Dedications

Medieval commentary on the holiday of Chanukah asks, “How many dedications [channukot] were there?” The answer is that there were seven, and we are offered two lists.

Seven Dedications:

  1. heaven and earth,
  2. the wall of Jerusalem, in the time of Nehemiah,
  3. the Second Temple, “those who came up from exile,”
  4. of the priests — the Hasmonean re-dedication,
  5. the world to come,
  6. of princes (Bamidbar), and,
  7. finally, the First Temple: “The dedication of the Sanctuary [v’chanukat hamikdash, וחנוכת המקדש], which this is speaking of ‘A psalm; a song of dedication of the House, of David’ (Psalm 30:1).”

Immediately following, we read, “Another explanation. There are seven channukot,” with a slightly different list:

Another explanation:

  1. creation of the world,
  2. completion of the Mishkan by Moses,
  3. the First Temple: “The dedication of the House [v’chanukat habayit, וחנוכת הבית], as it is written “A psalm; a song of dedication of the House, of David” (Psalm 30:1).”
  4. the Second Temple,
  5. the wall of Jerusalem,
  6. the “current one of the House of Hasmonean,”
  7. the world to come, “because even that has lights.”

— See Pesikta Rabbati Chapter 2 for both lists, associated citations, and more commentary on Chanukah.

The second list above includes “dedication of the House” (“chanukat habayit“) in what seems like a chronological order, from creation of the world, to world to come. The first uses the expression “v’chanukat hamikdash,” translated as “dedication of the Sanctuary,” in a list that looks less chronological — its ordering is obscure to me — but culminates with Sanctuary.

Jewish tradition includes many notions about “sanctuary,” from the metaphorical — understanding mikdash as a symbol of the covenantal relationship with God or a representation of the human body-soul, for example — to the concrete/political, as in Mikdash: The Jewish Sanctuary Movement, protecting today’s immigrants. Many Jews see Chanukah as an opportunity to rededicate sanctuary, however that is understood.

Tonight we light the first candle. As the eight nights progress, we’ll consider more about dedication and the words of Psalm 30, Chanukah’s psalm for the day. How, and to what, are you rededicating?
twocandles

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

NOTE: This post was updated on the evening of 12/3/18 with corrected lists of the dedications, with help from Norman Shore.

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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And the Mouse Says…

In addition to the swallow, the mouse [עַכְבָּר] also speaks a verse from Psalm 30 in Perek Shira:

עַכְבָּר אוֹמֵר. אֲרוֹמִמְךָ יְיָ כִּי דִלִּיתָנִי וְלֹא־שִׂמַּחְתָּ אֹיְבַי לִי׃ (תהלים ל ב)
And the Mouse says, “I extol You, O LORD, for You have impoverished me/lifted me up, and not let my enemies rejoice over me.” (Ps. 30:2)
— Perek Shira, Chapter 5; more on the Mouse below

As with “kavod” in verse 13 — which, as previously discussed, is translated in many ways in addition to “glory” — דִלִּיתָנִי [dilitani] has a number of translations. But the one used in Nosson [Natan] Slifkin’s 2003 translation of Perek Shira stands far apart:

    • The 1917 JPS has “Thou hast raised me up” for “dilitani” in Psalm 30;
    • The 1985 JPS has “You have lifted me up”;
    • Other translations use “delivered,” as well as “lifted” and “raised”;
    • Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi has the less usual, “you set me free so that my enemies could not gloat at my troubles”;
    • Slifkin alone has “impoverished me.”

…The Hebrew word for “impoverish” (decrease, deplete, etc…), דִּלֵּל (dileil), shares a dalet-lamed pair with dillitani. Possibly Slifkin is following a line of commentary that uses the similarity to translate the verb as “impoverish.” In the context of Perek Shira, some version of lifting would seem to parallel the warning, “from there I will bring you down” (Obadiah 1:4) which is uttered by the Cat. (See note below for links to the whole conversation between Cat and Mouse.) For the purposes of “Thirty on Psalm 30,” however, we can return to the ways dillitani is understood in the context of the psalm itself….

A Few Notes on dillitani

The Hebrew word here comes from a root meaning “to draw water” and probably originally referred to drawing water up from a well. It may have retained this connotation when this psalm was written: water and well imagery abounds in the Bible…
— Joel Hoffman (“What the Prayers Really Say” commentator), My People’s Prayer Book, vol.5

The following quotation is from The Jerusalem Commentary (broken up here into easier to read lines but otherwise unchanged:

You have lifted me up,” is derived from the root דלה, DLH (see Exodus 2:19: “And he also drew water [דָּלֹה דָלָה daloh dalah] for us”), whose primary meaning is “drawing water from a deep place.” [NOTE: OUr verse is the only example in the Bible of the root דלה, DLH, in the pi’el conjugation.] The expression, “You have lifted me up,” bears various interpretations:

  • …from my humble position (as in Psalm 113:7: “He raises the poor from the dust”);
  • You have lifted me up from my sickbed;
  • You have raised me from the underworld, as is stated in verse 4, below…
  • You kept me alive, that I should not go down into the pit” (the word דִלִּיתָנִי, dillitani, hints at the pail [דְּלִי, d’li] which is used to draw water from a well);
  • You have granted me victory over my enemies.

