Psalms in Liturgy 9 - Psalms 20 & 130 Psalms for times of trouble

Public Domain,

Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, (The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry, 1412-1416), Folio 70r - De Profundis, the Musée Condé, Chantilly.

Illustration accompanying the beginning of Psalm 130 in the lower right:

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine...

Out of the depths I call You, O LORD...

Out of the Depths / De Profundis - Psalm 130

Felix Mendelssohn, "Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir" (Out of deep distress I cry to you, Psalm 130), Op.23 (1830) (beginning to ~1m06s)

Lera Auerbach (b. 1973), Psalm 130 (1999). Set in Latin.


0. Question: When do people turn to God in prayer?

Two Models of Jewish Prayer

(א) הוא שצונו לעבדו, וכבר נכפל זה הצווי פעמים באמרו ועבדתם את ה' אלקיכם, ואמר ואותו תעבודו. ואע"פ שזה הצווי הוא גם כן מהצוויים הכוללים כמו שביארנו בשורש ד', הנה יש בו יחוד אחר שהוא צווי לתפלה. ולשון ספרי ולעבדו זו תפלה. ואמרו גם כן ולעבדו זו תלמוד,

ובמשנתו של רבי אליעזר בנו של רבי יוסי הגלילי אמרו מנין לעיקר תפלה מצוה מהכא את ה' אלקיך תירא ואותו תעבוד, ואמרו עבדוהו בתורתו ועבדוהו במקדשו, רוצה לומר הכוון אליו להתפלל שם כמו שבאר שלמה ע"ה. (בפרשת ואלה המשפטים, אהבה הלכות תפלה וברכת כהנים פ"א):

The Book of Commandments, Maimonides / Rambam (1135-1204)

(1) That is that we are commanded to serve Him. And this command is repeated several times: His saying, "And you shall serve the Lord, your God" (Exodus 23:25); and His saying, "and you shall serve Him" (Deuteronomy 13:5).

And although this command is from the inclusive commands - as we explained in Principle Four (Sefer HaMitzvot, Shorashim 4) - it nevertheless has specificity, since it is the command to pray. The language of the Sifrei is, "'And to serve Him' (Deuteronomy 11:13) - that is prayer." And they also said, "'And to serve Him' - that is [Torah] study."

And in the Mishnah of Rabbi Eliezer, the son of Rabbi Yose HaGelili, they said, "From where [do we know that] the essence of prayer is a commandment? From here - 'You shall fear the Lord, your God, and you shall serve Him' (Deuteronomy 6:13)." And they said, "Serve Him through His Torah; serve Him in His Temple." This means, direct [yourself] towards it, to pray [towards] there, as Shlomo, peace be upon him, explained. (See Parashat Mishpatim: Mishneh Torah, Prayer and the Priestly Blessing 1.)

כתב הרב מצוה חמישית שנצטוינו בעבודתו שנאמר ועבדתם את ה' אלקיכם וגו' ואומר ולעבדו בכל לבבכם. ...

אלא ודאי כל ענין התפלה אינו חובה כלל אבל הוא ממדת חסד הבורא יתברך עלינו ששומע ועונה בכל קראנו אליו, ...

ומה שדרשו בספרי ולעבדו זה תלמוד ד"א זו תפלה אסמכתא היא או לומר שמכלל העבודה שנלמוד תורתו ושנתפלל אליו בעת הצרות ותהיינה עינינו ולבנו אליו כעיני עבדים אל יד אדוניהם וזה כענין שכתוב וכי תבאו מלחמה בארצכם על הצר הצורר אתכם והרעותם בחצוצרות ונזכרתם לפני ה' אלקיכם והיא מצוה על צרה...

ואם אולי יהיה מדרשם בתפלה עיקר מן התורה נמנה אותו במנינו של הרב ונאמר שהיא מצוה לעת הצרות שנאמין שהוא יתברך ויתעלה שומע תפלה והוא המציל מן הצרות בתפלה וזעקה, והבן זה:

Strictures of R. Moshe ben Nachman on Maimonides Book of Commandments

(Ramban or Nachmanides, 1194-1270, Girona, Catalonia - Jerusalem).

The Master [=Maimonides] wrote that the fifth mitzvah which we have been commanded concerns the service of God [service in the heart=prayer], as it is written, "and you shall serve the Name Your God..." and it is written, "and to serve Him with all your heart." ...

