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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Wordless Verses

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“Music touches us in a place that’s beyond the rational mind,” writes Rabbi Naomi Levy, “and it reaches into the heart.” She continues:

It is the language of the soul. We’ve all had the experience of knowing how a piece of music is a prayer in itself, without the words attached. We can pray through the music itself.
— in Making Prayer Real by Rabbi Mike Comins, p.72 (details)

 
This quote comes in a chapter on “Engaging the Body.” Comins counts music and chant as methods for approaching mochin d’gadlut [expanded consciousness] — “the open, mature, listening, caring state of awareness that is considered in itself an experience of divine presence,” opposed to mochin d’katnut [small consciousness] of self-occupation and self-interest (ibid p.250).

In the same chapter, Rabbi Diane Elliot says:

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

In the spirit of both ideas — the power of music alone, and the power of backstory — I share this musical piece, which is wordless until 2:51. For those who recognize the tune, the instrumental section will likely have a “backstory” of some kind; for others, especially those who do not know Hebrew, perhaps the listening (prayer) experience will be quite different.

If anyone would like to share their impressions of the music, as music alone and/or as a meditation on Psalm 30, please either include in the comments or write separately to songeveryday at gmail.

More to come on this particular tune, as well as more on music and Psalm 30.

10 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 for multiple-post days as my blog catches up with my notes.


Making Prayer Real: Leading Jewish Spiritual Voices on Why Prayer is Difficult and What to Do About It by Rabbi Mike Comins (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2010). More about the book and Rabbi Comins’ teaching at Making Prayer Real website.

Dedication of THIS House

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mezuzah
Spending extra time with Psalm 30 over these last few weeks, inspires me to suggest that I want my house to reflect many of its sentiments.

Regardless of which house was originally meant by the psalmist or how the words were used and understood over the centuries, this, is my prayer, today:

Thank you, God, for lifting me out of depths of my own making,
for helping me over self-criticism and abdication of dreams,
for keeping me from adopting an enemy’s eye view of my life.

This house has seen some tranquility
and it’s seen days that seemed too much like the pit.
We’re grateful to have reached this point,
and ask Your help through the future ups and downs.

With Your help, let this house be
a place that hears crying,
welcoming expressions of truth from those who suffer,
a place of healing, working through the struggle,
and a place of joy.

This house, built and maintained by humans,
can seem pretty shaky,
but if it’s a place where the Name is recognized,
in all the varied ways God comes through the door,
maybe that mountain of strength won’t seem so far off.
— V. Spatz, 2018, based on Psalm 30
copy left (copy left: share with attribution)

I stress that this is my prayer, today, because, while this isn’t exactly a first draft, it doesn’t yet entirely capturing what I meant to say.

9 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)

…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.

The House and First Fruits

The Mishnah reports that Psalm 30, or at least its opening verse, was recited by the Levites when worshippers brought First Fruits:

THE FLUTE WAS PLAYING BEFORE THEM TILL THEY REACHED THE TEMPLE MOUNT; AND WHEN THEY REACHED THE TEMPLE MOUNT EVEN KING AGRIPPA WOULD TAKE THE BASKET AND PLACE IT ON HIS SHOULDER AND WALK AS FAR AS THE TEMPLE COURT. AT THE APPROACH TO THE COURT, THE LEVITES WOULD SING THE SONG: ‘I WILL EXTOL THEE, O LORD, FOR THOU HAST RAISED ME UP, AND HAST NOT SUFFERED MINE ENEMIES TO REJOICE OVER ME’.
— Bikkurim 3:4
[not meant as shouting: all caps printers’ custom distinguishes Mishnah from Gemara]

The First Fruits ceremony also included the recitation beginning “My father was a wandering Aramean” (Deut 26:5-10) now included in the Passover Haggadah (Bikkurim 3:6). This passage recalls years of affliction and oppression before getting to “Now I bring the first fruits of the soil which You, God, have given me.” Together with Psalm 30, these verses convey the theme that all wealth, success, and well-being come from God.