At all events, the word דִלִּיתָנִי, dillitani, corresponds to the word אֲרוֹמִמְךָ, aromimkha: You have lifted me up, and I will extol You (lift You up).”

More later.


19 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.

NOTE
In fact, the Mouse is one of the few animals who speaks more than one line in Perek Shira. The others are the Rooster, which speaks eight times, and the Cat, which speaks once before and once after catching the Mouse.

After being captured by the Cat —

וְעַכְבָּר אוֹמֵר. וְאַתָּה צַדִּיק עַל כׇּל־הַבָּא עָלַי כִּי־אֱמֶת עָשִׂיתָ וַאֲנִי הִרְשָֽׁעְתִּי
And the Mouse concedes, “You are just for all that comes upon me, for you have acted truthfully, and I have been wicked.”

This second Mouse speech is a singular version of the plural expression of Nehemiah 9:33:

וְאַתָּ֣ה צַדִּ֔יק עַ֖ל כָּל־הַבָּ֣א עָלֵ֑ינוּ כִּֽי־אֱמֶ֥ת עָשִׂ֖יתָ וַאֲנַ֥חְנוּ הִרְשָֽׁעְנוּ׃
Surely You are in the right with respect to all that has come upon us, for You have acted faithfully, and we have been wicked.

There is undoubtedly a lot to pursue here. But it’s tangential to Psalm 30 — and Perek Shira is not something I’ve studied before.

See the whole exchange between Cat and Mouse at Sefaria. The dialogue appears in a slightly different order in this (PDF) booklet version, Perek Shira (Slifkin).
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BACK to translation discussion

Glory and the Swallow

Ps. 30:13, discussed in several post here, appears in Perek Shira, a long, ancient hymn to creation in which the earth, ocean, lightening bolts, dew, and many creatures each speak a verse from Tanakh. Many of the quotations are from Psalms, but also Job, Song of Songs, the Prophets, and other texts. Ps. 30:13 is attributed to the swallow:

The Swallow is saying, “So that my soul shall praise You, and shall not be silent, God my Lord, I shall give thanks to You forever.” [30:13]
— Chapter 4, Perek Shira

Links to the full text in Hebrew and English and a few more details below.

In “Glory versus Silence,” the most recent post in this series, I asked if we can find our own glory if others are silenced, given that our liberation and joy is bound up together. I confess that I had in mind human “others.” Perek Shira reminds me that my liberation and joy is also bound up with with the rest of Creation….And this image reminds me that praise and prayer come in many formats and languages.

Golondrina


Psalm 30, because of its language about healing and rescue, is often linked with prayers related to these concerns, as is Perek Shira. “El Sabor del Rimon,” the blog offering the beautiful series of images linked to Perek Shira, also shares reflections on many related topics. Among those are thoughts on prayers for healing when they do not appear to be answered in the way that was hoped. One teaching suggests that such prayers might be helping someone else in the community — which brings us back to the concept that we are all connected and no one’s liberation, joy, or healing happens in a vacuum.


18 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.


NOTE
The entire “Chapter of Song,” translated by Aharon N. Varady and R. Natan Slifkin, as well as some introductory material from a 1967 facsimile edition, appears at Open Siddur. The text and similar translation is also on Sefaria, without the introduction, in another format. (The psalms citation to the Swallow’s verse is wrong there — if anyone knows how to correct it, please advise or just contact Sefaria.)
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Perek Shira Saved
There is also a custom, among some Jews, to recite Perek Shira for 40 days in hopes of an engagement, or help with business problems, as well as for healing. Some include in their intentions a promise to publish positive results….

…Seems to me I recall Catholics did something similar with prayers to St. Anthony, maybe, with praise published in the classifieds. (Anyone know about this?) Photo above came from Judaism StackExchange.
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Glory versus Silence

As noted previously, one of the key aspects of “kavod,” however it and the rest of Ps. 30:13 is translated, is its opposition to silence. We looked at Rabbi Shefa Gold’s practice about “finding the glory inside,” by examining whatever might be silencing us/our glory, and “pouring it out to God” (Gold’s teaching).

Returning to an idea from a few posts back, “I Called, We Called: –chanting separately and together, as we call out in Psalm 30, we offer and receive some of the human connection that Rabbi Polen sees as part of the way prayer is answered — raises the question of if/how we can find our own glory, if others are silenced. Our liberation — and our joy — is bound up together.