However, it is certain that the entire matter of prayer is not obligatory at all. Rather, it is an expression of the Creator's (may He be blessed) kindness to us that He hears and responds 'at our every call to Him' (Deuteronomy 4:7) ...

When the Talmudic rabbis expounded in the Sifrei (the legal midrash on Deuteronomy) "'to serve Him' (Deuteronomy 11:13) refers to study [of Torah]; another interpretration: it refers to prayer'" - that is merely a biblical allusion. Alternatively, the rabbis meant that service of God includes learning His Torah and praying to Him during times of crisis (tzarot, "tzores") it is written: "When you are at war in your land against an aggressor who attacks you, you shall sound short blasts on the trumpets, that you may be remembered before your God" (Numbers 10:9)--that is a mitzvah [to pray in response] to a crisis. ...

If indeed the homiletic statement of the Talmudic Rabbis means that there is [an independent] biblical obligation [to pray], we shall count prayer according to the Master's reckoning and say that there is a commandment in time of crisis (tzarot, "tzores") that we should believe that He, may He be blessed and exalted, hears prayer and saves (matzil) people from difficulties through prayer and calls [for help]. Understand this.

וְכִֽי־תָבֹ֨אוּ מִלְחָמָ֜ה בְּאַרְצְכֶ֗ם עַל־הַצַּר֙ הַצֹּרֵ֣ר אֶתְכֶ֔ם וַהֲרֵעֹתֶ֖ם בַּחֲצֹצְרֹ֑ת וְנִזְכַּרְתֶּ֗ם לִפְנֵי֙ ה' אֱלֹֽקֵיכֶ֔ם וְנוֹשַׁעְתֶּ֖ם מֵאֹיְבֵיכֶֽם׃

When you are at war in your land against an aggressor who attacks you, you shall sound short blasts on the trumpets, that you may be remembered before your God ה' and be delivered (ve'nosha`tem;`.) from your enemies.

1a. Psalm 20 and Psalm 130: Background

Psalm 20 in liturgy

  • Standard liturgy
    • Part of the concluding prayers of the weekday morning service
    • The final verse (v. 10) is quoted at several points in the morning and evening liturgy and in the Ashkenazi liturgy for Havdalah
  • In times of crisis (see for example at
    • for a sick person
    • in time of danger to the Jewish people (e.g. for people in Ukraine)
    • an 'all-purpose' psalm (for family, happiness, fulfillment, peace of mind)

Psalm 130 in Liturgy

  • Standard Liturgy
    • With the encouragement of many mystics, Psalm 130 is recited in many congregations during the Ten Days of Repentance (Rosh Hashanah - Yom Kippur) following the daily Psalms (Pesukei deZimra). The ark is opened and it is read responsively.
  • In times of crisis (see for example at
    • for a sick person
    • at a grave
    • in time of danger to the Jewish people (e.g. for people in Ukraine)
    • an 'all-purpose' psalm (for family, happiness, fulfillment, peace of mind)

...ונוהגין עתה לומר אשרי יושבי ויענך ה' ביום צרה לפי שיש בו מענין הישועה: is customary now to recite [as part of the conclusion of the weekday morning service] "Happy are those who dwell in your house" (Ashrei/Psalm 145) and "May the Lord answer you in time of trouble" (Psalm 20), because it deals with salvation (yeshuah י.ש.ע.).

(ב) וְהוּא רַחוּם יְכַפֵּר עָוֹן וְלֹא־יַשְׁחִית וְהִרְבָּה לְהָשִׁיב אַפּוֹ וְלֹא־יָעִיר כָּל־חֲמָתוֹ:

ה' הוֹשִׁיעָה הַמֶּֽלֶךְ יַעֲנֵֽנוּ בְיוֹם־קָרְאֵֽנוּ:

(2) And He, the Merciful One, atones iniquity; and does not destroy. He frequently withdraws His anger and does not arouse all His rage. (Psalms 78:38)

Adonoy, deliver [us!] The King will answer us on the day we call. (Psalms 20:10)

Footnote from the Metsudah Siddur:

"In the evening when man pauses from the rush of his daily activities, he is conscious of having sinned during the day, and thus begins his prayer with this appeal for Divine mercy.—Machzor Vitry"

