For the most part, the Psalms we encounter in Jewish prayer are psalms of praise, exclamations of joy, exhortations to sing and
make music, to thank God for the wonders of creation, for God’s splendor and for the victories God has performed for Israel
(with an occasional jab at the Psalmist’s or Israel’s enemies). The most common expressions we encounter throughout the
Psalms which are used in our Siddur (prayer book) are Halleluyah! (Let us praise God) and ki l’olam chasdo (for His mercy endures
forever). But the “religious” life is not one of continual joy, untainted by shadows or suffering. I believe that the Psalms have
endured as a kind of “prayer book” before anyone started writing down prayer books-at least as popular among Christians as
among Jews-because they reflect a full spectrum of human emotions.
We need not be afraid to express our pain, our fear, even our complaints and doubts before God-for if God knows us at all, then
surely God knows this side of us, and of our lives. We have nothing to lose by setting aside our pride and pleading with God-
This is an honest voice, hiding neither the speaker’s vulnerability nor his/her frustration with God. Some people might think
that the answer to the problem of suffering is that there really is no God and therefore we should just stop wishing for a “savior”
that does not show up. But then what happens to us in our suffering, in our longing? Do we give up, adopt a pessimistic outlook
on life, become stoics, consign our souls to spiritual loneliness?
We turn to parents, spouses, lovers, friends, community…and these are all good, healthy places to turn. But even the closest
friend or lover cannot know the depths of our nefesh…without the companionship of God, we will always experience a primal
loneliness (which helps understand the song we sing on Friday night, Yedid Nefesh, addressed to God as “Friend of my soul.”)
Just as a friend cannot solve all our problems, pay our bills, bring back our loved ones when we are in mourning, so it may seem
at times that God does not answer when we call, does not heal our sickness, relieve our suffering, or lift us out of the straits we
are in. Sometimes all a friend can do is listen. It takes faith to believe at these times that God is “listening” to us. What if we
don’t have this faith?
The tune I have “borrowed” as a setting for this psalm dates possibly back to the 12th century. It is a dirge-tune sung on the Ninth
of Av, Eli Tzion v’areha, the refrain of which reads:
Wail, Zion and its cities,/ as a woman in labor pains,/ and like a maiden that dons sackcloth to mourn for the husband of her
Just as a woman in labor cries out involuntarily-not because her cries will necessarily bring a doctor running, but because the
body needs to cry out-so our soul, I believe, needs to cry out, whether or not we believe that there is a God who will “come
running.” And the crying, like a laboring woman’s deep breathing, just might help deliver our soul. Of course it is my hope that
somewhere in that process you will experience God’s presence, but I dare not make such glib promises…all I can do is suggest
that you take the Psalmist’s example and be unashamed to cry out.
Zimrat haAretz (“Songs of the Earth”)
Cantor Shoshana Brown
Reflection on Psalm 6:3-5, 9-10
Choneini Adonai, ki umlal ani; r’faeini Adonai ki nivhalu atzamai!
V’ nafshi nivhala m’od. V’atah Adonai, ad matai?
(Be gracious to me Adonai for I languish; heal me, Adonai, for my very bones quake;
I am frightened to death-and You, Adonai-how long?)
…Turn Adonai, and rescue my soul, deliver me for Your mercy’s sake.
…O hear the voice of my weeping, hear my plea, Adonai, accept my prayer.
Ki sh’ma Adonai kol bich’yi. (Sh’ma Adonai t’chinati; Adonai t’fillati yikach.)
God, be gracious to me-I feel like I’m dying! Heal me, for my very bones quake!
I am frightened to death…How long, o Lord, how long?