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

There’s Glory for You! — Part 2

In “The Spirit of Prayer,” Abraham Joshua Heschel warned:

It is not enough to know how to translate Hebrew into English; it is not enough to have met a word in the dictionary and to have experienced unpleasant adventures with it in the study of grammar. A word has soul and we must learn how to attain insight into its life.
— see previous post for citation

Translation alone may not be enough, but it can give us some insight into the life of a word or a phrase.

In the previous look at “kavod” in Psalm 30, we saw the word translated in Jewish versions as “glory,” “depths,” “soul,” “whole being,” and just plain “I.” Here, for additional perspectives, are some Christian translations and notes for verse 13 (or 12 — NOTE: Christian scholars generally do not count superscriptions as verses in psalms, so the numbering differs by one from Jewish sources) of the psalm.

More Translations

The book of psalms from the original Hebrew with various readings and notes by the late Alexander Geddes, LL. D (1807):

Therefore I will praise thee, my glory!
Never will I be silent in thy praise
[“f” — as in “filent in thy praife” — changed to “s” for readability]

The Greek interpreters read another word, the English of which is honour; as if the psalmist had said, thou hadst so firmly established mine honour; and this reading by some late translators. The other I think more poetical and expressive – Ver. 12. I will praise thee, my glory!

The present Hebrew runs thus: Glory will praise thee, and will not be silent. But the Syriac translator read both verbs in the first person; and I have no doubt of his being the original lection.

— Geddes, p.46 (London: printed for J. Johnson in St. Paul’s Courtyard by Richard Taylor & Co, Shoe-Lane)

Bay Psalm Book being the earliest New England Version (1862):

That sing to thee my glory may
and may not silent be
Lord my God I will give thanks
evermore to thee

The Psalms: A historical and spiritual commentary offers two readings:

  • many, with the Septuagint (LXXX), “my glory” for “that my glory should make music to you and not be silent,” taken as a reference to “his soul restored in royal glory.”
  • others “change the vowels to give ‘my liver’ and then render ‘my heart,’”
    — J.H. Eaton, The Psalms: A historical and spiritual commentary
    (T&T Clark, A Continuum Imprint 2003), p.143

NIV Study Bible (1985) gives us, “that my heart may sing to you and not be silent,” with the following footnotes:

[30:12] heart. Lit. “glory (see note on 7:5)

[7:5] me. Lit. “my glory,” a way of referring to the core of one’s being (see 16:9; 30:12; 57:8; 108:1 and notes).

Most of the 50+ translations available through “Bible Gateway” similarly use “heart” or “soul,” a few “glory” or “whole being.” But there are also more interpretive offerings:

  • To the end that my tongue and my heart and everything glorious within me may sing praise to You and not be silent.
    Amplified Bible (1965-1987)
  • You have restored my honor. My heart is ready to explode, erupt in new songs! It’s impossible to keep quiet!
    The VOICE (2012)
  • How could I be silent when it’s time to praise you?
    Now my heart sings out loud, bursting with joy—
    a bliss inside that keeps me singing,
    “I can never thank you enough!”
    Passion Translation (2017)


Beyond Translation

“…There’s glory for you!”

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,'” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you….”
more on “glory” Through the Looking Glass

Whatever English is chosen to translate “kavod,” or however we relate to the Hebrew directly, one aspect of its life seems to be that it is antithetical to silence. All the tribulations in the psalm — enemy triumph, the underworld or the pit, God’s anger and hiding of God’s face, mourning and sackcloth — cannot keep it from singing.

Rabbi Shefa Gold teaches a practice to help in “finding the glory inside and pouring it out to God.” She asks us to “examine what it is that silences that glory,” and then “look beneath the obstacle” for the “glory that wants to be acknowledged and celebrated.” Here’s her chanting practice for this verse.

In that sense, we’re all part Alice, waiting for Humpty Dumpty to tell us what “kavod” means in the context of the psalm, and part Humpty Dumpty, knowing that it’s up to us to identify whatever obstacles are blocking our own glory in this particular instance.