(ח) ג"פ: ה' צְבָאוֹת עִמָּֽנוּ מִשְׂגַּב־לָֽנוּ אֱלֹקֵי יַעֲקֹב סֶֽלָה: ג"פ: ה' צְבָאוֹת אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם בֹּטֵֽחַ בָּךְ: ג"פ: ה' הוֹשִֽׁיעָה הַמֶּֽלֶךְ יַעֲנֵֽנוּ בְיוֹם־קָרְאֵֽנוּ:

(8) Recite each of these verses three times: Adonoy of Hosts is with us, a stronghold for us is the God of Jacob, Selah! (Psalms 46:8)

Adonoy of Hosts, fortunate is the man who trusts in You. (Psalms 84:13)

Adonoy, deliver [us]! The King will answer us on the day we call. (Psalms 20:10)

Ruth Langer, "The Bible in Liturgy," Jewish Study Bible, p. 2065, col. 1

Prayers Composed from Biblical Verses

[These are prayers] composed entirely of direct citations from the Bible, of individual but intact verses strung together from various biblical contexts to form an entirely new composition. ... This last category [of Biblical prayers] appears only outside the core statutory prayers, suggesting that this literary mode reflects a post-Talmudic aesthetic."

1b. Psalm 20 and Psalm 130: Texts

(א) לַמְנַצֵּ֗חַ מִזְמ֥וֹר לְדָוִֽד׃ (ב) יַֽעַנְךָ֣ ה' בְּי֣וֹם צָרָ֑ה יְ֝שַׂגֶּבְךָ֗ שֵׁ֤ם׀ אֱלֹקֵ֬י יַעֲקֹֽב׃ (ג) יִשְׁלַֽח־עֶזְרְךָ֥ מִקֹּ֑דֶשׁ וּ֝מִצִּיּ֗וֹן יִסְעָדֶֽךָּ׃ (ד) יִזְכֹּ֥ר כׇּל־מִנְחֹתֶ֑ךָ וְעוֹלָתְךָ֖ יְדַשְּׁנֶ֣ה סֶֽלָה׃

(ה) יִֽתֶּן־לְךָ֥ כִלְבָבֶ֑ךָ וְֽכׇל־עֲצָתְךָ֥ יְמַלֵּֽא׃ (ו) נְרַנְּנָ֤ה ׀ בִּ֘ישׁ֤וּעָתֶ֗ךָ וּבְשֵֽׁם־אֱלֹקֵ֥ינוּ נִדְגֹּ֑ל יְמַלֵּ֥א ה' כׇּל־מִשְׁאֲלוֹתֶֽיךָ׃

(ז) עַתָּ֤ה יָדַ֗עְתִּי כִּ֤י הוֹשִׁ֥יעַ׀ ה' מְשִׁ֫יח֥וֹ יַ֭עֲנֵהוּ מִשְּׁמֵ֣י קׇדְשׁ֑וֹ בִּ֝גְבֻר֗וֹת יֵ֣שַׁע יְמִינֽוֹ׃ (ח) אֵ֣לֶּה בָ֭רֶכֶב וְאֵ֣לֶּה בַסּוּסִ֑ים וַאֲנַ֓חְנוּ ׀ בְּשֵׁם־ה' אֱלֹקֵ֣ינוּ נַזְכִּֽיר׃ (ט) הֵ֭מָּה כָּרְע֣וּ וְנָפָ֑לוּ וַאֲנַ֥חְנוּ קַּ֝֗מְנוּ וַנִּתְעוֹדָֽד׃ (י) ה' הוֹשִׁ֑יעָה הַ֝מֶּ֗לֶךְ יַעֲנֵ֥נוּ בְיוֹם־קׇרְאֵֽנוּ׃ {פ}

(1) For the leader. A psalm of David. (2) May the LORD answer you in time of trouble (tzarah),
the name of Jacob’s God keep you safe.
(3) May He send you help from the sanctuary,
and sustain you from Zion.
(4) May He receive the tokens of all your meal offerings,
and approve your burnt offerings. Selah.

(5) May He grant you your desire,
and fulfill your every plan.
(6) May we shout for joy in your victory (yeshu`ah),
arrayed by standards in the name of our God.
May the LORD fulfill your every wish.

(7) Now I know that the LORD will give victory (hoshi`a) to His anointed,
will answer him from His heavenly sanctuary
with the mighty victories (yeisha`) of His right arm.
(8) They [call] on chariots, they [call] on horses,
but we call on the name of the LORD our God.
(9) They collapse and lie fallen,
but we rally and gather strength.

