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.