Yiddish gets it right. The fourth day of the week is called Mitvoch, mid-week. No reference to the Marvel Universe and Thor’s father Woden, sometimes Odin, as in Woden’s Day or Wednesday. It’s just the middle of the week. Somehow, we all have to make it through the perils of life until Shabbat. It’s sort of true that Wednesday’s child is full of woe. This difficult reality is reflected in Psalm 94, the poem chosen to be recited by the Leviyim during the daily offering (TAMID), and our Psalm for Day Four.
The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 31a) explains that the Leviyim picked this Psalm because it calls to God to wreak vengeance upon the worshippers of the sun, moon and celestial objects, which were all created on Day 4 of that first week. And, indeed, our poem begins with the declaration: Lord, God of revenge, O God of revenge appear! There’s a lot more to this wonderful Psalm, but it does begin with this plea for God to ‘Rise up, O Judge of the world and repay the deeds of the arrogant (verse 2).
Now because we’re asking the Divine Judge to ‘repay’ the bad guys for their dastardly deeds, I prefer translating KEL NEKOMOT as God of retribution or punishment. This beginning part of the Psalm continues to ask the tough questions about Divine justice (theodicy) by asking how long the bad guys (RISHA’IM) will rejoice or be happy (verse 3). This first section of the poem (verses 1-7) ends by decrying the worst possible situation in any society: the widow, stranger and orphan are oppressed. This all occurs because these corrupt rulers neither see nor understand the righteous God of Ya’akov (verse 7).
The middle section of our Psalm (verses 8-15) addresses these oppressors and demands that they begin to understand that God rules this world and that justice will eventually prevail. The individuals who are chastised by God for their crimes should feel fortunate (ASHREI, verse 12) that God is correcting their behavior so that they don’t end up in the pit (GEHENNIM?, SHACHAT, verse 13). This middle section ends with the most famous verse of our Psalm: God never abandons His nation; His portion is never forsaken (verse 14, it appears in the YEHI KAVOD prayer before ASHREI every morning).
Finally, we come to the last section of the poem, which is what I think about when I recite this poem every YOM REVI’I. Here we discuss the ‘woe’ of Wednesday’s child: How am I going to make it through the week. The days are passing and I am bogged down with life’s strife. The critical verse is: If I feel that I’m falling (my foot is slipping), I must believe that Your kindness (CHESED) will support me (verse 18). I used to sing this verse every week after davening on Wednesdays. There is a beautiful tune for this written Reb Meir Shapiro of Lublin (the originator of DAF YOMI), which can be found on line https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBfTF_otIwc. This song was sung in the Camps during the Holocaust, and a very moving version can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOiXe0qEsDg
Verse 19 completes the thought of verse 18. I felt that I was falling, and couldn’t make it through my difficulties or, perhaps, the week. Then, in spite of ‘my many anxieties within me, Your consolations delighted (cheered up) my soul.’
Wednesday is the day that we need that old bumper sticker: Hang in there, Shabbat is coming! In the Ashkenazi custom, the first three verses of Kabbalat Shabbat are recited at the end of chanting Psalm 94 every Wednesday morning. When I was looking in the OTZAR HaTEFILOT SIDDUR for ideas about this Psalm, I noticed (for the first time) the following introductory line: And have intent (VAYECHAVEN) that the light of the extra spirit (RUACH YETEIRA) of the coming Shabbat should come to us. Wednesday morning is all about finding the strength and Divine support to make it through the difficulties of the week.
There’s actually a famous custom, based on the teachings of Beit Hillel, that starting on Wednesday, if you find some special treat while shopping, you should save it for Shabbat. In other words, starting YOM REVI’I, we must begin getting into the Shabbat mood. It helps combat the mid-week blahs.
So, Psalm 94 applies to YOM REVI’I in two ways. The first 15 verses discuss the terrible rebellion against God by worshipping the heavenly hosts created on that primordial fourth day, and relying upon Divine justice that these crimes will be punished. However, the last 8 verses concentrate on the belief that God will help us get through life’s vicissitudes. And nothing helps us carry on more than the expectation of the upcoming wonderful, restful, rejuvenating Shabbat.