Starting with Rosh Chodesh Elul all the way through Sh’mini Atzeret, it is customary to read or sing the words of Psalm 27. Why, of all the 150 Psalms, did the Rabbis of the Talmudic era choose this one for this unique time on the Jewish calendar? The obvious High Holy day connection might be the reference to the sound of t’ruah, (the 8 consecutive staccato shofar blasts) and the reference to the sukkah (the open faced hut that we dwell in on Sukkot.) Or perhaps the references to “evil doers” or “enemies” are supposed to reference the inner adversaries we try to reconcile with and make teshuvah for on the Yamim Nora’im. While there is no definitive answer, what struck me, especially during this year in particular is verse 4, which says: Achat sh’alti m’eit Adonai Otah avakeish, shivti b’veit Adonai kol y’mei chayai”
“One thing have I sought from Adonai- how I long for it: That I may live in the House of Adonai all the days of my life.”
This bit of text stands in contrast to the liturgy of the high holidays which has many references to God that conjure up a distant, almighty, and regal presence. “Avinu malkeinu”- our father our king; “El melech yosheiv al kiseh rachamim”-the king who sits upon a throne of compassion; “hu Dayan u’mochiah v’yodeah v’ad v’kotev v’chotam v’sofer u’moneh”- the judge who proves, knows, and bears witness; who writes and seals, counts and calculates.”
These references give us a feeling of “awe” but not feeling of closeness or -pun intended- “aww.” But when we read Psalm 27, rather than being at the foot of God’s mighty throne, we are living in God’s house. Anyone who has ever had a roommate knows, you don’t really know someone until you’ve lived with them. When you live with someone they are a part of your daily routine: you see them in the morning, you see them at meal times, you spend time with them during the day, and you see them before you go to sleep. What more of an apt way to describe our relationship with God this year, at this time, when we are celebrating the High Holy Days in our homes. We are all literally inviting God’s presence into our houses, and we ask with this daily psalm offering, that we might keep that holy presence with us “kol y’mei chayai”- all the days of our lives.
There are many beautiful musical settings to this text, and this year I decided to write a new one with my fellow Cantorial student, Jaqueline Rafii. We wanted to write an upbeat setting that feels like a a musical onramp to the heightened spiritual highway of the holidays. And also wanted to incorporate the amazing heritage of Persian Jewish music that Jaqueline grew up with (and that I am now learning more about!)
I hope this melody and text inspires you, and I hope that you will make this Psalm part of your daily ritual this year during the holidays, as an invitation to bring God’s presence into your homes and into your life.
G’mar Chatimah Tovah,
May you be sealed in the book of life, in the book of love, and the book of Goodness
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