Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,
The High Holiday season begins with the lunar month of אלול / Elul, the month that leads us to Rosh Hashanah. Elul begins this Friday evening.
Some of us enter this holy corridor of time through the words of psalms and prayer, both ancient and modern. Some find a doorway in through contemplation and cheshbon ha-nefesh, taking an accounting of our souls. And some of us find a way in through music. I love all three of these, but the doorway of music is particularly close to my heart.
Every year at CBI at this season we sing settings of different parts of Psalm 27, the psalm that tradition assigns to the month of Elul and the Days of Awe. Over recent years we’ve come to know and love Israel Katz’s “Achat Sha’alti,” and Nava Tehila’s “Lach Amar Libi,” and an adaptation of Bat Kol’s “Kaveh El Adonai / Keep Hoping in the One.”
Our shul has been sharing these musical themes each year (and the sermon themes that go with them) with Temple Beth El of City Island, the shul served by my dear friend and Bayit co-founder Rabbi David Markus. This year our shared theme for the Days of Awe is Vision, and our musical refrain for the season is a setting of Psalm 27 verse 13, music written by Rabbi David.
The words are:
לוּלֵא הֶאֱמַנְתִּי לִרְאוֹת בְּטוּב-יְהוָ”ה בְּאֶרֶץ חַיִּים
Lulei he’emanti lir’ot b’tuv-Adonai b’eretz chayyim
Here’s a simple recording:
(If you can’t see the embedded audio player, you can go directly to the mp3 file here.)
And for those who read music, here’s sheet music:
Here are a few different translations of this verse:
[I would not have survived]
If I had not hoped that I would yet see
Yah’s goodness fully alive on Earth. (R’ Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z”l)
If I had not believed to look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! (Jewish Publication Society, 1917)
though i don’t always see it
i will ever trust in your goodness
in the land of the living. (R’ Brant Rosen)
Had I not the assurance that I would enjoy the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living… (JPS, 1985)
The first word of the verse, lulei, is a special word. It’s traditionally written with dots over and below it: maybe to call our attention to it, maybe to enhance its conditional quality, maybe to heighten its poignancy. Without the word lulei, the verse would be fairly straightforward, indicating belief that the speaker will see God’s goodness in the land of the living. With lulei, the verse could imply: do I really see God’s goodness? do I really believe that I can see God’s goodness? what would I do if I couldn’t see God’s goodness? what do I do at the times when I cannot see God’s goodness? what does it mean to have faith, or to say that God is good, or to say that the world is good? what does it mean to see goodness in the world around us?
All of these are powerful questions that can fuel our entry into the High Holiday season.
We’ll sing this setting of Psalm 27:13 at all of the services I lead between now and the end of the Days of Awe, and Hazzan Randall and I will sing it with you during the High Holidays themselves, too. I hope you will listen to it this month. Sing along with it, let it soak into you, let it run through your head and heart, and let it infuse and inform this holy corridor of time leading us into and through the turn of the year.
Blessings to all —