The movement at this time of year is toward wholeness. You begin to realize all the ways you are broken and estranged, and get in touch with the longing to re-connect. The deepest energy of the days leading up to the Jewish High Holy days is returning home. The month of Elul offers us the opportunity to look at the reality of our lives and in so doing, turn toward healing and wholeness.
I got to know Psalm 27 during my time at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills. It’s “the” practice for the month of Elul. Many people recite it in the morning and evening. It’s a complicated psalm; it embodies the profound themes beckoning at this time of year.
King David, thought to be the author of this psalm, expresses his distance from God and his deep desire to re-connect. He takes us on his journey. He shares his fear about the enemies that look to hurt him. He asks for protection. He wants to “see God’s face.” From deep in his soul, he cries out to be in God’s house – a symbol of unity, connection and wholeness. From this place, he can release his fear and know that he has been taken in, accepted, and forgiven. He wants to come home.
This year, the words of the psalm are especially incisive – both the language of fear and brokenness as well as the deep need to be whole.
Every single one of us gets disconnected: from each other, from our sense of unity and God and from ourselves. This time leading up to Rosh Hashanah, we begin to turn, to re-connect, to examine where we have gotten estranged.
Probably the most famous verse (Psalm 27:4) that has been set to many musical interpretations, and sung in synagogue is this:
One thing I ask, I ask of You, I earnestly seek
That I might dwell in Your house all the days of my life
Knowing the beauty, the beauty of You, and to dwell in Your holy place.
Achat sha’alti me’eit Adonai, otah avakesh
Shivti b’veit Adonai, kol y’mei chayay
Lachazot b’noam, b’noam Yah, u’l’vaker b’heikhalo
To me, this one verse captures the intention of the soul-work in preparation for the High Holy Days. I imagine that “dwelling in the house of God” is the place where I feel whole and connected. My estrangement is released. I am accepted and the broken pieces are healed. To me, the place where God dwells is not necessarily a physical place. It’s a condition of aliveness and of being fully awake.
This is the true meaning of the High Holidays. This is what I seek. This is what it means to “see God’s face.” Even though “judgement” is a pronounced theme of the liturgy at this time of year, compassion and love are also present.
Last year, I was teaching about Psalm 27 in my Spiritual Preparation for the High Holy Days webinar series. Chava Mirel, one of the most talented singer/songwriters of our time (and who is in my course) called me one day to say she had written a composition of Achat Sha’alti.
As I listened, my soul rejoiced.
Chava so captured the feeling tone of this verse. Her voice is amazing. In her voice, I hear expression of the longing to return. She recorded it while waiting for the Vashon ferry in Seattle (in her car – actually an incredible soundproof place!) More info on how to get connected to Chava below*.
THIS is a practice for Elul. You can play it morning and night. When you do, allow yourself to notice what comes up for you:
What are YOU seeking this year?
What does “wholeness” and “God’s house” look like for you?
Where have you become disconnected and broken and seek to heal?
A few resources:
- Come join this year’s Spiritual Preparation for the High Holidays. We are meeting ONLINE and each session will be recorded, so if you can’t make it to the “live” webinar, you’ll get the recording. More info is here: https://www.ravjill.com/returning-home-spiritual-preparation-for-the-high-holy-days/
- *Follow Chava on YouTube and on Facebook. You will be SO HAPPY you did. She has several albums out that you can find on bandcamp or Itunes.
- Beautiful analysis by Professor Robert Pollack of the entire Psalm 27. You can find it here (along with the English translation) http://www.bj.org/Articles/be-strong-be-trusting-reading-psalm-27-in-elul/
- Download my one-page Spiritual Preparation for the High Holy Days here: https://www.ravjill.com/spiritual-prep-checklist/
- Read the traditional Psalm in English and Hebrew below. (Note: edits in translation by me. יְהוָ֤ה is often translated as “the Lord” but it is not a good translation to me – another topic – I am choosing like the Women’s Torah Commentary authors to use the Hebrew letters of God’s holiest name instead of “Lord.” )
(1) Of David. YHVH (Adonai) is my light and my help; whom should I fear?YHVH is the stronghold of my life, whom should I dread?
(2) When evil men assail me to devour my flesh— it is they, my foes and my enemies, who stumble and fall.
(3) Should an army besiege me, my heart would have no fear; should war beset me, still would I be confident.
(4) One thing I ask of YHVH, only that do I seek: to live in the house of YHVH all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of YHVH, to frequent His temple.
(5) God will shelter me in God’s pavilion on an evil day, grant me the protection of His tent, raise me high upon a rock.
(6) Now is my head high over my enemies roundabout; I sacrifice in His tent with shouts of joy, singing and chanting a hymn to YHVH.
(7) Hear, Adonai, when I cry aloud; have mercy on me, answer me.
(8) In Your behalf my heart says: “Seek My face!” Adonai, I seek Your face.
(9) Do not hide Your face from me; do not thrust aside Your servant in anger; You have ever been my help. Do not forsake me, do not abandon me, O God, my deliverer.
