Zimrat haAretz  (“Songs of the Earth”)
Cantor Shoshana Brown
Reflections on Psalm 13
Psalm 13:  "How long, Adonai?"

A translation of the Hebrew of this Psalm into English:

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(Text of Psalm as sung without repeats )
Ad ana, Adonai, tishkacheini netzach;
Ad ana tastir panekha mimeini?
Ad ana ashit eitztot b’nafshi,
Yagon bilvavi yomam,
Ad ana yarum oyvi alai?
Habita aneini Adonai Elohai,
Ha’ira einai-pen ashit hamavet.
Pen yomar oyvi y’chaltiv;
Tzarai yagilu ki emot.
How long, Adonai-will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long will these things roil my mind,
This grief dwell in my heart?
How long will you give my enemy power over me?
Look at me, and answer me, Adonai my God-
Restore the light to my eyes-lest I close them in death…

Va’ani b’chasdekha vatachti;
Yagel libi bishuatekha;
And yet I will trust in your faithful love,
My heart will rejoice in your salvation.
Ashira l’Adonai-ki gamal alai!
[I will sing to Adonai-for God is good to me!]
Psalm 13 is a short psalm-only 6 verses-and yet it travels a long way.  Its speaker/ singer seems to have already been through the wringer before uttering these words…what has happened to the psalmist that s/he asks “How long?...Will you forget me forever?...How long will this grief dwell in my heart?...How long will give my enemy power over me?...Restore the light to my eyes-lest I close them in death!”

Of course we don’t know what calamity or heartbreak the speaker has been through-indeed, perhaps the psalm is more powerful for our not knowing-for it can then be applicable to us all:  who has not been through a prolonged period of suffering, distress, illness, financial difficulties, or heartbreak?  For the non-believer, such periods are due to bad luck or perhaps the results of one’s bad choices-such a person may or may not be able to pull themselves out of the trough.  But for the person of faith-even when s/he does not subscribe to the “everything happens for a reason” theory, such a one gains comfort from being able to cry out in pain-even in anger-and in distress.

The psalmist does not tell us that suddenly s/he had a reversal of fortune…what causes him/her to so abruptly change course, to begin to sing of his/her trust in God’s love, to rejoice in a salvation that may not yet in fact have come?  The ending Ashira, “I will sing” rings out so powerfully, lifting up the singer.  I personally get the feeling that even though h/she may still be in the midst of his/her difficulties, nevertheless s/he knows that God has already shown goodness and kindness to him/her so many times…and it is precisely this remembrance, and this thankfulness-perhaps the singing of the psalm itself-that lifts the singer out of the pit of despair.

I have chosen to set this psalm to a traditional Appalachian tune called “Moonshiner,” a mournful yet elegiac tune of one whose troubles cause him to turn to moonshine as a solace against troubles.  Of course such a “remedy” can only dig a person deeper into trouble…yet even the moonshiner knew that song was also a fortification against the travails of life.  Somehow the psalm seemed-to me at least--to fit the mood of the tune.