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.
BACK

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.
BACK


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.
BACK

The Whole Nine Yards?

2

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.
BACK

Sukkot and Babylon

Exploring Babylon: Chapter 1.1

“As You rescued the communities You exiled to Babylonia and Your merciful Presence accompanied them — so save us.” — from “Ani Va-ho,” a Sukkot prayer

Prayers begging for rescue and mercy often take the format, “You helped them; help us.” The unusual aspect of this prayer, recited each day of Sukkot in Conservative and Orthodox Jewish liturgies, is its implication that God needs saving, too. Long before Eleazar Kallir (c.570–c.640 CE) developed this poem, however, Jews were teaching that God follows the People into exile.

“These bold interpretations are a way of saying that when there is suffering in the world, God is not to be found on the side of the oppressors” (Or Hadash festival supplement; link below. Click here for basics on ancient Sukkot practices).

Fragility and Sukkot

Many centuries of prayers linked the fragility of Sukkot with exile. For example:

…In the merit of the Mitzvah of Sukkah, redeem us from exile,
protect us, that our enemies not reign over us.
And gather us from the four corners of the earth
and rescue us from captivity and from false imprisonment.
Let no evil eye rule over us ever.
Rebuild Your Holy Temple and restore your presence to Jerusalem….
– from Machzor Rav Peninim (R. Moses ben Hayyim Alshekh c1508-1600)

A different perspective appeared with Haskalah [“Enlightenment”]:


For thousands of years
Israel has been a wandering people.
Our houses are but fragile huts –
And these huts have been torn asunder too many times
By unrest and the hatred of others.
We have only your mercy to thank
That we have not perished from the earth.
Your compassion has held us and carried us
Through storm and flood, over every abyss
That has threatened to devour us,
And now, after generations of wandering,
You have allowed us to taste the sweetness of home.
Thanks to you, we have found a homeland –
A beautiful, wonderful country
That recognizes us as its children.
Safe and free, like ancient Israel
In the shade of its palm and fig trees,
We rest beneath the tent of peace
Provided to us by the law,
Along with all our brothers and sisters in this land….
– “On the first days of Sukkot”
in Fanny Neuda’s Hours of Devotion (1855)

The “homeland” Neuda had in mind was her native Moravia. The first edition of Hours of Devotion was published in German and included a blessing specifically naming Emperor Franz Joseph. Neuda’s family supported Haskalah, promoting the limited citizenship then allowed to Jews as well as sermons in the vernacular, modernizations of of prayers, and other religious adaptations that led to the Reform Movement. The prayerbook was later translated into Yiddish and was being reprinted in both languages up through the early part of the 20th Century.

Some Questions for Consideration

  • Where does the fragility of your personal Sukkot experience take you?
  • In what ways do you feel protected by a “tent of peace, provided to us by law”?
  • In what ways does your experience reflect exile, as expressed by Machzor Rav Peninim?
  • What about the fragility of the Jewish community, locally and worldwide?
  • And what about the wider world?
  • Are there lessons to be drawn from identifying ourselves and God as together in need of rescue?


sukkah78

Spatz-O’Brien sukkah, Oct. 2017

NOTES

In Temple days, hoshanot were recited while circling the altar on Sukkot; some denominations still recite them, while circling the bima — once on the first six days of the Sukkot and seven times on the seventh day, Hoshana Rabba. Hoshana is a contraction of hosha [save] and na [please]. Eleazar Kallir’s hoshana poem is known by its first line: “ani va-ho.”

ani va-ho hoshi’a na” from Mishnah Sukkah 4:5 is variously translated as “Save Yourself and us,” “I and You, may You deliver us both,” or “Please rescue me and the divine name.” Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 104a) explains that “ho” is one of God’s names.

See commentaries on this prayer in Conservative Siddur Lev Shalem and Orthodox The Koren Mesorat Harav Siddur. Or Hadash: A commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom‘s festival supplement is (available for download here).
See also pages 110-111 in Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Heavenly Torah (more here).

Many Jews, including the Reform movement, do not observe Hoshana Rabba — or perform the hoshanot prayers during the rest of Sukkot.

BACK

Siddur as Hometown: Don’t Dismiss the Travel Guide

1

When the ancient Rabbis want to etch something in memory and make it part of regular practice and belief, they stick it in the siddur. I cannot specific cite a source for this pronouncement, which I included in a recent dvar torah — although Berakhot, the Babylonian Talmud’s Tractate on Blessing, is one source that lends lots of support to this idea.

The prayerbook is such a rich environment, but it’s easy to miss most of it as we pass through. We often treat the siddur like our own hometown: we can imagine why others are fascinated and seeking to learn more, but we just want to traverse it to get wherever we’re trying to reach; a travel guide for the place we’ve been living for decades seems beside the point. Additional teachings that have developed over the centuries, to explain why things are (or are not) in the siddur and elaborate on ideas contained in the prayers, can be terrific resources, though.

Here are a few:

  • The dvar torah on Parashat Re’eh, mentioned above: The Commandment to See
  • Small archive of Divrei Tefillah, words about prayer, produced by congregants at Congregation Rodfei Zedek (Chicago); dvar by Rebecca Milder is quoted in above
  • Elaborate Making Prayer Real website, with articles and webinars and more; related to book by Rabbi Mike Comins, released in 2010 (and frequently quoted on THIS blog).
  • Re-recommend exploring something along the lines of “Map Your Heart Out

MiShebeirach for Circles of Pain

bullet_hole

photo: Treona Kelty

Introduction: Every bullet leaves pain in circles rippling outward, like the diameter of the bomb the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai once described. Amichai’s bomb extends from 30 centimeters to the immediate range of dead and wounded, out to a solitary mourner “far across the sea,” finally encompassing “the entire world in the circle.” (Chana Bloch’s translation.)

Monday’s shooting on Benning Road killed Ayana McAllister, 18, home from college on spring break, and injured her roommate, Aqueelah Brown, 19, who was visiting. It traumatized Ayana’s sister, N’Daja, 19, who was also present. Friends and acquaintances suffer in ripples outward from two family circles that will never be the same, from school communities forever changed, and from Fort Chaplin Apartments, where such shootings are too commonplace. And somewhere in that web of sorrow and confusion are neighboring toddlers who experience, without knowing in any conscious way, the calculations their caregivers make every time they leave the house.

Note: In Jewish tradition, “Mi Shebeirach” [“May the one who blessed…”] prayers use a formula that calls on memory and relationship, a personal-divine history of sorts, to make a request of God. Traditions vary today and have varied throughout history regarding timing and content of such prayers, but requests for healing are a common use in most traditions. There are many articles on the topic. Here’s one interesting piece from Sh’ma written not long after the death of Debbie Friedman (February 23, 1951 – January 9, 2011). Friedman, singer/song-writer and faculty member of the Hebrew Union College, created a musical “Mi Shebeirach” that was extremely popular in the late 20th Century and had a strong influence on how the prayer is perceived and used.

See also related prayers and meditations

Mi Shebeirach for Circles of Pain

May the one who blessed our ancestors,
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah,
and our extended family,
Lot and his kin, Hagar, Ishmael, Esau, Bilhah and Zilpah
– a clan that knew its share of trauma and grief –
bless and heal those recovering from violence, loss, and terror.
May the Blessed Holy One be filled with compassion
for all those experiencing ripples of violence.
May God swiftly send all who need it a renewal of body and spirit.
May our community health be restored
and our collective strength revived.
And let us say, Amen.