Together, the “Wandering Aramean” passage and Psalm 30 warn against the kind of complacency described in Ps 30:7: “When I was well, I said, ‘Never will I falter.'” They also convey the theme that struggle, too, is part of relationship with God.

Struggle and God

Sometimes, as in the Pesach recitation, we relate what sounds like a positive conclusion to troubles that were part of a divine plan. And, in the context of First Fruits, Psalm 30 also rings a note of ultimate triumph and praise, concluding with “I will praise You forever.”

In the language of Psalm 30, however, we see at least three models of suffering and response: First, God assists before any call; next, suffering and joy are entwined in a regular cycle; finally, the psalmist calls out and God responds:

  1. I extol You, GOD,
    for you have lifted me up,
    and not let my enemies rejoice over me. (30:1)
  2. …One may lie down weeping at nightfall;
    but at dawn there are shouts of joy. (30:5)
  3. …When You hid Your face, I was terrified.
    I called to You, GOD; to My Lord I made appeal….
    You turned my lament into dancing…(30:8-12)

In the third example, “You hid Your face” is sometimes understood as intentional on God’s part and sometimes opaque, best:

God’s presence is very reassuring, while God’s absence creates panic. The psalmist shares the biblical idea that God sometimes “hides His face” from us….This hiding of God’s face may result from human misbehavior, but equally, God sometimes hides His face for no clear reason at all and needs to be “called back.”
My People’s Prayer Book, p.195 (full citation)

In the context of the morning liturgy, any triumph over anxiety and suffering seems very fragile. We’ll be back at this spot tomorrow morning — not unlike Bill Murray repeating Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993). And, in the end, this is not all that different from the recitation at First Fruits and Pesach, with its seemingly triumphant conclusion. After all, a good harvest is never guaranteed, and at least some portion of the Jewish people will likely be at a seder table again next year.

fruits market

Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

8 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)….apologies for days with multiple posts, as the blog catches up with my notes.


My People’s Prayer Book: Traditional Prayers, Modern Commentaries
Vol. 5 — Birkhot Hashachar (Morning Blessings)
Lawrence A. Hoffman, ed. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2001. p.195
Comment is from the “Bible” thread provided by Marc Brettler
Marc Zvi Brettler is Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Literature at Brandeis University.
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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 House: Bricks and Mortar?

Psalm 30 begins with the superscription: “Dedication of the House” —

מִזְמוֹר: שִׁיר-חֲנֻכַּת הַבַּיִת לְדָוִד.
mizmor: shir-chanukat ha-bayit l’David
A Psalm; a Song at the Dedication of the House; of David.


Which House?

Some bricks and mortar possibilities, per The Jerusalem Commentary:

  • First Temple: “The commentators disagree about which dedication and which “house” the psalm is referring to. Some say that it refers to the dedication of the First Temple, and that David himself composed the psalm, and instructed his son Solomon to recite it when the Temple was dedicated.”*
  • Second Temple: “Some commentators suggest that the dedication means that this psalm was recited by the Levites at the dedication of the Second Temple. See Ezra 6:16-18 and 3:10, though in the latter context we are dealing with the laying of the Temple’s foundations and not its dedication. See also Nehemiah 12:27, though there we are dealing with the dedication of the city wall.”**
  • David’s House: “Others suggested that the “house” mentioned here is not the Temple, but rather David’s house, mention in II Samuel 5:11 and 7:1-2.”*
  • Private Home: “Other commentators maintain that the house mentioned here refers to privately owned houses, for there was an ancient custom to celebrate the dedication of a new house (see Deuteronomy 20:5).”**

The Jerusalem Commentary, full citation
*p. 228, **note 14, p.228

Some argue, as noted above, that David wrote the psalm and then instructed Solomon to recite it. We’ve already touched on additional commentary reconciling “Of David” with “the House” as the First Temple. Other teachers take different approaches to its physical and temporal location largely in support of commentary on its emotional content.