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

There’s Glory for You! – Part 1

1

Rabbi Diane Elliot noted, a few posts back, her practice of taking “the time to work with a word or a phrase” from the prayers and then using that “backstory” when returning to the same prayer in other settings (“Wordless Verses“). Abraham Joshua Heschel also wrote, addressing fellow rabbis in 1953, about the importance of spending time with individual words in the prayers:

We must learn how to study the inner life of the words that fill the world of our prayerbook….A word has a soul, and we must learn how to attain insight into its life….We forgot how to find the way to the word, how to be on intimate terms with a few passages in the prayerbook. Familiar with all the words, we are intimate with none.
— “The Spirit of Prayer” (citation)

One of the many words and phrases worth pausing to consider in Psalm 30 is “glory” —

לְמַעַן, יְזַמֶּרְךָ כָבוֹד– וְלֹא יִדֹּם
יְהוָה אֱלֹהַי, לְעוֹלָם אוֹדֶךָּ
So that my glory may sing praise to Thee, and not be silent;
O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto Thee for ever.
— Ps. 30:13 (1917 JPS translation; others below)

 

Translating “Glory,” Part 1

To begin, it is usually instructive to notice where translators vary in rendering a particular phrase. Verse 13 yields a lot of variety. Here is a selection of Jewish translations, offered in reverse chronological order:

  1. that I might sing of Your glory and not be silent:
    ADONAI my God, I thank You, always
    — Rabbinical Assembly, Siddur Lev Shalem, 2016
  2. that my soul may sing Your praises and never cease.
    I will acknowledge You forever, LORD my God.
    — R. Eli Cashdan, Koren Tehillim, 2015
  3. So that my depths might sing out to you and never be stilled,
    God, my Help, I will spill out gratitude to you forever.
    — Pamela Greenberg, The Complete Psalms, 2010
  4. Therefore my glory will sing praise to You, and will not be silent.
    O Lord, my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
    The Jerusalem Commentary, Mosad Harav Kook, 2003 (see note)
  5. that I might sing praise to You. I will not be silent!
    Adonai my God, I will laud you forever!
    My People’s Prayer Book, Lawrence Hoffman (ed) 2001
  6. That I might sing Your praises unceasingly,
    that I might thank You, Adonai my God, forever
    — R. Jules Harlow 1985 trans, adapted for Or Hadash 1998
  7. that [my] whole being might sing hymns to You endlessly;
    O LORD my God, I will praise You forever.
    — JPS 1985 (via Sefaria); 1917 JPS (via Mechon-Mamre) is above

NOTES from The Jerusalem Commentary (source #4 above):
“The expression ‘glory will sing, praise to You, and will not be silent,’ implies that the silence of grief will be turned into a song of gladness, and thus this verse is a continuation of what was stated in the previous verse, ‘You loosened my sackcloth…’

“Some commentaries explain the word כָּבוֹד, kavod, to mean ‘I myself,’ like כְּבוֹדִי, k’vodi.” [cf. commentary on 7:6 where note explains that “my glory” or “my honor,” like “my soul,” means just plain, “me.”]

So, we have kavod translated as:

  • glory,
  • depths,
  • soul,
  • whole being, and
  • just plain “I.”

More soon…


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

NOTE:
“The Spirit of Prayer” was published in the Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly of America [Conservative], Vol. XVII, 1953, and reprinted as a pamphlet. Eventually (1996), the lecture was included in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity (See Source Materials)
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I Called; We Called

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

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

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

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

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

Calling and Response

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

In Making Prayer Real, Rabbi Nehemia Polen writes:

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

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

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

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

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

This is repeated with the second phrase of the verse —

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

Finally all join together in closing out the verse —

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

Similarly with verse 11:

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

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


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

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

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SHIYR Psalm 30

A few posts back, I shared a thought from Making Prayer Real on the idea of music as “prayer in itself, without the words attached” (Wordless Verses“) along with a largely instrumental piece based on a tune for few verses from Psalm 30. More on that specific tune to come. Meanwhile, here is a contrasting approach, seeking to render every word and the sound of the psalm.

The SHIYR Poets (pronounced “Sheer” not “Shire”)” have been working together for several years to “render the Psalms as sung English poetry.” They are Brian Doerksen, Calum Rees, Brian Thiessen and Teresa Trask.

This is how The SHIYR Poets describe their enterprise:

Using all the translations available (including Robert Alter’s more poetic translation) and seeking counsel from Hebrew scholars, the SHIYR Poets are paraphrasing the Psalms and setting them to modern folk-rock tunes.

Choosing not to censor the difficult verses of lament and anger, the SHIYR Poets render each psalm in its entirety, singing in solidarity with all who suffer. The result is raw yet meditative music, at times unconventional in its form, yet deeply comforting because every generation has prayed and pondered the words of these Psalms.

Taken as a whole, the Psalms are perhaps the most emotionally healthy comprehensive expression of spirituality ever written. These are songs of desire and desperation…songs that demand justice for the oppressed…songs that honour the innocent praise of children…songs about everyday things like sleep.

Their version of Psalm 30 adds a chorus and includes interesting poetic versions of some verses. One favorite:

When you looked away; I fell apart
Broken into pieces; I crumbled into pieces
When you turned away, I fell apart

— Just listen, above, or click through to YouTube to see The SHIYR Poets’ translation

13 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).

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.