This translation of and reflection on Psalm 30 was a part of an assignment for a Psalms class we are taking in rabbinical school this semester with Dr. Nehemia Pollan. It has been amazing to learn about the Psalms as the music and poetry of the Bible. Through this translation assignment we were able to find the depth and myriad meanings in each word and to familiarize ourselves with the vastly different and extremely moving translations that have been published, including Robert Alter’s The Book of Psalms and Norman Fischer’s Opening to You: Zen-Inspired Translations of the Psalms. There is a new book of Psalms translations written by a woman in our community, Pamela Greenberg, The Complete Psalms which I am excited to check out!
Here is my translation for Psalm 30, which is part of the daily liturgy of traditional Jewish prayer.
In the Talmud in the tractate Brachot (Blessings), the rabbis raise the question of what is meant by the mishnaic statement “ha oseh tefilato keva, ain tefilato tachanunim – the one who makes his prayer fixed, his prayer is not one of supplication.”
One explanation given is that our prayer lacks supplication when it is not done “eem dimdumei chama – with the reddening of the sun.” While on a peshat level the rabbis may be referring to the need for one to be earnest in his or her prayer in order for it to be supplicatory, I think there may be another level to their words.
Hi all! I wanted to share with you a recent piece I wrote for the Theology of Prayer class I am currently taking with Rabbi Art Green. This piece is another segment in the exploration of traditional Jewish prayer and embodiment.
For those who are unfamiliar with the framework and language of traditional Jewish prayer, the “Amidah,” which I am writing about in this piece, is known as “the standing prayer,” “the silent prayer,” or sometimes even just “the prayer.” It is the central point of the traditional service, the crescendo in a long flow of liturgy. Traditional Jews recite the Amidah three times a day. In rabbinic literature there is a set posture for the Amidah: standing, and an established choreography that one follows throughout the 19 blessings that make up this prayer.
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As we approach the Amidah during this morning’s tefillah I want to offer one way of expanding our connection to this foundational prayer of our davening. Not only does this prayer give us an opportunity to approach the Divine through the framework of tradition, history, and community, but it also allows us to come into deeper relationship with our own physical form as a means of accessing Gd.
During a discussion in the Talmud, the rabbis ask what it is that establishes the number of brachot we have in the Amidah. To this question, three possible answers are given. The first two responses say that the number of benedictions reflects the number of times the Divine name is mentioned in David’s Psalm 29, or the number of mentions of Gd’s name in the Shema. Both of these answers use textual evidence as their basis. The third answer given seems in stark contrast to the first two. Rather than citing a biblical passage, Rav Tanchum says in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi that the number of blessings is related to the number of vertebrae in the human spine.
Through these answers, three paradigms are given for understanding prayer. From the first, we understand prayer as an ancestral paradigm, connected to our past and future. The second ties prayer to a revealed paradigm, linking it to Torah. From the third, prayer is seen as a personal paradigm, connected to our bodies.
Whenever I am in a really good movement class, be it yoga or Nia or some other type of dance, I become grounded in my body and feel connected to The Force of the Universe in such a direct and visceral way. My movement then becomes a prayer practice – a process that wakes up every part of me, shakes off the dust, fills me with energy, and allows me to connect to something greater than myself. However, alive and energized from the movement, I often leave these experiences longing for a way to connect these moments of resonance to my Jewish prayer practice. I feel a profundity that I yearn to share in a community of shared language and experiences.
At the same time, as I sit and stand and bow, singing and chanting my way through traditional Jewish prayer, I often feel as though I am only engaging from my shoulders up. After exercising my brain at school all day, I arrive for prayer in the morning and sometimes have a hard time differentiating it from my classes. On the one hand, our liturgy is poetic, beautiful and moving, and the service is designed to bring us into deeper awareness and to enhance our capacity for gratitude. On the other hand, traditional Jewish prayer is so full of words that it can feel like an intellectual exercise rather than a method for connecting to the Divine.
Fortunately for me, there are students and teachers who resonate with this dissonance and who are interested in going deeper to see if we can begin to weave threads of connection between the two practices.
Last week in my homiletics class we were given an assignment to write a prayer that we can say to ourselves before giving a d’var Torah (sermon). I found this very useful in terms of thinking about what effect I would want my words to have. What would be the feeling in the room? What impact would I want to make? I can imagine it will be much easier now to write that 15 minute sermon that is due in a few weeks, having created this intention through prayer.
While it would be impossible to have a focused intention for all of our actions throughout the day, I am wondering how I can weave this sort of prayer creation into other aspects of my life. I am also thinking about the fixed prayer service that I pray almost every morning with my community at school (in more and less traditional ways). In what ways do my personal intentions/prayers interact with the liturgy? Is there a way to pray a set service in community, yet to have a personally meaningful experience that answers my seemingly-individual needs?
For now, here is the prayer I wrote. I am sure it will evolve as I continue to learn:
Creative Source of the Universe
May I begin from a place of quiet stillness
May I access my relationship to You, and from that place speak
May I be calm and centered, fully present in body, mind and spirit
May what I say be gentle and powerful, powerful and gentle
May my words resonate, heal, melt, expand, nurture, challenge, comfort, move
May they cause people’s hearts to beat faster, their eyes to tear, their spirits to soften, their minds to open
May I tune into the rhythm of life around and within me and be guided by the pulse
May I help create openings where the energy of life can freely flow
May I be in service to the highest good for all
As we prepare for Rosh Hashana at the end of this week we enter into one of the most spiritually powerful periods in the Jewish calendar. Rosh Hashana marks the intensification of a period of introspection or teshuva begun at the start of the Hebrew month of Elul, just a few weeks ago. We move from Rosh Hashana, the Day of Judgment through a ten-day period where our teshuva process is revved to its highest point, reaching its apex on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The totality of these days are known as the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe.
Rosh Hashana is a time when we thoughtfully examine the ways in which we have succeeded or fallen short in our relationships with ourselves, others, and the Great Power of the Universe. It is a time of personal reflection on who we have been this past year and of spiritual recalibration to return us to our highest version of ourselves. As the blasts of the shofar echo in the walls of our prayer spaces and reverberate in our souls we are given a powerful call to discard that which is no longer serving us and renew our commitment to that which gives us life.