And When?

The Mishnah, Bikkurim, reports that Psalm 30 was recited in connection with First Fruits. Other text links the psalm to Chanukah, and it is psalm of the day during that holiday. For several hundred years, Psalm 30 has also been recited first thing in the morning, leading to other associations and interpretations of “house.” More on these ideas to come.

6 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.

 

Note

The Jerusalem Commentary, The Psalms: 1-57
Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 2003.
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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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Where God is Hidden

No one knows where God is hidden. Not even the ministering angels who tend God’s Throne of Glory know where God can be found, nor do the heavenly creatures who carry the Throne, for God has encircled Himself with darkness and cloud all around, as it is said, He made darkness his screen (Ps. 18:12). Indeed, some say that the true meaning of the verse, You hid Your face (Ps. 30:8) is that God is hidden from Himself.
— Howard Schwartz, The Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, p.13

The passage goes on to explain that this might be “about the absence of God” or “a metaphor for the hidden nature of God: just as no person knows where his soul is located within himself, so too does no one know the place of God.” It also mentions teaching of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, which “interprets “You hid Your face (Ps. 30:8) as meaning that God has turned his back on the Jewish people during the Exile” (Likutei Moharan).

Citations are to B. Sanhedrin 39a, Exodus Rabbah 23, Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer 4, and Masekhet Hekhalot 3.

PRE 4:6 says:

The Chayyoth stand next to the throne of His glory and they do not know the place of His glory.

Sanhedrin 39a includes:

The Emperor also said to Rabban Gamaliel: I know what your God is doing, and where He is seated. Rabban Gamaliel became, [as it were] overcome and sighed, and on being asked the reason, answered. ‘I have a son in one of the cities of the sea, and I yearn for him. Pray tell me about him.’ [footnote: Literally, ‘show him to me’] ‘Do I then know where he is,’ he replied. ‘You do not know what is on earth, and yet [claim to] know what is in heaven!’ he retorted.

I don’t have easy access to the other sources, and nothing in the material Schwartz presents directly elaborates on how or why God might be hidden from Godself. Thoughts and additional sources most welcome!
 

 
4 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 (so far)

We have met the enemy, and…

Psalm 30, begins its emotional roller-coaster ride with praise for God who has “lifted me up, and not let my enemies rejoice over me.” The whole concept of enemies requires attention, both in general and in the specific context of Jewish communities in the U.S. today. For a start: When, in the name of security, Jews make visitors to their sanctuaries feel unwelcome, that is a shameful cutting off our noises to spite our faces; when we do the same to other Jews, we should just declare, “We have me the enemy, and he is us.”

Showing Up for Shabbat

I was blessed with two powerful, community-celebrating experiences this past Shabbat. My experience on Saturday morning was so positive, in fact, that I wrote to our neighborhood paper praising the supportive feeling that I believe reflects so well on our community. But I was heartbroken to read a first-hand story of a very different experience that began with “Are you invited to be here?” and went downhill from there:

Today, I stood up for myself. I let my tears be seen. I voiced my pain. I flatly rejected the notion that I am the one who doesn’t understand what is going on.

And, then I left. Because, I told the really kind, well-meaning woman who tried to get me to say, leaving was an act of self-love.

We Jews have a problem. Because we still think that moments like this AREN’T racism. And I am still being told that I don’t understand what is really happening.
— from a Jew of Color attempting to “Show Up for Shabbat”
full story below

I joined worship services in two congregations which had prominently advertised their participation in Refugee Shabbat two weeks earlier.

On Saturday morning, I participated in a basement havurah that meets in a church. Except at high holidays, there is no security personnel or system of “greeters” at the door. The idea of what makes us secure, as Jews and as a wider community arose, as it happens, in the course of our Torah study before services.