(10) O LORD, grant victory (hoshi`ah)!
May the King answer us when we call.-c

c[NJPS Note to verse 10:]Or in the light of v. 7, "O Lord, grant victory to the king; / may He answer us when we call."

(א) שִׁ֥יר הַֽמַּעֲל֑וֹת מִמַּעֲמַקִּ֖ים קְרָאתִ֣יךָ ה'׃ (ב) אדושם שִׁמְעָ֢ה בְק֫וֹלִ֥י תִּהְיֶ֣ינָה אׇ֭זְנֶיךָ קַשֻּׁב֑וֹת לְ֝ק֗וֹל תַּחֲנוּנָֽי׃ (ג) אִם־עֲוֺנ֥וֹת תִּשְׁמׇר־יָ֑הּ אדושם מִ֣י יַעֲמֹֽד׃ (ד) כִּֽי־עִמְּךָ֥ הַסְּלִיחָ֑ה לְ֝מַ֗עַן תִּוָּרֵֽא׃

(ה) קִוִּ֣יתִי ה' קִוְּתָ֣ה נַפְשִׁ֑י וְֽלִדְבָר֥וֹ הוֹחָֽלְתִּי׃ (ו) נַפְשִׁ֥י לַאדושם מִשֹּׁמְרִ֥ים לַ֝בֹּ֗קֶר שֹׁמְרִ֥ים לַבֹּֽקֶר׃ (ז) יַחֵ֥ל יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל אֶל־ה' כִּֽי־עִם־ה' הַחֶ֑סֶד וְהַרְבֵּ֖ה עִמּ֣וֹ פְדֽוּת׃ (ח) וְ֭הוּא יִפְדֶּ֣ה אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל מִ֝כֹּ֗ל עֲוֺנֹתָֽיו׃ {פ}

(1) A song of ascents.

Out of the depths I call You, O LORD.
(2) O Lord, listen to my cry;
let Your ears be attentive
to my plea for mercy.
(3) If You keep account of sins, O LORD,
Lord, who will survive?
(4) Yours is the power to forgive
so that You may be held in awe.

(5) I look to the LORD;
I look to Him;
I await His word.
(6) I am more eager for the Lord
than watchmen for the morning,
watchmen for the morning.

(7) O Israel, wait for the LORD;
for with the LORD is steadfast love
and great power to redeem.
(8) It is He who will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.

2. Commentaries

2a. Commentaries for Psalm 20

"Reb Zalman's Translations":

Source: Source Sheet of Matthew Gindin

(Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi 1924-2014)


I know now that God will help His anointed,

with power at His right hand, answering him—

from His sacred abode.

So what if they attack with horses and chariots?

All we need to do is mention God’s name and they will be subdued and surrender;

we will rise up and cheer.

YaH, help; King, answer us today, as we call out to You.

A royal context

יענך ה' ביום צרה. המזמור הזה על שם שהיה שולח את יואב ואת כל ישראל למלחמה והוא היה עומד בירושלם ומתפלל עליהן כענין שנאמר (שמואל ב י״ח:ג׳-ד׳) טוב כי תהיה לנו מעיר לעזור ואמרו רבותינו אילמלא דוד לא עשה יואב מלחמה:
May the Lord answer you on a day of distress This psalm was [composed] because he [David] would send Joab and all Israel to war, and he would stand in Jerusalem and pray for them, as the matter is stated (in II Sam. 18:3): “It is better that you be for us from the city as aid.” Were it not for David, Joab would not have succeeded in battle.

God save / the King/king? (v. 10)

Septuagint to 20:10

O Lord, save your king,

and hearken to us in the day we call upon you.

Adele Berlin & Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Study Bible,

Comment to verse 10

...this is the origin of the expression, "God save the king!"

2b. Commentaries for Psalm 130

Out of the depths I call You (v.1)

Robert Alter, Writings, Comment to v. 1

Repeatedly in Psalms, 'the depths' are an epithet for the depths of the sea, which in turn is an image of the realm of death. Generations of readers...have responded to the archetypal starkness of the phrase: the speaker, from the darkness of profound despair, on the verge of the death, calls out to God. This psalm, of course, is a penitential psalm, focusing not on the evil of Israel's enemies, as does Psalm 129, but on the wrongs Israel has done.

