Take a look at the following verse. Anyone recognize it?

How Fortunate!

(ה) אַ֭שְׁרֵי יוֹשְׁבֵ֣י בֵיתֶ֑ךָ ע֝֗וֹד יְֽהַלְל֥וּךָ סֶּֽלָה׃

(5) How fortunate are those who dwell in your home! They shall praise you!

If you're regularly active in a traditional Jewish community, you might have already shouted out "Yeah, sure, it's at the beginning of the Ashrei!"

In truth, however, this is a single line quoted from a very different prayer-poem, and is the climax to one of the most emotionally-stirring passages in all of ancient Judean and Israelite literature. (I know that's quite a bold claim!)

Let's look at it in context:

Even the sparrow...!

(א) לַמְנַצֵּ֥חַ עַֽל־הַגִּתִּ֑ית לִבְנֵי־קֹ֥רַח מִזְמֽוֹר׃ (ב) מַה־יְּדִיד֥וֹת מִשְׁכְּנוֹתֶ֗יךָ יְהוָ֥ה צְבָאֽוֹת׃ (ג) נִכְסְפָ֬ה וְגַם־כָּלְתָ֨ה ׀ נַפְשִׁי֮ לְחַצְר֪וֹת יְה֫וָ֥ה לִבִּ֥י וּבְשָׂרִ֑י יְ֝רַנְּנ֗וּ אֶ֣ל אֵֽל־חָֽי׃ (ד) גַּם־צִפּ֨וֹר ׀ מָ֪צְאָה בַ֡יִת וּדְר֤וֹר ׀ קֵ֥ן לָהּ֮ אֲשֶׁר־שָׁ֪תָה אֶפְרֹ֫חֶ֥יהָ אֶֽת־מִ֭זְבְּחוֹתֶיךָ יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֑וֹת מַ֝לְכִּ֗י וֵאלֹהָֽי׃ (ה) אַ֭שְׁרֵי יוֹשְׁבֵ֣י בֵיתֶ֑ךָ ע֝֗וֹד יְֽהַלְל֥וּךָ סֶּֽלָה׃

(2) How comely are your dwelling places, YHWH of Hosts!

(3) With my very breath I pine, I yearn for the courtyards of YHWH.

My heart and my flesh sing joyously to the Living-El!

(4) Even a sparrow has found a home; and a swallow a nest for herself, in which she places her fledglings by your altar, YHWH of Hosts, my king and my eloha!

(5) How fortunate are those who [get to] dwell in your home! They will yet praise you!

Wow... you may as well be able to reach out and touch this poet's yearning with your hand; such is the intensity that emerges from these words.

Here's a question I'd like to think about together:

What, exactly, is it that our psalmist is yearning for?

Try to answer this question without using the words in the prayer-poem above. Perhaps framing it this way will help; What could have been so special about YHWH's courtyards that inspired such emotion?

The sentiments in this prayer-poem are expressed in many places throughout Israelite prayer-poetry. As is often the case with the studying of our Judean and Israelite literature, it is in the juxtaposition of related texts that important insights begin to emerge.

So with that, let's turn over to a "sister-poem," in some ways - Psalm 27, and do our best to approach it with eyes afresh as if we are encountering it for the very first time.

Of course this is never an easy task for someone familiar with a text; And so to help us along, I'd like to invite you to read with the following question in mind:

What one word best captures the emotional state of our poet?

(If you would answer this question differently based on different passages or sections, try to keep note of where that/those moments would be.)

