David Walk
David Walk

Psalm 27 – The Request & The Need

Well, it’s that time again. We must make ready for the annual coronation of God as our Monarch. It’s Elul; arrange for the Divine approach. In Czarist Russia, they prepared for royal visits by sprucing up the town. Famously, for a visit by Catherne the Great’s lover, Gregor Potemkin, whole fake village facades were erected to impress the powerful visitor.  Our anticipation for the occasion is diametrically opposite. Instead of working on the externals; we endeavor to remodel our innermost selves. Instead of royal heralds, we announce the urgency of the upcoming event by blowing Shofar, reciting Slichot and, of course, by reciting L’DAVID ORI, Psalm 27, which contains the word ELUL out of order (LULE) in its penultimate verse. 

According to the Sages, this remarkable poem actually discloses that it refers to these upcoming events. The Midrash states: The rabbis explained this verse as referring to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. ‘my light (ORI),’ for Rosh Hashanah. ‘And my help (YISHI’I),’ for Yom Kippur. ‘ It has become common thinking to extend these connections to include Sukkot, because verse 5 states, ‘That He will hide me in His shelter (B’SUKAH)’. This explains why we recite the Psalm through Hoshana Raba. However, I personally don’t believe that this was the original intent of David HaMELECH, and will ignore it. 

The poem basically divides quite neatly into two parts. The first section (verses 1-5) describes a confident, self-assured King David.  He’s sure that attacking enemies will fail (verse 2). There’s no fear of besiegers (verse 3). His wish list contains one item: intimacy with God (verse 4). God is the Singer’s rock and protection. 

The second section of the Psalm presents a totally different situation. The confidence is gone.  Our Singer is begging God: Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; show me grace (CHANENI), answer me (verse 7)! The pleading resumes in verse 9: Do not hide Your face from me; do not thrust aside Your servant in anger; You have ever been my help. Do not forsake me (TITSHENI), do not abandon me (TA’AZVEINI), O God, my deliverer. 

It gets worse. In verse 10, David mourns the loss of his parents, and in the next verse begs God to ‘Instruct me in Your ways.’ Then he cries in supplication: Do not subject me to the will of my foes (verse 12). 

What happened to our dauntless David? He barely finishes informing us of his intrepid spirit, when he flips the scenario and is begging for God’s attention and help from foes that he just told us don’t faze him. These protestations of fear and loneliness break my heart.  

According to Rav Soloveitchik, the answer is simple. The early poetry describes Rosh Hashanah, the latter material characterizes Yom Kippur. On Rosh Hashanah, God emerges from the fog of existence to reveal the Royal Divine presence. The majestic shofar blast announces the Monarch’s appearance on the royal throne. It’s a coronation! The Rav compares this to the thunder and lightning (and shofar blasts) of Har Sinai on the morning when the Torah was given. Moshe Rabbeinu that morning basked in the reflected glory of the pyrotechnics of the Divine Revelation. It was awesome! Rosh Hashanah recreates bombastic events from the Creation of humanity to the that day when the Great Shofar will be blown and those who were lost and the banished will again worship the Lord on the holy mountain in Jerusalem (Yishayahu 27:13). 

In contrast, Yom Kippur recreates the experience of Moshe Rabbeinu when the second Tablets were given. On that day, ‘God descended in a cloud and stood there’ (Shmot 34:5). At that moment, God, as it were, shrunk to human proportions to comfort and forgive the wayward nation. The Rav describes the converse circumstances of Moshe that day: Alone, he climbed the cold and steep slope…Torches were not burning and no pure, puffy clouds adorned him. The mountain frozen in its solitude, empty and desolate. Moshe climbed, looked this way and that, seeking a God Who was not to be found. It was as if, the heavens had never opened and God had never appeared. He searched every crevice and hidden passes in the silent stone; no light sparkled. A black cloud and dread path disconnected him from God. 

Brrr! A desolate and desperate Moshe then had the most amazing revelation. God shared with him the most intimate glimpse into Divine reality. We call this communication the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Compassion: The Lord, the Lord! A compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in kindness, and of good faith. keeping kindnesses for a thousand generations, bearing all crime, trespass and iniquity. And cleanses…(Shmot 33:5 &6). This formula becomes the mantra of Yom Kippur. We’ve been reciting it for weeks in Selichot and now on Yom Kippur, it becomes a crescendo at Ne’ila, when many of us recite it thirteen times. 

Now, we can understand the last verse of our poem: Hope (KAVEH) in God, be strong and courageous, and hope (KAVEH) in God (verse 12). We need two versions of hope. The Rosh Hashanah type, which is full of self-assurance, and the Yom Kippur variety when we’re filled with trepidation. 

In the second half of the poem, King David is clearly alone like Moshe  Rabbeinu on Yom Kippur. When he says, ‘Do not hide Your face from me; do not put Your servant away…Do not abandon me or forsake me (verse 9).’ Then comes the most traumatic moment of the Psalm, ‘for my mother and my father have abandoned me.’ Yes, our loving parents at some point abandon us. The first time when one of them removes their loving hand from the back of the bicycle seat, then we they move to Florida and finally when they pass on. So, David turns to God and says, HOREINI HASHEM. I think it truly means ‘Parent me’, from the word HOREH meaning parent. God become my mommy and my daddy, please! 

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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