הוֹשִׁיעֵ֥נִי אֱלֹקִ֑ים כִּ֤י בָ֖אוּ מַ֣יִם עַד־נָֽפֶשׁ׃ טָבַ֤עְתִּי ׀ בִּיוֵ֣ן מְ֭צוּלָה וְאֵ֣ין מׇעֳמָ֑ד בָּ֥אתִי בְמַעֲמַקֵּי־מַ֝֗יִם וְשִׁבֹּ֥לֶת שְׁטָפָֽתְנִי׃

Deliver me, O God,
for the waters have reached my neck; I am sinking into the slimy deep
and find no foothold;
I have come into the watery depths;
the flood sweeps me away.

(א) וַיְמַ֤ן ה' דָּ֣ג גָּד֔וֹל לִבְלֹ֖עַ אֶת־יוֹנָ֑ה וַיְהִ֤י יוֹנָה֙ בִּמְעֵ֣י הַדָּ֔ג שְׁלֹשָׁ֥ה יָמִ֖ים וּשְׁלֹשָׁ֥ה לֵילֽוֹת׃ (ב) וַיִּתְפַּלֵּ֣ל יוֹנָ֔ה אֶל־ה' אֱלֹקָ֑יו מִמְּעֵ֖י הַדָּגָֽה׃ (ג) וַיֹּ֗אמֶר

קָ֠רָ֠אתִי מִצָּ֥רָה לִ֛י אֶל־ה' וַֽיַּעֲנֵ֑נִי מִבֶּ֧טֶן שְׁא֛וֹל שִׁוַּ֖עְתִּי שָׁמַ֥עְתָּ קוֹלִֽי׃ (ד) וַתַּשְׁלִיכֵ֤נִי מְצוּלָה֙ בִּלְבַ֣ב יַמִּ֔ים וְנָהָ֖ר יְסֹבְבֵ֑נִי כׇּל־מִשְׁבָּרֶ֥יךָ וְגַלֶּ֖יךָ עָלַ֥י עָבָֽרוּ׃ (ה) וַאֲנִ֣י אָמַ֔רְתִּי נִגְרַ֖שְׁתִּי מִנֶּ֣גֶד עֵינֶ֑יךָ אַ֚ךְ אוֹסִ֣יף לְהַבִּ֔יט אֶל־הֵיכַ֖ל קׇדְשֶֽׁךָ׃

(1) The LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah; and Jonah remained in the fish’s belly three days and three nights. (2) Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish. (3) He said:

In my trouble I called to the LORD,
And He answered me;
From the belly of Sheol I cried out,
And You heard my voice.
(4) You cast me into the depths,
Into the heart of the sea,
The floods engulfed me;
All Your breakers and billows
Swept over me.
(5) I thought I was driven away
Out of Your sight:
Would I ever gaze again
Upon Your holy Temple?

(ח) בְּהִתְעַטֵּ֤ף עָלַי֙ נַפְשִׁ֔י אֶת־ה' זָכָ֑רְתִּי וַתָּב֤וֹא אֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ תְּפִלָּתִ֔י אֶל־הֵיכַ֖ל קׇדְשֶֽׁךָ׃
(8) When my life was ebbing away,
I called the LORD to mind;
And my prayer came before You,
Into Your holy Temple.

Forgiveness (v. 4) and Steadfast Love (v. 7)

Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Study Bible Comments to vv. 3-4

The theological notion expressed (in vv. 3-4) is that if God did not forgive sins, all people would be doomed to punishment since everyone sins. God's forgiving nature causes people to hold God in awe. ...

Yours is the power to forgive, literally 'with you is forgiveness,' the same structure as 'with the Lord is steadfast love ['hesed']' (v. 7). The combination of the two phrases suggests that forgiveness is part of God's 'hesed', his covenant obligation to Israel.

"Reb Zalman's Translations:"

Source: Source Sheet of Matthew Gindin


A song for raising consciousness

From the deepest place in me, I call You forth—

YaH, hear what is in my voice;

let Your ear hear my pleading tone.

If You, YaH, were to watch for sins,

Oy, YaH—who could stand it?

Though You are so generous with pardon,

we are too scared to seek it.

David Rosenberg (b. 1943), A Poet's Bible (1991), pp. 43-44

Psalm 130:1-4

I am drowning

deep in myself, Lord

I'm crying /

I'm calling you

hear this voice, Lord

find me in your ears /

the mercy of your attention

as it looks through the shell

of my selfishness /

if you see only

vain impulses

marking the body's surface /

the lines in the face

then there is no one

who'd hold up his head