YHWH - my light and my rescue

(א) ׀ יְהוָ֤ה ׀ אוֹרִ֣י וְ֭יִשְׁעִי מִמִּ֣י אִירָ֑א יְהוָ֥ה מָֽעוֹז־חַ֝יַּ֗י מִמִּ֥י אֶפְחָֽד׃ (ב) בִּקְרֹ֤ב עָלַ֨י ׀ מְרֵעִים֮ לֶאֱכֹ֪ל אֶת־בְּשָׂ֫רִ֥י צָרַ֣י וְאֹיְבַ֣י לִ֑י הֵ֖מָּה כָשְׁל֣וּ וְנָפָֽלוּ׃ (ג) אִם־תַּחֲנֶ֬ה עָלַ֨י ׀ מַחֲנֶה֮ לֹֽא־יִירָ֪א לִ֫בִּ֥י אִם־תָּק֣וּם עָ֭לַי מִלְחָמָ֑ה בְּ֝זֹ֗את אֲנִ֣י בוֹטֵֽחַ׃ (ד) אַחַ֤ת ׀ שָׁאַ֣לְתִּי מֵֽאֵת־יְהוָה֮ אוֹתָ֪הּ אֲבַ֫קֵּ֥שׁ שִׁבְתִּ֣י בְּבֵית־יְ֭הוָה כָּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיַּ֑י לַחֲז֥וֹת בְּנֹֽעַם־יְ֝הוָ֗ה וּלְבַקֵּ֥ר בְּהֵיכָלֽוֹ׃ (ה) כִּ֤י יִצְפְּנֵ֨נִי ׀ בְּסֻכֹּה֮ בְּי֪וֹם רָ֫עָ֥ה יַ֭סְתִּרֵנִי בְּסֵ֣תֶר אָהֳל֑וֹ בְּ֝צ֗וּר יְרוֹמְמֵֽנִי׃ (ו) וְעַתָּ֨ה יָר֪וּם רֹאשִׁ֡י עַ֤ל אֹֽיְבַ֬י סְֽבִיבוֹתַ֗י וְאֶזְבְּחָ֣ה בְ֭אָהֳלוֹ זִבְחֵ֣י תְרוּעָ֑ה אָשִׁ֥ירָה וַ֝אֲזַמְּרָ֗ה לַיהוָֽה׃ (ז) שְׁמַע־יְהוָ֖ה קוֹלִ֥י אֶקְרָ֗א וְחָנֵּ֥נִי וַעֲנֵֽנִי׃ (ח) לְךָ֤ ׀ אָמַ֣ר לִ֭בִּי בַּקְּשׁ֣וּ פָנָ֑י אֶת־פָּנֶ֖יךָ יְהוָ֣ה אֲבַקֵּֽשׁ׃ (ט) אַל־תַּסְתֵּ֬ר פָּנֶ֨יךָ ׀ מִמֶּנִּי֮ אַֽל־תַּט־בְּאַ֗ף עַ֫בְדֶּ֥ךָ עֶזְרָתִ֥י הָיִ֑יתָ אַֽל־תִּטְּשֵׁ֥נִי וְאַל־תַּֽ֝עַזְבֵ֗נִי אֱלֹהֵ֥י יִשְׁעִֽי׃ (י) כִּי־אָבִ֣י וְאִמִּ֣י עֲזָב֑וּנִי וַֽיהוָ֣ה יַֽאַסְפֵֽנִי׃ (יא) ה֤וֹרֵ֥נִי יְהוָ֗ה דַּ֫רְכֶּ֥ךָ וּ֭נְחֵנִי בְּאֹ֣רַח מִישׁ֑וֹר לְ֝מַ֗עַן שׁוֹרְרָֽי׃ (יב) אַֽל־תִּ֭תְּנֵנִי בְּנֶ֣פֶשׁ צָרָ֑י כִּ֥י קָֽמוּ־בִ֥י עֵֽדֵי־שֶׁ֝֗קֶר וִיפֵ֥חַ חָמָֽס׃ (יג) לׅׄוּלֵׅׄ֗אׅׄ הֶ֭אֱמַנְתִּי לִרְא֥וֹת בְּֽטוּב־יְהוָ֗ה בְּאֶ֣רֶץ חַיִּֽים׃ (יד) קַוֵּ֗ה אֶל־יְה֫וָ֥ה חֲ֭זַק וְיַאֲמֵ֣ץ לִבֶּ֑ךָ וְ֝קַוֵּ֗ה אֶל־יְהוָֽה׃

(1) YHWH is my light and my rescue; whom should I fear? YHWH is the stronghold of my life; whom should I dread?

(2) When evil men assail me to devour my flesh— my foes and my enemies - it is they who stumble and fall.

(3) Should an encampment encamp against me, my heart would not fear.

Should war rise against me, in this would I have utter confidence.

(4) Just one thing I ask of YHWH, only that do I seek: to live in the house of YHWH all the days of my life;

To behold the beauty of YHWH, and to gaze on his palace.

(5) For he will shelter me in his pavilion on an evil day, will conceal me in the secrecy of his tent, will raise me high upon a rock.

(6) Now is my head raised high over my enemies roundabout!

And I sacrifice in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy!

May I sing and hymn to YHWH!

(7) Hear-YHWH, my voice when I call! Be gracious to me, and answer me!

(8) Of you my heart has said, "Seek, O my face!" Your face, YHWH, I indeed seek.(9) Do not hide your face from me! Do not thrust aside in anger your servant!

You have ever been my help. Do not forsake me, do not abandon me, O Elohei-yish'i!

(10) Though my father and mother abandon me, YHWH will take me in.

(11) Teach me, O YHWH, your way, and place me on a level path because of my adversaries!

(12) Do not turn me over to the maw of my foes; For false witnesses have risen against me, breathing threats of violence.

(13) Had I not trusted in seeing the YHWH-goodness in the land of the living...

(14) Hope for YHWH!; Strengthen, and firm-up your heart, and hope for YHWH!

So now let's revisit our question above. If you had to boil it down to one word (or phrase) - how would you describe our poet emotionally?

While there is a lot going on in this prayer-poem, what emerges to the fore, above and beyond anything here for me is longing; the most intense longing one person could ever have for another - just look at how many times the poet repeats YHWH's name, as if he cannot even hold himself back from singing aloud YHWH's name with every breath!