On Friday night, I attended a large synagogue with its own building, clearly identifiable as Jewish. I was greeted before entering the building by several new (temporary?) security guards, as well as one regular. I did hold my breath for a moment wondering what they would make of my “Justice for Zo” hat (implicating special police officers in a young man’s death) and the “Black Lives Matter” sign attached to my backpack. (The backpack itself would flag me at some synagogues, a separate security story: No, I don’t a car where I can keep it; and, yes, I need it, coming straight from work). But no one stopped me. Beyond the presence of security personnel, I didn’t see anyone stopped or treated in an unwelcoming way in the short time I was in or near the entryway.

The journalist in me wants to emphasize that I am a regular in both congregations described, while my Jewish sister reports going to a synagogue where she was not know. But I must also stress that, while I don’t “look Jewish” to many eyes, I have gray hair and skin pale enough to sunburn inside of 15 minutes. The former has, over the years, prompted MANY suspicious looks, rude questions, and a sense of being held apart in some Jewish gatherings; the latter, however, seems to neutralize any sense of threat on the part of security personnel or informal synagogue greeter/guards.

Showing Up for Each Other

I have been part of numerous conversations about security in recent years, often over what it means to choose particular security measures when we know the consequences of increased policing on our wider communities and the dangers, in particular, for black and brown people. Those issues are of grave and urgent concern, part of how we let ourselves become “the enemy.”

In the story posted below, however — and in way too many incidents, stretching long before the recent shootings — it was not security personnel who failed to welcome our sister. It was her own people, the folks designated, in a terrible mockery of the word, as “greeters.” (I am trying to determine if and how the greeters were trained, a post for another day.) There is much to do in our individual Jewish communities to ensure that we are inclusive and welcoming.

I was tempted to say “more inclusive and welcoming,” but I think that’s like saying it’s OK, or maybe even “normal” to be a little bit racist or homophobic or able-ist, etc. In addition, we all know that many of our communities are all too willing, regardless of “inclusive policy,” to say, as someone last Shabbat told a fellow Jew: “You have to understand. People are scared. And we don’t know you.”

So, instead, I’ll ask every one of us who recites Psalm 30 in the morning to pause and ask: In what ways am I letting myself be the enemy? How am I contributing to making others feel like they’re in Sheol or the pit? How can I work to help turn our mourning into dance, in a truly collective way?

And, whether we recite this psalm every day or not, let’s find other ways to ask these questions, individually and collectively.

3 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)

In Her Own Words

This came to me via the Facebook page of MaNishatana. Here is the post in graphic, followed by the full text of the post.

embed Manishtana

Full text of post:

It seems, despite my very pointed posts, people *still* did not listen. A story of one JOCs experience [over] this past Shabbat that I came across on a colleague’s news feed, in her own words:

Today, I went to Shabbat morning services.

“Are you invited to be here?” they asked when I arrived.

“I am a Jew and I am here to pray,” I said.

“You’ve never been here before.” “Do you live here?” “Why did you come here?” All questions of me asked before I found my way fully into the sanctuary.

When I stood in line to get a siddur, the greeter stared at me.

“Shabbat Shalom,” I said. And I held out my hand for a prayer book. I was greeted with a blank stare.

“I’ll take a siddur please, I said. SHABBAT. SHALOM.”

And he feebly replied in kind, and I took a prayer book.

When I spoke up about it to three different people, the responses were universal.

“Well, I’m sure that you mis-understood.” – I am sure that I did not. And each time this is the response, it casts me as the person in the wrong. Only pouring salt on an open wound.

“I’m sure that they didn’t meant it THAT way.” – Again, casting me as the person who needs to be more understanding.

“You have to understand. People are scared. And we don’t know you. We have never seen you before.” – What is about me that is so scary? Really.

For much of my life, my parents did their best to protect me from all of this. When I was a child, my father would tell me that if people stare at me when we go, it’s because I am beautiful. And they can’t help but stare. We both knew that wasn’t why people were staring, but I let him believe that I believed him.

For much of my life, I would sit, stoic after being “received” this way at synagogue. I did not cry. I did not move. I stayed.

