“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:
Here is one translation:
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,”
- endure…,” or
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?
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.
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).
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.
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.