From the depths I called You, Hashem
O Lord, hear my voice.
May your ears be attentive to the sound of my pleas.
– Psalm 130
Whenever Jews have found themselves at a turning point in their lives, there is one Jewish book that they have reached for to help them express their grief, thanks, joy and delivery from harm: Tehillim, the book of Psalms. Right now, as Jews once again join together at a time of tragedy, many are turning to Psalms and reciting its sublime words on behalf of their brethren.
If you are familiar with Tehillim – and especially if you are not – you will find new insights waiting for you.
Many people turn to Tehillim when they are facing a serious challenge. Its range of poetry is so wide that different chapters are recommended for various occasions. Daily Tehillim provides a comprehensive list:
- For protection: “…under his wings shall you find refuge; his truth shall be your shield…” (Psalm 91:4)
- Recovery from illness: “Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak; O Lord, heal me; for my bones shudder.” (Psalm 6:3)
- Against evil intent: “My friends and companions … laid snares for me. Those who seek my soul and those who seek my hurt speak of destruction and upon deceits, all day to they meditate. (Psalm 38:12-13)
There are many other recommendations including psalms for healthy children, to resist outside temptations, against the trait of haughtiness and for one who is imprisoned.
Many online versions of Tehillim are available in both Hebrew and English. The Mechon Mamre site not only provides Hebrew and English but also has a link to audio so you can listen to each chapter being recited. The always excellent Sefaria also provides Hebrew and English along with links for each verse to relevant commentary as well as references in halacha, kabala and philosophy.
Although the beauty of Tehillim can be appreciated at face value, you can understand so much more with a commentary such as Rashi’s which Chabad.org provides in its entirety in English. (The link to the commentary can be a bit hard to find. Click on any chapter of Tehillim and toward the top left of the page, click on “Show” to view Rashi’s commentary.)
If you are on the move, you can download the RustyBrick Tehillim app onto your cellphone ($2.79 for iOS / $2.59 for Android.) However, unless you need access when you have no Internet connection, I don’t think it’s a must have. I would go with the free mobile version of Sefaria. (iOS / Google) You can choose to access content via an Internet connection or download its large database to your phone.
What makes Tehillim so special? Rabbi Amy Scheinerman writes that “while the rest of the Tanach speaks of the experience of a nation in its covenant with God, the Psalms speak from the depths of individual souls searching for the Divine in their individual lives.”
But how do you thank God while you are experiencing a serious challenge? Rabbi Nancy Flam turns to Psalm 150: “Praise God’s mighty deeds; praise God according to God’s abundant greatness.” Rabbi Flam explains that she affirms and praises “God as the One who makes miracles everyday, according to the laws of the physical universe and the human spirit. … Such greatness pertains whether I am ill or well. Praise of God is not about me or my condition; it is about the reality of God.”
Whether the recitation of Psalms is being recited privately, in women’s groups and as part of synagogue prayer, you may want to download the free material provided at the Artscroll website. You’ll find a free excerpt from Artscroll’s interlinear Tehillim in which each line in Hebrew is followed by an English translation. You can download five chapters (20, 83, 121,130 and 142) which are traditionally recited at times of crisis. As the material points out, the recitation of the Tehillim is usually concluded with this brief plea which has all too much resonance at the moment.
“Our brothers, the entire House of Israel, who are found in distress and captivity, who are situated whether at sea or whether on land, may the Omnipresent One have mercy on them and remove them from distress to relief, from darkness to light, from subjugation to redemption, now, speedily, and in a time that comes soon – and let us say: Amen.”
Next time, we’ll continue our look at Tehillim, including how you can join a global community of Jews reciting Psalms for those in need.