Today, I stood up for myself. I let my tears be seen. I voiced my pain. I flatly rejected the notion that I am the one who doesn’t understand what is going on.

And, then I left. Because, I told the really kind, well-meaning woman who tried to get me to say, leaving was an act of self-love.

We Jews have a problem. Because we still think that moments like this AREN’T racism. And I am still being told that I don’t understand what is really happening.

I pray that those of you who “showed up for Shabbat” today felt the sense of love, strength, pride and community that I longed to feel. That I long to feel everyday.

I pray that there will come a day when I’m not scary to MY OWN PEOPLE simply because I am a different combination of beautiful things than other people might be. And I AM beautiful. Exactly as I am.

I pray that there will come a day when our synagogues will truly be SAFE SPACES – in every sense of that term.

Today, for me, was not that day. But perhaps there will come a day. We sing ani ma’amin – which means “I believe.” And I do. I believe in love. I believe in hope. I believe that we CAN be better than this. I believe that we must be better than this. All of us. Together.
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Building with Love

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Psalm 30 begins with the idea of dedicating a house, or “the House.”

מִזְמוֹר: שִׁיר-חֲנֻכַּת הַבַּיִת לְדָוִד.
mizmor: shir-chanukat ha-bayit l’David
A Psalm; a Song at the Dedication of the House; of David.

Some translators move the words around for better logical sense to, e.g, “A psalm of David. A song for the dedication of the House.”

Later in the month, I hope to explore more about the meaning of these words and how the psalm has been used over the centuries. Today, let’s focus instead on the concepts of building and dedicating.

Build the World with Love

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (1903-1993) taught:

King Solomon built the physical structure of the Temple, it was King David who imbued it with its sanctity. Because Solomon built the physical structure in a state of prosperity and tranquility, he could not be the one to sanctify it. It was Solomon’s father who hallowed it through his worry, his concern, and his uncertainty. (see notes below)
— commentary in the Koren Mesorat HaRav Siddur

So: worry, concern, and uncertainty can be part of building something important and precious, hallow the building, in fact. Which brings to mind the powerful song, from Rabbi Menachem Creditor, that has inspired so many Jewish gatherings — especially in “the resistance,” however defined — in recent years and days….

…A whole lot of worry, concern, and uncertainty follows governmental attempts to erase transgender individuals, vilify asylum seekers, fuel homophobia and xenophobia and racism and anti-Jewish feeling, plus White Nationalist killings in Louisville and Pittsburgh and attempts elsewhere. Can we harness those feelings to sanctify a building project we cannot even see yet?

Here’s the song’s author, Rabbi Creditor —

Here’s Adas Israel, a synagogue in Washington DC that was the site of an interfaith vigil on 10/29/18 —

Finally, here’s a still from the vigil for Louisville and Tree of Life at Dupont Circle in DC, 10/28, at which the song was also used. dupont_oct28

2 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 more tunes and more on building. Shabbat shalom

NOTES

“So Solomon built the house, and finished it”
וַיִּבֶן שְׁלֹמֹה אֶת-הַבַּיִת, וַיְכַלֵּהוּ
— 1 Kings 6:14]

Psalm 30, which is attributed to David, is full of trepidation as well as rejoicing. Many teachers discuss the meaning and timeline inherent in its varied sentiments.

Rabbi Soloveitchik says that it’s about King David having asked “God’s consent to construct the Temple,” and then suffering for “what seemed to be an interminable period” before God answered. See Koren Mesorat HaRav Siddur, Jerusalem: Koren/OU, 2011.

Here’s the full text of Psalm, with commentary on Sefaria and on Mechon-Mamre (older JPS translation)

Note R. Creditor’s introduction to the song (from YouTube):
“I wrote this song for my daughter, born right after 9/11. This world will be built by love: ours and God’s. In the best and worst of moments, non-fundamentalist “believers” and “atheists” are reaching for the same hope using different language. Amen to both.”

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