Zimrat haAretz (“Songs of the Earth”)
Cantor Shoshana Brown
Reflection on Psalm 8, Verses 2, 4, 5, 7
Mah adir shimkha b’khol ha aretz
Asher t’nah hod’kha al ha-shamayim!
(O Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name throughout all the earth-
You have even lent your splendor to all the sky!)
When I behold Your heavens--
All of the works of Your fingers;
The moon and the stars which You set in the sky-
O what then is a human for You to keep in mind?
You’ve made us a little less, just less than beings divine,
Crowned with glory, with majesty-
Va’t’chas rey-hu m’at mei-elohim,
V’chavod v’hadar t’a’trei-hu.
Mah adir shimkha b’khol ha aretz!
Who has never walked out on a clear winter’s night in the country and been overwhelmed by the brightness, the dazzling
multitude of stars, or the heartbreaking beauty of a shiny new crescent moon-or been awed by a full moon as it is rising,
seemingly so huge on the horizon? Have you ever been so overcome that you just had to lie down in the snow, even, to take in
the vastness, the wonder of it all-because these moments (especially in modern times) are so rare-who knows when such a
moment will come again?
Certainly there are poor, inner-city dwellers, people with no resources to travel away from a smog- and pollution-choked area
that have not had this experience-and what a sad thing this is! It is as if we, the human race, have taken away, for some, this
which ought to be as basic a human right as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We all need enough food to eat; we all
need clean water to drink, clean air to breathe. We all need the opportunity to encounter, at least upon occasion, a
magnificent, unpolluted (by either smog or artificial light) night sky. For few other things in nature can connect us both with the
vastness of God’s creation, with the seeming fact of our insignificance and yet the marvel of our god-like consciousness.
Why are we here? How is it that, if, as Joni Mitchell wrote (and the cosmologists say) “we are star dust”-how is it that we
have this miraculous brain and consciousness that can contemplate all these things and ask these questions? Whether you take
comfort in ascribing the marvels of creation to “God’s fingers” as the Psalmist does above, or whether you believe that all this
happened through random chance-in either case, it is a stupendous miracle that any of this exists; that we exist, reflecting on it
Some of the verses of the Psalm that I did not quote (or incorporate into the recording to which there is a link below) hold
within them the seed of the current problems that we have as humans on a planet of which we have been poor caretakers.
After marveling at how we as humans are just a little less “than beings divine,” the Psalmist continues,
You have made us masters over Your handiwork;
You have laid the world at our feet-
Sheep and oxen, all of them, and wild beasts, too;
The birds of the sky, the fish of the sea-
Whatever travels the paths of the seas.
No doubt the Psalmist said these word in praise of the Creator, feeling that this was a good thing for us as humans to have such
mastery…and yet we have not been such good masters, or stewards over God’s handiwork. We have been rapacious,
greedy, taking heedlessly from the earth and the seas, clogging the skies with the smokes of our fires and factories, and
now…can it be undone? Will it be possible for our great-great-grandchildren to walk out and clearly behold the stars and
moon, to feel first-hand awe at the vastness of the Universe, the closeness of God, the smallness of the human being, and yet
marvel at our ability to meditate upon all these things?
In the Psalmist’s thinking, the heavens are a kind of “Facebook page” for God: a place to spread fame for God’s name, a
vehicle for us to connect with God, and God with us. An intersection of the immanence and transcendence of God, a meeting
place of mystery and mortality. Without our connection to the night sky, we are impoverished indeed. Let us all do what we
can to bring back the night!
On the Youtube link below I sing verses 2, 4, 5, and 10 of Psalm 8 to the Ladino song Cuando el Rey Nimrod, which tells the
story of King Nimrod who walked out to behold a night sky, and happened to see a particularly bright star-the star which
signified the birth of Avraham Avinu, the father of the Jewish people.