the Jewish people and to us alone. But prayer is also a universal act, one that binds the whole human community together with all of nature, calling forth in us an appreciation of life as an ongoing celebration of the gift of being.
— from Kol Haneshemah (citation below)

This idea leads to the commentary in Pesikta Rabbati — medieval commentary on the holidays — which tells us that there were seven dedications, channukot, from dedication of heaven and earth in Breishit to the “dedication of the world to come, because even that has lights…”

More on the seven dedications as November (National Novel Writing Month) ends and Chanukah begins.

20 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)…. Look for this not-necessarily-novel writing project to extend into Chanukah, which begins just as NaNoWriMo ends, and apologies to anyone who is bothered by the strange posting schedule.

Mouse and Menorah.jpg

NOTE:
Comment appears on page 704 of Kol Haneshemah: Shabbat V’chagim, the prayerbook published by Reconstructionist Press, 1996. Full citation at Source Materials. For more on Art Green, visit his website.

Kol Haneshemah includes select verses from Perek Shira as an alternative P’sukei D’zimrah. Among them is the first Mouse verse, translated as follows:

The mouse says: “I shall exalt you, O REDEEMING ONE, for you delivered me, and gave my enemies no joy on my account.” (Psalm 30:2).

Kol Haneshemah does not include the verse-conversation when the mouse is captured by the cat. See “And the Mouse Says” and “Glory and the Swallow” for more on Perek Shira.
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Dedication

The previous post looked at some of the “bridge” concepts employed to explain Psalm 30’s function in its regular liturgical spot, at the close of the morning blessings, and before the psalms/verses of song. Another explanation for the placement of Psalm 30 is that it was the “psalm of the day” for the holiday of Chanukah and then crept, perhaps by printer’s error, into daily prayers. But how is it connected to Chanukah in the first place?

Rededication and Superscription

Marc Brettler, professor of Biblical Literature at Brandeis University and co-founder of Project TABS (Torah and Biblical Scholarship), notes that the expression “chasidim” — translated as “faithful ones,” “righteous” or “pious” — was used at the time of the Maccabean revolt for those loyal to the Hasmonean cause. Because of this word choice and the psalm’s focus on rescue from a desperate situation, he argues:

…someone (on the wining side) after the Hasmonean victory in 164 BCE could have read Psalm 30 and imagined: “David prophesized this about us!” The psalm, for that very reason, may even have been recited as part of the dedication ceremony on Chanukah in 164 BCE since it was seen as broadly appropriate—or even prophetic—to what had happened.
— Brettler, “Reciting Psalm 30 on Chanukah: A Biblical Custom?

Brettler hypothesizes a timeline that goes like this:

  1. The original superscription was מזמור לדוד, “a psalm of David,” with no particular association with the Temple;
  2. During the Maccabean revolt, the winners identified themselves as the “chasidim,” whose success was prophesized by David in this psalm;
  3. The psalm may have been incorporated into the Temple rededication;
  4. At this time, the words שיר חנכת הבית, “A song for the dedication of the House,” entered the margins of a manuscript, noting that Psalm 30 was recited at the rededication and “that, perhaps, Jews were supposed to recite each year during Chanukah”;
  5. Eventually, the words entered the Psalter, awkwardly placed between the words מזמור, “A psalm” and לדוד, “of David.”

— See article cited above for a much fuller explanation and argument


Superscription and Rededication

The Jerusalem Commentary assumes the converse of Brettler’s conjecture:

We do not find anywhere in rabbinic literature that a special psalm was recited by the Levites in the Temple on Hanukkah. The passages in [8th and 9th Century sources] refer to synagogue customs after the destruction of the Temple. If we assume that this psalm was recited on Hanukkah in the Temple, it would stand to reason that the Hasmoneans said it on Hanukkah because they interpreted the dedication, “a song at the dedication of the house,” as an allusion to their own rededication of the Temple.
The Jerusalem Commentary (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 2003), p.228

The Jerusalem Commentary adds that assuming Psalm 30 was recited at the (re)dedication of the Temple is based on the belief “that the psalm is the prayer of the entire nation.” This means interpreting “healing” as “deliverance from enemies, for each dedication of the Temple was preceded by God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from their enemies” (p.229).

Many commentaries on Psalm 30 focus on an individual’s healing and rescue — that of the psalmist, the person reciting, or a person whose healing is sought. In Samuel Barth’s interpretation (cited in the previous post and linked again here), “rededication” of the “inner temple” can also apply to an individual.

Rabbi Folger’s study (quoted in the previous post and linked again here) offers an interesting sidebar: His review of older prayer books suggests that the opening line, “A song for the dedication of the House,” of Psalm 30 might have been recited only on Chanukah, while the body of the psalm, beginning with “I will extol…,” was regularly recited in the morning. Perhaps the psalm is read differently on different occasions.


