תהילים כג׳ | Psalms 23, translation by Shim’on Menachem, melody by Shir Yaakov


מִזְמ֥וֹר לְדָוִ֑ד
יְהוָ֥ה רֹ֝עִ֗י לֹ֣א אֶחְסָֽר׃
בִּנְא֣וֹת דֶּ֭שֶׁא יַרְבִּיצֵ֑נִי
עַל־מֵ֖י מְנֻח֣וֹת יְנַהֲלֵֽנִי׃
נַפְשִׁ֥י יְשׁוֹבֵ֑ב
יַֽנְחֵ֥נִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי־צֶ֝֗דֶק לְמַ֣עַן שְׁמֽוֹ׃
גַּ֤ם כִּֽי־אֵלֵ֨ךְ בְּגֵ֪יא צַלְמָ֡וֶת
לֹא־אִ֘ירָ֤א רָ֗ע כִּי־אַתָּ֥ה עִמָּדִ֑י שִׁבְטְךָ֥ וּ֝מִשְׁעַנְתֶּ֗ךָ הֵ֣מָּה יְנַֽחֲמֻֽנִי׃
תַּעֲרֹ֬ךְ לְפָנַ֨י ׀ שֻׁלְחָ֗ן נֶ֥גֶד צֹרְרָ֑י
דִּשַּׁ֖נְתָּ בַשֶּׁ֥מֶן רֹ֝אשִׁ֗י כּוֹסִ֥י רְוָיָֽה׃
אַ֤ךְ ׀ ט֤וֹב וָחֶ֣סֶד יִ֭רְדְּפוּנִי כָּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיָּ֑י
וְשַׁבְתִּ֥י בְּבֵית־יְ֝הוָ֗ה לְאֹ֣רֶךְ יָמִֽים׃
A Psalm of David.
YHVH is my shepherd;​ I shall not want.[1]‘My shepherd’ (רֹעִי), ro’i, is connected to the root rea’ (רֵעַ) meaning ‘friend, companion. 
He makes me lie down in green pastures:​[2]The root inside yarbitzeni (יַרְבִּיצֵנִי) ‘lie down’ (רבץ) also means ‘to stretch oneself out.’ 
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul:
He leads me in the paths of righteous​ness for his name’s sake.[3]The root inside ‘paths’ ma’glei (מַעְגְּלֵי) also carries the meaning ‘circles.’ 
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death,
I will fear no evil: for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.[4]The root inside ‘Your rod’ shivtekha (שִׁבְטְךָ) also means ‘sceptre,’ i.e. a symbol of authority and ‘tribe.’ The root inside ‘your staff’ mish’antekha (מִשְׁעַנְתֶּךָ) also means ‘support.’ 
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies:
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows​.
Surel​y goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of YHVH for ever.

The Hebrew language is a zip line from a time-bound, place-bound, and English-bound experience to an ancient civilization’s continually unfolding encounter with the Divine. Hebrew has a unique ability to engage our senses and our rational minds while gently slipping underneath them. To think and pray in Hebrew is to dwell inside nuance and potentiality, to immerse in a sea of words that are few in number but teem with hyperlinks to mystical-imaginal realms and hundreds of centuries of transcendent experience. Psalm 23 is among the best known and most loved of the 150 beautiful poems that we think date back to about the sixth through third centuries BCE. For many, this particular psalm has been a source of great strength in the face of danger and hardship.

My hope is that the combination of breathing and singing at a time when most of us are also fasting will induce a shift in perspective, an attunement to higher realms of perception, and an understanding that even at our darkest moments, we are never alone.

I offer this workshop as a prayer leader in training, as a long-serving language educator and as part of an effort to nurture Hebrew literacy. If you’d like to stay in touch, please do contact me at shimonides@gmail.com.

The melody we will learn today originated in a contemplative community in Rishikesh, India, and came to me, via other waystations, from Shir Yaakov Feit (shiryaakov.com). The translations are my own, and along with the text itself, they are bound to bring up questions. I welcome them, and I ask you to hold onto them until we have been able to read or sing the entire text of Psalm 23 at least five times.

Listen to a recording of Psalm 23 chanted to an Indian-inspired melody.

Notes   [ + ]

  1. ‘My shepherd’ (רֹעִי), ro’i, is connected to the root rea’ (רֵעַ) meaning ‘friend, companion.
  2. The root inside yarbitzeni (יַרְבִּיצֵנִי) ‘lie down’ (רבץ) also means ‘to stretch oneself out.’
  3. The root inside ‘paths’ ma’glei (מַעְגְּלֵי) also carries the meaning ‘circles.’
  4. The root inside ‘Your rod’ shivtekha (שִׁבְטְךָ) also means ‘sceptre,’ i.e. a symbol of authority and ‘tribe.’ The root inside ‘your staff’ mish’antekha (מִשְׁעַנְתֶּךָ) also means ‘support.’

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