Introduction: 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 63 is attributed to King David and was composed in exile in the Judean wilderness. In this Psalm, David’s love and yearning for G-d is expressed in simple, short, clear verse.
The main themes include: thirsting for G-d’s presence, being in awe of G-d’s strength, seeking G-d’s lovingkindness, desiring to bless G-d, showing gratitude for having been rescued and wishing for the defeat of his enemies.
Psalm 63 was likely written after David had been anointed King by the Prophet Samuel. He would have left everything behind, immediately fleeing the murderous intent of King Saul.
אֱ-לֹהִים, אֵלִי אַתָּה– אֲשַׁחֲרֶךָּ: צָמְאָה לְךָ, נַפְשִׁי– כָּמַהּ לְךָ בְשָׂרִי; בְּאֶרֶץ-צִיָּה וְעָיֵף בְּלִי-מָיִם. O Lord, You are my God, earnestly will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh longs for You, in a dry and weary land, where no water is. (Psalms 63:2)
The early verses are filled with warmth and devotion, yet David’s passionate loneliness as he adjusts to isolation, persecution and being cast out is clear. Moreover, David teaches that only by experiencing the Divine presence are we truly alive. G-d doesn’t need our blessings; we benefit from blessing G-d which elevates and nourishes our souls.
כִּי-טוֹב חַסְדְּךָ, מֵחַיִּים; שְׂפָתַי יְשַׁבְּחוּנְךָ. For Your lovingkindness is better than life; my lips shall praise You. (Psalms 63:4)
כֵּן אֲבָרֶכְךָ בְחַיָּי; בְּשִׁמְךָ, אֶשָּׂא כַפָּי. So will I bless You as long as I live; in Your name will I lift up my hands. (Psalms 63:5)
No longer able to access the presence of G-d so readily found in the Mishkan Sanctuary, the reference to ‘wings’ could be the conjuring-up of the Cherubim in the Holy of Holies. Being supported by G-d’s ‘right arm’ gives David added confidence in his distress.
כִּי-הָיִיתָ עֶזְרָתָה לִּי; וּבְצֵל כְּנָפֶיךָ אֲרַנֵּן. For You’ve been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings do I rejoice. (Psalms 63:8)
דָּבְקָה נַפְשִׁי אַחֲרֶיךָ; בִּי, תָּמְכָה יְמִינֶךָ. My soul cleaves to You; Your right hand holds me fast. (Psalms 63:9)
The intensity and purity of language suggests this exile was an abrupt change to what was previously David’s ability to engage with family, home and nation. The stark bitterness and anger reflected in the final verses appears vengeful and disturbing.
וְהֵמָּה–לְשׁוֹאָה, יְבַקְשׁוּ נַפְשִׁי; יָבֹאוּ, בְּתַחְתִּיּוֹת הָאָרֶץ. But those who seek to destroy my soul, shall go to the underpart of the earth. (Psalms 63:10)
וְהַמֶּלֶךְ, יִשְׂמַח בֵּא-לֹהִים: יִתְהַלֵּל, כָּל-הַנִּשְׁבָּע בּוֹ– כִּי יִסָּכֵר, פִּי דוֹבְרֵי-שָׁקֶר. And the king shall rejoice in God; those who swear by [G-d] shall glory; for the mouth of liars shall be stopped. (Psalms 63:12)
Phrases from Psalm 63 have been adapted to Jewish contemporary inspirational music. It was also scored by Antonin Dvorak in his 1894 Biblical Songs collection and was used by Michel-Richard de Lalande in a service at the Royal Chapel of the Chateau of Versailles for King Louis XIV in the late 1600s.
JAMI HEAD ON SHABBAT
In co-operation with JAMI, this week we will participate in HEAD On, the UK annual Mental Health Awareness Shabbat. Chosen because of its association with the plague of darkness that appears in Parshat Bo, the weekend is about showing understanding and support for Mental Health issues.
At least 25% of the adolescent population will experience a mental health incident during their school years. An equal percentage of adults will face a mental health issue during their lifetime. This might include exam-related stress, feelings of hopelessness, postpartum depression, career-related anxiety, bereavement, loneliness or a host of other situations.
The purpose of HEAD ON is to bring up discussion about this enormously important but often avoided topic. JAMI’s aim is for mental health to be as freely discussed as any other category of our health. Please join us for a thoughtful presentation at the end of services.
WRITE-IN CAMPAIGN AGAINST HEZBOLLAH
IT ONLY TAKES A MOMENT: Luke Akehurst, the director of We Believe in Israel, is organising an E-mail campaign to get MPs to attend a Commons debate on 25 January to call for the banning of the political wing of the terrorist organisation Hezbollah. To contact your MP, please click this link to the Israel Britain Alliance, add your name and post code, and an e-mail will appear which you can read, edit or just send as is to your local MP. It takes less than a minute to participate!
NEW RSS HOSPITALITY WHAT’S APP
Moishe Gotlieb has taken the initiative to set-up a Rambam Sephardi hospitality What’sApp group. It’s purpose is to create a regular support network for those seeking meals on Shabbat & Festivals. Please be in contact with Moishe if you’d like further information.
S&P CENTRAL LINK
Joshua de Sola Mendes has gone to great effort and expense to create a directory of S&P communities around the world. It is a compact, very handy travelling resource. Copies are available via Amazon. You can find the S&P Central website here.
OUR 2018 PROGRAMME
It is said the only thing which holds back a synagogue from growing is the number of its volunteers. Thankfully, we have an ambitious programme for 2018. Beginning with Tu BShvat on 30 January and continuing through to this summer’s Camp Rambam, there are numerous opportunities to get involved. Please contact the Rabbi, Brian, Derek, Lea or Rivka if you’d like to help.