12 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, again,for multiple-post days; almost caught up.

Prayer Bridge

Many teachers characterize Psalm 30 as a “bridge” between the section of early morning blessings — which is concluded, in Ashkenazi prayer books, by Psalm 30 and the kaddish — and the next section of the liturgy, P’sukei D’zimrah [Verses of Song]. Given the placement, the concept is not surprising. What’s interesting, though, is how many different themes of Psalm 30 are identified as the bridging concept:

  • For some who see “the house” as the Temple, Psalm 30, with its associations to First Fruits, serves as a historical bridge from the sacrificial system (prominent in weekday Orthodox prayers) into the daily prayers;
  • For those using prayer books with non-sacrificial study passages in the early morning serivce, Psalm 30 is a bridge “from the formality of study to the reality of the joy that can be found in the presence of God” (Samuel Barth, of Jewish Theological Seminary);
  • For those who see “the house” of Psalm 30 as the human body, the psalm serves as a bridge from the body-focused blessings, and awakening or resurrection, of the early service into the verses of praise that follow;
  • For many, the key theme of Psalm 30 is joy in the morning after weeping at night, bridging basic gratitude for awakening and having ground under our feet to the next section of “warm-up” prayers;
  • Reading “the house” as “vessel,” Psalm 30 bridges the two services by dedicating the vessels we’ve just awakened to service of the divine: “are we dedicating ourselves, our words, our thoughts—even our doubts and fears—to becoming an ‘inner temple’ dedicated to the Divine?” (Barth, cited above)

In addition to, and often underlying, the question of how Psalm 30 can help us transition from one service to the next, is the question of why this particular psalm sits where it does in the prayer book. There is some evidence that the psalm entered the regular morning prayers by mistake, and the JTSA blog (Barth, cited above) declares: “we have no record of who championed this text or why.”

Kabbalists Will Understand

As noted in earlier posts, Siddur Lev Shalem says that the position of Psalm 30 is linked to Lurianic Kabbalah. (See “Whole Nine Yards” and “Soul’s Abode.”) A 19th Century prayer book cites the Four Worlds view of the liturgy, saying Psalm 30 “provides the transition between Olam Ha-Assiyah and Olam Ha-Yetzirah. Kabbalists will understand what that means.”

Psalm 30 does appear to encompass language that reflects both the physical world (Olam Ha-Assiyah) and the world of emotions and relationship (Olam Ha-Yetzirah). How, exactly, kabbalists understand the transition is another matter, however. As is the question of whether this teaching is really what prompted inclusion of Psalm 30 in the morning prayers.

Psalm 30 may have been added to the prayer book on account of kabbalist teaching, by printers’ error, or for some reason(s) lost to history. The plethora of “bridge” themes suggest Jews struggling to explain its presence. But they also provide an interesting variety in approaches to explore in study and prayer.


11 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, again,for multiple-post days; almost caught up


The Four Worlds are: Assiyah, action or physical world; Yetzirah, world of emotion and relationship; Briyah, world of intellect; and Atzilut, world of spirit or essence. See, e.g., Your Bayit, a relatively new, and still-building resource.

The “kabbalists will understand” remark comes from Abe Katz, of Beurei Hatefila Institute. You can visit his old-school, resource-filled website or read the pertinent PDF here: “Mizmor Shir Chanukas Ha-Bayis.” Katz is referencing Siddur Tzelotah deAvraham of Menachem Mendel Landau, (1789-1875):

What prompted the Ari [Isaac Luria] to institute the practice to recite [Psalm 30] before Baruch She’amar [the start of P’sukei D’Zimrah]? The Siddur Tzelotah deAvraham opines that it was based on the Kabbalistic idea that the psalm provides the transition between Olam Ha-Assiyah [world of action] and Olam Ha-Yetzirah [world of emotion, relationship]. Kabbalists will understand what that means.

See also Rabbi Arie Folger’s “How did Psalm 30 Land in the Morning Service,” also cited above.
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The House: Soul’s Abode

Ambiguities and outright confusions abound in teaching about Psalm 30. It begins with argument about possible meanings of its superscription — “A Psalm; a Song at the Dedication of the House; of David” — and how this relates to subsequent content. This blog has already touch on some ideas about which “house” is meant and what David’s relationship to that house might be. According to one interpretation, the “house” is the body in which the real David (his soul) resides.

