Psalm 27 “on one foot”:
Psalm 27 is recited at Shacharit just after the shofar is sounded and at Arvit (the morning and evening service, respectively) starting with Rosh Chodesh Elul (the beginning of the month of Elul) and continuing through Hoshanah Rabba, the 7th day of Sukkot (some end after Yom Kippur). Some of the phrases are reflected in the Selichot and Yom Kippur prayer “Shema Koleinu”, “Hear Our Voice”.
Context: This is from the Biblical Book of Psalms, Psalm 27. Psalm 27 starts off confident, becomes hesitant, and then eventually finishes confidently. The verses in this psalm generally exhibit parallelism, with the first half being echoed in the second half. The psalm is entirely in first-person except for the last verse, suggesting that either the narrator is addressing themself or that somebody else is addressing the narrator.
Note that the first word of the penultimate verse is “Elul” backwards (this is the word that has dots above and below it in Biblical texts).
1. What is your reaction to this psalm?
2. What verse in particular speaks to you?
3. Why might this be a text that we say every day to prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? How might it connect to Sukkot?
4. How would you characterize the mood of verses 1-6? 7-12? 13-14?
5. What might be going on in the poet’s life that they would write something like this?
Have you ever experienced someone or something as a light in your time of personal darkness?
Have you ever felt beset by (an) enemy/enemies? What was it like and how did you handle it?
Have you ever experienced “the peacefulness of the Lord” or “G-d’s sanctuary” in nature? What about in a synagogue?
If you were to compose a hymn to G-d after G-d saved you in some way, what’s one line you would put in it?
What is something you’ve cried out to G-d about, whether on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or some other time of your life?
Given that there is a bit of G-d in each of us, whose presence, attention, or pride have you sought in the past (or do you seek now)? Who might be seeking those from you?
Have you ever felt like G-d was leading you on a certain path? If so, when?
There is a Jewish story of a man whose only desire was that G-d would let him win the lottery. The man dies without winning the lottery, and his soul confronts G-d about this. G-d’s response was “Couldn’t you at least have bought a lottery ticket?” How do verses 13 and 14 relate to this story, and what message do they have for our own lives?
Musical Settings for “Achat Sha’alti”
Which ones reflect the meaning and tone of Psalm 27:4 for you?
Context: This is the most common tune to “Achat Sha’alti”. It was written by Israel Katz prior to 1970, as it is ascribed to him in Velvel Pasternak’s book Songs of the Chassidim I.
Context: This is the second-most common version of “Achat Sha’alti”.
Context: This is a setting of “Achat Sha’alti” by Chava Mirel, from 2018.
Context: This is a version of “Achat Sha’alti” by Beth Styles from 2020. It is being sung of Cantor Azi Schwartz and Cantor Rachel Brook, then of Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City.
This is a version by Hazzan Amy Robinson Katz from 2022. You can see her using it at her shul (Congregation B’nai Israel, Orange County, CA) here: https://youtu.be/NjmhpQKkc48
Context: This is Paul Schoenfield’s (1947-present) 1991 instrumental version of “Achat Sha’alti” for flute and piano. He created it for his friend Carol Wincenc’s collection of new flute and piano pieces and recorded it with her (him on piano) on “New World Recording, Flutes”. She notes that this piece should be played with great warmth and power. Paul Schoenfeld was a touring pianist and is now on the faculty at the University of Michigan.
Context: This the Israeli dance version of “Achat Sha’alti”, created by Maurice Peretz in 1989.
Appendix: Midrash Tehillim connecting Psalm 27 to Elul/Tishrei
Context: This is from Midrash Tehillim, which is a commentary on the book of Psalms dating from 1050 CE in France.