Week of 4 January 2018 – Psalms 61

Thankfully a new calendar year has begun – perhaps quieter in some corners and louder in others – but with much opportunity for reflection. My favourite aspect to New Years is the world wide fireworks countdown shown in a 3-minute collage. If you missed it, please feel free to click here.

Some may think it isn’t ‘Jewish’ to celebrate the secular new year. But in places other than the UK, the calendar year also serves as the tax year. So it’s at least a date with financial if not religious significance. As all beginnings are an opportunity for taking account and planning ahead, we hope 2018 will bring us closer to living the kind of lives we aspire to.

Our dear friend Renee W forwarded a link to former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’s new year reflections for 2018. He focuses on 5 simple themes that everyone can benefit from – Dreaming, Following one’s Passion, Asking what life wants from Us, Making space for what matters and Working Hard (click here to read more). His thoughts have a profundity that is appreciated by millions around the world!

This comment is in memory of my late mother (Brainah Leah bat Moshe Aharon) and for all those who read Tehillim for the sake of others. [To see the full Mechon Mamre text, please click here.]

Psalm 61 introduces a musical variation known as Neginah, or string music (I.e. see Psalm 67). As many Psalms were adapted to be sung by the Levites in the Beit HaMikdash (Jewish Temple), it’s not surprising that they begin with musical instruction. For those unaware, until today, a musical tradition is daily maintained by those of another faith.

At only 9 verses, Psalm 61 is brief, containing 3 basic themes. They are; Calling upon G-d as Protector, as Provider and as the source of Continuing Favour. It is attributed to David, and like many in this recent series, it begins in sadness and ends in hope. [To see the full Mechon Mamre text, please click here.]

שִׁמְעָה אֱ-לֹהִים, רִנָּתִי; הַקְשִׁיבָה, תְּפִלָּתִי. Hear my cry, O G-d; attend unto my prayer. (Psalms 61:2)

מִקְצֵה הָאָרֶץ, אֵלֶיךָ אֶקְרָא- בַּעֲטֹף לִבִּי; בְּצוּר-יָרוּם מִמֶּנִּי תַנְחֵנִי. From the end of the earth will I call to You, when my heart faints; lead me to a rock that is too high for me. (Psalms 61:3)

The Artscroll comment on this Psalm informs that, though designated king, David had to flee into exile from those who would destroy him. His personal experience prophetically served to parallel Israel’s national plight. Thus, this Psalm embraces that wider meaning as well.

אָגוּרָה בְאָהָלְךָ, עוֹלָמִים; אֶחֱסֶה בְסֵתֶר כְּנָפֶיךָ סֶּלָה. I will dwell in Your Tent for ever; taking refuge in the cover of Your wings. Selah (Psalms 61:5)

כִּי-אַתָּה אֱ-לֹהִים, שָׁמַעְתָּ לִנְדָרָי; נָתַתָּ יְרֻשַּׁת, יִרְאֵי שְׁמֶךָ. For You, O God, have heard my vows; have granted heritage to those who fear Your name. (Psalms 61:6)

R Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests the phrase ‘add days to the King’s days’ contains a far-reaching eternal aspiration of David. Not only did he want his earthly days to be extended, but he wanted his Psalms to be recited by many generations of those seeking hope, internal peace and closeness to G-d. In this way, whatever he might accomplish in life through poetic inspiration and good deeds, would continue to endure after his demise.

יָמִים עַל-יְמֵי-מֶלֶךְ תּוֹסִיף; שְׁנוֹתָיו, כְּמוֹ-דֹר וָדֹר. May You add days unto the king’s days! May his years be as many generations! (Psalms 61:7)

יֵשֵׁב עוֹלָם, לִפְנֵי אֱ-לֹהִים; חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת, מַן יִנְצְרֻהוּ. May he be enthroned before God for ever! Appoint mercy and truth, that they may preserve him. (Psalms 61:8)

Inevitably, at some point in all of our lives, we ponder – if not struggle over – the question ‘what impact will I make on the world’. Psalm 61 leads us to understand that the way we each live, the moral integrity with which we conduct ourselves and the effort we make in seeking closeness to G-d in all of our daily experiences, will be what remains after we’re gone. Most everything else is unlikely to last very long.