Soul’s Material Home

The 19th Century teacher, Rabbi Meir Wisser (1809-1879), wrote:

A song for the dedication of the house. The entire psalm was crafted to give thanks for his recovery from illness, and there is no connection in it to dedicating a house. It can be explained that the house in question here is a metaphor for the body, which is the residence of the soul and the inner home for the person who dwells within it, because the soul is the real person, while the physical body is only a material home for it to dwell in….
Malbim, 30:1

This commentary appears to be independent of, and at least a century later than, the mystical thread of teaching sometimes referenced to explain how Psalm 30 entered the early morning prayers. Siddur Lev Shalem, for example, notes that the psalm was added to the early morning prayers “in the 17th century under the influence of Lurianic mysticism,” adding:

The mystics who added this psalm to the liturgy thought that it alluded to the human resurrection of the body (that is, the house of the soul) in the morning, and to our entering the fully revealed divine house (that is, a new day).
Siddur Lev Shalem (Rabbinical Assembly, 2016)

In this Lurianic teaching, the emphasis does not appear to be on recovery from illness, as in the Malbim’s interpretation. Instead the focus seems to be on the everyday miracle of awakening from sleep — no small thing, considering that the Talmud calls sleep “one-sixtieth part of death” (B. Ber 57b).

From their separate perspectives, both teachings stress the idea that “the house” in Psalm 30 can be understood as the human body, home for the soul.


7 of Thirty 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)…

…For anyone wondering: I am writing each day in November but not necessarily posting every day. Sorry if this is confusing anyone and hope days with multiple posts, as the blog catches up with my notes, are not too annoying.

Notes

Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser (sometimes: Weiser), known as “Malbim” (from his initials), 1809-1879.
The commentary is available in Hebrew on Sefaria, with some English translations. As it happens, the commentary for 30:1 is translated.
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Siddur Lev Shalem doesn’t offer any citation for the Lurianic teaching. I’ve seen a reference in this same context to Pri Etz Chaim, Gate of Song 4, the commentary by Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (HaAri, 1534-1572), as rendered by his student, Rabbi Chaim Vital (1543-1620). Pri Etz Chaim can be found on Sefaria in Hebrew only.
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The Whole Nine Yards?

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Following yesterday’s post about the hiddenness of God, alluded to in Psalm 30:8, here is a comment about prevalence of God’s name in the psalm:

Psalm 30 was added to the liturgy in the 17th century under the influence of Lurianic mysticism. It 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 (Rabbinical Assembly, 2016)

By my count, there are nine uses of the Name, YHVH, in Psalm 30 plus one “My Master” or “My Lord.” In Hebrew the common substitute for the four-letter Name of God [יְהוָה] (often written: ADONAI) and the expression “My Lord” [אֲדֹנָי] (Adonai) are homophones. Thus, e.g., this translation (1985 Jewish Publication Society) uses LORD and Lord:

אֵלֶ֣יךָ יְהוָ֣ה אֶקְרָ֑א וְאֶל־אֲ֝דֹנָ֗י אֶתְחַנָּֽן׃
I called to You, O LORD [יְהוָה]; to my Lord [אֲדֹנָי] I made appeal
— Psalm 30:9

The use of “Adonai” is aurally indistinguishable from the nine uses of “ADONAI.” Perhaps that’s what the Lurianic mystics — or Siddur Lev Shalem — see in Psalm 30. Or maybe the tenth is hidden. But I suspect I’m missing something…or maybe we all are and that’s just fine.

The Whole Nine Names

According to Snopes, the American-English expression, “the whole nine yards,” means that “every conceivable (and quite possibly inconceivable) length has been gone to in pursuit of a specific aim….nothing was missed or skipped over.”

According to Siddur Lev Shalem, ten mentions of God’s name suggest the ten s’firot or aspects of the Godhead. One sefira, Keter [Crown], represents the unknowable aspect of God, though. So maybe reciting Psalm 30 is in some sense going the whole nine yards with nine uses of the Name.

This reminded me a teaching about Psalm 150. Depending on how one reads, the psalm includes nine “instruments” for praising God:

  • horn;
  • harp and lyre;
  • timbrel and dance;
  • lute and pipe;
  • cymbals and clanging-cymbals

In order to make ten, a minyan of praise in its way, we include our voices or our souls to reach the whole nine yards.

MozambiqueAK47

image found years ago on Facebook. No photographer or subject info, except that it comes from Mozambique

 

Not Yet Awakened

One of the important aspects of starting the morning by reciting Psalm 30, as an individual, is the opportunity to ride its emotional roller coaster and figure out which highs or lows reflect where we are as the day begins. When we recite as a congregation, the psalm gives us a chance to recognize that we are all experiencing different sets of highs and lows in our own lives and in our responses to whatever is befalling the community as a whole, and helps us bring all of that awareness into our communal prayers.

So, perhaps, Psalm 30 is meant to be not quite complete in calling God’s Name, reflecting our not quite awakened state — as individuals and community. By the time we close out P’sukei D’zimrah with Psalm 150, though, we’re ready to add our own voices/souls in a more fully awake HalleluYAH.

5 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 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

NOTE:
I don’t have an original source; the siddur doesn’t include a citation, although I see Peri Etz Hayim, Sha’ar haMizmorim ch.4, cited elsewhere in reference to this teaching.
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