(10) Though my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will take me in.
(11) Show me Your way, O YHVH, and lead me on a level path because of my watchful foes.
(12) Do not subject me to the will of my foes, for false witnesses and unjust accusers have appeared against me.
(13) Had I not the assurance that I would enjoy the goodness of YHVH in the land of the living…
(14) Look to the YHVH; be strong and of good courage! O look to YHVH!
(א) לְדָוִ֨ד ׀ יְהוָ֤ה ׀ אוֹרִ֣י וְ֭יִשְׁעִי מִמִּ֣יאִירָ֑א יְהוָ֥ה מָֽעוֹז־חַ֝יַּ֗י מִמִּ֥י אֶפְחָֽד׃ (ב) בִּקְרֹ֤ב עָלַ֨י ׀ מְרֵעִים֮ לֶאֱכֹ֪ל אֶת־בְּשָׂ֫רִ֥י צָרַ֣י וְאֹיְבַ֣י לִ֑י הֵ֖מָּה כָשְׁל֣וּ וְנָפָֽלוּ׃ (ג) אִם־תַּחֲנֶ֬ה עָלַ֨י ׀ מַחֲנֶה֮ לֹֽא־יִירָ֪א לִ֫בִּ֥י אִם־תָּק֣וּם עָ֭לַי מִלְחָמָ֑ה בְּ֝זֹ֗את אֲנִ֣י בוֹטֵֽחַ׃ (ד) אַחַ֤ת ׀ שָׁאַ֣לְתִּי מֵֽאֵת־יְהוָה֮ אוֹתָ֪הּ אֲבַ֫קֵּ֥שׁ שִׁבְתִּ֣י בְּבֵית־יְ֭הוָה כָּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיַּ֑י לַחֲז֥וֹת בְּנֹֽעַם־יְ֝הוָ֗ה וּלְבַקֵּ֥ר בְּהֵיכָלֽוֹ׃ (ה) כִּ֤י יִצְפְּנֵ֨נִי ׀ בְּסֻכֹּה֮ בְּי֪וֹם רָ֫עָ֥ה יַ֭סְתִּרֵנִי בְּסֵ֣תֶר אָהֳל֑וֹ בְּ֝צ֗וּר יְרוֹמְמֵֽנִי׃ (ו) וְעַתָּ֨ה יָר֪וּם רֹאשִׁ֡י עַ֤ל אֹֽיְבַ֬י סְֽבִיבוֹתַ֗י וְאֶזְבְּחָ֣ה בְ֭אָהֳלוֹ זִבְחֵ֣י תְרוּעָ֑ה אָשִׁ֥ירָה וַ֝אֲזַמְּרָ֗ה לַיהוָֽה׃ (ז) שְׁמַע־יְהוָ֖ה קוֹלִ֥י אֶקְרָ֗א וְחָנֵּ֥נִי וַעֲנֵֽנִי׃ (ח) לְךָ֤ ׀ אָמַ֣ר לִ֭בִּי בַּקְּשׁ֣וּ פָנָ֑י אֶת־פָּנֶ֖יךָ יְהוָ֣ה אֲבַקֵּֽשׁ׃ (ט) אַל־תַּסְתֵּ֬ר פָּנֶ֨יךָ ׀ מִמֶּנִּי֮ אַֽל־תַּט־בְּאַ֗ף עַ֫בְדֶּ֥ךָ עֶזְרָתִ֥י הָיִ֑יתָ אַֽל־תִּטְּשֵׁ֥נִי וְאַל־תַּֽ֝עַזְבֵ֗נִי אֱלֹהֵ֥י יִשְׁעִֽי׃ (י) כִּי־אָבִ֣י וְאִמִּ֣י עֲזָב֑וּנִי וַֽיהוָ֣ה יַֽאַסְפֵֽנִי׃ (יא) ה֤וֹרֵ֥נִי יְהוָ֗ה דַּ֫רְכֶּ֥ךָ וּ֭נְחֵנִי בְּאֹ֣רַח מִישׁ֑וֹר לְ֝מַ֗עַן שׁוֹרְרָֽי׃ (יב) אַֽל־תִּ֭תְּנֵנִי בְּנֶ֣פֶשׁ צָרָ֑י כִּ֥י קָֽמוּ־בִ֥י עֵֽדֵי־שֶׁ֝֗קֶר וִיפֵ֥חַ חָמָֽס׃ (יג) הֶ֭אֱמַנְתִּי לִרְא֥וֹת בְּֽטוּב־יְהוָ֗ה בְּאֶ֣רֶץ חַיִּֽים׃ (יד) קַוֵּ֗ה אֶל־יְה֫וָ֥ה חֲ֭זַק וְיַאֲמֵ֣ץ לִבֶּ֑ךָ וְ֝קַוֵּ֗ה אֶל־יְהוָֽה׃
Please share with me your insights about this psalm, and any other Elul practices you find helpful to do. And I’ll pass any comments to Chava on to her 🙂