T’hillim 30

A psalm of David.  A song for the dedication of the House.

At this point in the Shabbat Shaḥrit service we have completed our daily prayers and readings and prepare now to enter into prayers and readings specific to the weekly Shabbat.  Our first reading, T’hillim 30, directs our attention to the jubilant dedication of our Holy Temple.

Imagine the excitement as we awaited the dedication!  For over 400 years we brought sacrifices to temporary structures, always aware that one day HaShem would reveal the location of Ha Makom (“the place where the L-rd your G-d will choose as a dwelling for His Name”).  Then, in a series of supposedly unrelated events, HaMeleḥ David bought a threshing floor so he could build an altar to stay a terrible plague (2 Shmu’el 24).  

That seemingly nondescript threshing floor was Ha Makom, the Temple Mount.  Some time later David declared to HaNavi Natan, “Here, I’m living in a cedar-wood palace; but the ark for the covenant of Ad-nai is kept under a tent!” That same night Natan received a vision and reported back – David is forbidden to build the House, yet due to his great desire to do so HaShem promises that David’s house and throne will last forever (1 Chronicles 17).  David, known as the man after G-d’s own heart, spent his final years gathering supplies and amassing treasures for building a House that he did not live to see. 

2 Chronicles 5 – 7 describe HaMeleḥ Shlomo’s dedication of the House as a majestic seven-day celebration replete with Levitical music, impassioned prayers, and sacrifices in abundance. Coincident with Sukkot and Shmini Atzeret (Tishrei 15 – 21, 22), “on the eighth day they held a solemn assembly, having observed the dedication of the altar for seven days and the festival for seven days.  Then, on the twenty-third day of the seventh month, he sent the people away to their tents full of joy and glad of heart for all the goodness Ad-nai had shown to David, to Shlomo and to Isra’el His people.” (2 Chronicles 7:9-10)

As we read through T’hillim 30, notice how the center section feels like a private struggle in the midst of HaMaleḥ David’s public song.  His inner conflict is familiar to anyone who has embraced a task of great magnitude or eternal consequence – exultation (“I shall never be shaken”) interspersed with despondency (“Can dust thank You?).  This t’hillah, read without the center section, is inspiring and triumphant; the center section, though, is what makes it personal, palpable, real. 

“I will exalt You, L-rd, for You have lifted me up, and not let my enemies rejoice over me. 

L-rd, my G-d, I cried to You for help and You healed me.  L-rd, You lifted my soul from the grave; You spared me from going down to the pit.  Sing to the L-rd, you His devoted ones, and give thanks to His holy name.  For His anger is for a moment, but His favor for a lifetime.  At night there may be weeping, but in the morning there is joy.

“When I felt secure, I said, “I shall never be shaken.”  L-rd, when You favored me, You made me stand firm as a mountain, but when You hid Your face, I was terrified.  To You, L-rd, I called; I pleaded with my L-rd: “What gain would there be if I died and went down to the grave?  Can dust thank You?  Can it declare Your truth?  Hear, L-rd, and be gracious to me; L-rd, be my help.”

“You have turned my sorrow into dancing.  You have removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may sing to You and not be silent.  L-rd my G-d, for ever will I thank You.” [T’hillim 30]

Through T’hillim 30 we traverse Har haBayit; it surrounds us, eclipsing awareness of everything else as we “enter His gates with thanksgiving, enter His courts with praise.”  We have ascended the Southern steps; as we continue now through the Gates to the Courts we see the House within which the Heiḥol and the Kodesh Kodeshim are located.  Standing at a height of 100 cubits (approximately 150 feet), the House towers over the familiar walls (40 feet) which surround the Old City of Jerusalem.

After the celebration’s finale, after everyone has been sent home, HaShem visited HaMaleḥ Shlomo (2 Chronicles 7).  This is the famous exchange during which HaShem grants Shlomo his world-renowned measure of wisdom.  HaShem’s parting words, so abrupt and unexpected, described the future destruction of our magnificent Temple.

How poignant that HaShem chose to foretell the destruction of His House on the night following one of the grandest celebrations in recorded history.  Yet because of this we relate to T’hillim 30’s mix of grief and joy, of despondency and hope; because of this we can celebrate the Holy Temple, mourn its loss, and anticipate the time when it again will stand during the reign of Mashiaḥ.

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