Early on, in verse 4, we see the poet expressing his heart's desire:

The only thing I ever really want, dearest YHWH, is to live in your home; to live in the closest and most intimate proximity with you, to be with you and to look upon you.

So now we have two prayer-poems before us, both seeming to give expression to very similar desires. You might agree that the very same questions we asked above on Psalm 84 are just as appropriate for Psalm 27:

What is it about YHWH's courtyards that once upon a time, over a half of a millennium before the common era, there were such individuals whose desire to dwell in YHWH's home so compelled them to utter such words?

Let's take a look at these two prayer-poems juxtaposed side-by-side, to see if looking at them in light of each other can help to further our understanding in any way:

Here are links to the translations of both prayer-poems; you can leave this page where it is, open them up and place them side-to-side. Note that Psalm 84 above is not quoted in full.

Psalm 27: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/258774?lang=bi

Psalm 84: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/259639?editor=1

So what do you think? What do the dwelling-places of YHWH offer that inspires such yearning?

I'll leave you with one thought on this;

One thing that catches my eye here is the repeated "parent" imagery, with the clearest expressions of this being the image of the sparrow with her fledglings in their nest, and the comparison of the dependability of YHWH with the dependability of one's mother and father.

This calls to mind for me another TaNaKhic-parallel. Check out this passage from the proverbs-collection:

The way of life

(כ) נְצֹ֣ר בְּ֭נִי מִצְוַ֣ת אָבִ֑יךָ וְאַל־תִּ֝טֹּ֗שׁ תּוֹרַ֥ת אִמֶּֽךָ׃ (כא) קָשְׁרֵ֣ם עַל־לִבְּךָ֣ תָמִ֑יד עָ֝נְדֵ֗ם עַל־גַּרְגְּרֹתֶֽךָ׃ (כב) בְּהִתְהַלֶּכְךָ֨ ׀ תַּנְחֶ֬ה אֹתָ֗ךְ בְּֽ֭שָׁכְבְּךָ תִּשְׁמֹ֣ר עָלֶ֑יךָ וַ֝הֲקִיצ֗וֹתָ הִ֣יא תְשִׂיחֶֽךָ׃ (כג) כִּ֤י נֵ֣ר מִ֭צְוָה וְת֣וֹרָה א֑וֹר וְדֶ֥רֶךְ חַ֝יִּ֗ים תּוֹכְח֥וֹת מוּסָֽר׃

(20): Keep, my son, the commandments of your father, and don't forsake the instruction of your mother.

(21) Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your throat.

(22) When you roam about, it will lead you; When you lie down, it will guard you; When you awake, it will converse with you.

(23) For a lamp is the commandment; And instruction is a light; And the way of life is reproofs of discipline.

Notice anything interesting?

For me, there are a few things.

Firstly, there are the recurring motifs of light and life.

But there's something more. Note that the term for parents in modern-Hebrew is הורים, logically a derivative of the root to teach. The same root shows up in Psalms 27, just after the poet expresses his confidence that his being embraced by YHWH is even more reliable than with his parents, when he asks YHWH to instruct him and set him on the path; I.e., our poet asks YHWH to fulfill roles that are ascribed to the mother and father in our proverbs.

I think with this we can understand the unparalleled centrality of the Jerusalem Palace... it is home!

Specifically it is YHWH's home, but being that YHWH is father to all of Israel (Exodus 22:4), his home is just as much our home. And just as we turn to our homes to fulfill certain human-needs; security, sanctuary, comfort, and complete acceptance and belonging - so too would Israelite and Judean alike experience all of this and more upon entering the courtyard of the House of the Holy in the heart of Jerusalem.

While it is true that we, as a people, have yet to rebuild the Palace, it is important to remember that it was not because of the mere structure - the stones, the walls, and the roofs - that enabled our ancestors to experience this sense of homeness. Rather it was because of he whom it housed.

The composer of yet another one of our prayer-poems left us with the following:

Call upon him

(יח) קָר֣וֹב יְ֭הוָה לְכָל־קֹרְאָ֑יו לְכֹ֤ל אֲשֶׁ֖ר יִקְרָאֻ֣הוּ בֶאֱמֶֽת׃

(18) Close is YHWH to all who call upon him; to all who call upon him in sincerity.

So while we do not currently have a "house" which we can visit, or to which we can point and state with conviction that our Father-Almighty is inhabiting that physical space, we can certainly experience communion if we but call upon his name and express our desire for closeness while inviting him into our lives.

Remember, the poet of Psalm 27 opens up by stating that YHWH-himself - and not the building - is the stronghold!

May our desire for intimacy with YHWH be kindled, may we call upon him in sincerity and with a full heart, and may we take comfort in his presence, feeling completely seen and held and accepted and loved.

Here is a beautiful musical interpretation of our prayer-poem by Christene Jackman, which I think so appropriately captures the right tone: