Psalm 27: Counting the 51 Days of the Season of Repentance

a pomegranate sitting in front of a prayerbook

One month before Rosh Hashanah, on Rosh Hodesh Elul, we start reading Psalm 27 every day. We continue this practice throughout the High Holidays, and don’t stop reading it until the end of Sukkot. But why should we continue praying for forgiveness after Yom Kippur is already over? And why Psalm 27, rather than any of the other psalms which are more consistently linked to teshuvah

The Zohar ascribes mystical significance to Hoshana Rabbah, the seventh day of Sukkot. It writes that while our fates for the coming year are written on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur, they are not ‘delivered’ until Hoshana Rabbah. This means that the seventh day of Sukkot is a second chance to nullify any negative decrees that may have been made for us. 

Psalm 27 feels almost like two psalms sewn together. The first six verses are written with almost foolhardy confidence. The remaining eight feel almost hysterical with anxiety and dread. It reads as if Hashem has stripped away King David’s mask of self-assurance. Psalm 27 captures the full breadth of our experience throughout the months of Elul and Tishrei, illustrating our apathy and our joy, our loneliness and our grief, our fear and our hope.   

There are 51 days between the 30th of Av (which is also Rosh Chodesh Elul) and Hoshana Rabbah. This number is significant for two reasons: first, it evokes Psalm 51, the psalm for Yom Kippur, in which David begs for atonement for killing Bathsheba’s husband Uriah. Second, it means that we can count 49 days from the first of Elul until Hoshana Rabbah. This practice mirrors the well-known mitzvah of counting the Omer between the second day of Pesach and Shavuot

Like counting the Omer, the practice of counting the days of repentance has enormous Kabbalistic significance. Counting the Days of Teshuvah is a tikkun, a way of repairing the spiritual fabric of the world. By reciting Psalm 27 once a day from the 30th of Av until Hoshana Rabbah, we gather the disparate sparks concealed in each of the 51 days into something new, something whole. 

Meditation before reading the Psalm

“When a shofar is sounded in a city, are people not alarmed?
When a lion roars, who is not afraid?” (Amos 3:6-8) 

Compassionate One, may it be Your will that this offering of song I bring close to You in its proper time allows me to pass through the first 49 gates of teshuvah. And may You meet me on Hoshana Rabbah, for the 50th gate of teshuvah is Your own. Return to me, and I will return to you. Through David’s songs, You taught us teshuvah; we will sing a new song when you raise David’s fallen sukkah. Help us lift the fallen, free the prisoners, and make the world whole in imitation of You. 

Psalm 27

a new translation by Noraa Neither Kaplan

?לְדָוִד.  יי  אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי—מִמִּי אִירָא? יי מָעוֹז־חַיַּי, מִמִּי אֶפְחָד
בִּקְרֹב עָלַי מְרֵעִים, לֶאֱכֹל אֶת־בְּשָׂרִי—צָרַי וְאֹיְבַי לִי, הֵמָּה כָשְׁלוּ וְנָפָלוּ׃
אִם־תַּחֲנֶה עָלַי מַחֲנֶה, לֹא־יִירָא לִבִּי—אִם־תָּקוּם עָלַי מִלְחָמָה בְּזֹאת אֲנִי בוֹטֵחַ׃
.אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת־יי, אוֹתָה אֲבַקֵּשׁ; שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית־יי כׇּל־יְמֵי חַיַּי, לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם־יי וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלוֹ
כִּי יִצְפְּנֵנִי בְּסֻכֹּה בְּיוֹם רָעָה, יַסְתִּרֵנִי בְּסֵתֶר אׇהֳלוֹ; בְּצוּר יְרוֹמְמֵנִי׃
וְעַתָּה יָרוּם רֹאשִׁי עַל אֹיְבַי סְבִיבוֹתַי, וְאֶזְבְּחָה בְאׇהֳלוֹ זִבְחֵי תְרוּעָה; אָשִׁירָה וַאֲזַמְּרָה לַיי׃
שְׁמַע־יי קוֹלִי, אֶקְרָא וְחׇנֵּנִי וַעֲנֵנִי׃
לְךָ  אָמַר לִבִּי ‘בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָי,’ אֶת־פָּנֶיךָ יי אֲבַקֵּשׁ׃
אַל־תַּסְתֵּר פָּנֶיךָ מִמֶּנִּי, אַל תַּט־בְּאַף עַבְדֶּךָ; עֶזְרָתִי הָיִיתָ, אַל־תִּטְּשֵׁנִי, וְאַל־תַּעַזְבֵנִי אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׁעִי׃
כִּי־אָבִי וְאִמִּי עֲזָבוּנִי, וַיי יַאַסְפֵנִי׃
הוֹרֵנִי יי דַּרְכֶּךָ, וּנְחֵנִי בְּאֹרַח מִישׁוֹר, לְמַעַן שׁוֹרְרָי׃
אַל־תִּתְּנֵנִי בְּנֶפֶשׁ צָרָי כִּי קָמוּ־בִי עֵדֵי־שֶׁקֶר וִיפֵחַ חָמָס׃
לׅׄוּׅׄלֵׅׄאׅׄ הֶאֱמַנְתִּי לִרְאוֹת בְּטוּב־יי בְּאֶרֶץ חַיִּים׃
קַוֵּה אֶל־יי חֲזַק וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ וְקַוֵּה אֶל־יי׃

Le-David. Adonai ori ve-yishi—mi-mi ira? Adonai ma-oz chaiyai, mi-mi efchad? 
Bi-krov alai mereyim, le’echol et besari—tzarai ve-oyvai li, heima chashlu ve-nafalu.
Im tachaneh alai machaneh lo yira libi; im takum alai milchama be-zot ani boteyach. 
Achat sha’alti me-et Adonai ota avakesh—
shivti be-veyt Adonai kol yemey chayai,
lachazot be-no’am Adonai ul’vaker be-hechalo.
Ki yitzfeneini be-sukkah be-yom ra’a, yastireini be-seter ohalo; be-tzur yeromemeini.
Ve-ata yarum roshi al oyvai sevivotai, ve-ezbecha be-ohalo zivchey t’ruah; ashira va-azamra la-Adonai.
Shema Adonai koli, ekra ve-chaneini va-aneini.
Lecha amar libi “bakshu panai.” Et panecha, Adonai, avakesh.
Al taster panecha mimeni, al tat be-af avdecha. Ezrati hayita, al titsheni; ve-al ta’azveini, Elohai Yishi.
Ki avi ve-imi azavuni, va-Adonai ya’asfeini.
Horeini Adonai darchecha, un-cheini be-orach mishor, le-ma’an shorerai.
Al titneini tzarai, ki kamu vi adey sheker vi-peyach chamas.
Luley he’emanti lirot be-tuv Adonai be-Eretz Chayim…
Kavey el Adonai. Chazak ve-ya’ameitz libecha, ve-kavey el Adonai. 

1 Of David. Hashem is my light and my salvation—who should I fear?
Hashem is the refuge of my life—who should I be afraid of?  

2 When evil men get up in my face, hoping to eat me alive,
it is they—my oppressors and my enemies—who stumble and fall. 

3 If an army sets up camp against me, my heart shall not fear.
Even if a war rises up against me, I will still be confident. 

 4 One thing that I ask Hashem, one thing I request,
is to dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life,
to gaze upon Hashem’s beauty and wake up each morning in Their Presence.

5 Hashem will hide me in a sukkah on a day of misfortune,
keep me hidden in Their tent, or lift me high on a boulder.    

6 And now my head is high above all the enemies who surrounded me.
I will offer Hashem joyous shofar blasts in Their tent; I’ll sing songs and hymns.

7 Hear my voice, Hashem. When I cry, have mercy and answer me.  

8 “Seek My Presence,” you whisper in my heart,
so seek Your Presence I will.

9 Do not hide Your face from me. Don’t throw Your servant aside in anger.
You have always been my Help—don’t abandon me, Hashem, my deliverer,  

10 for even my father and my mother have abandoned me.
But You have gathered me in. 

11 Show me Your way—lead me on an safe path, for I am being watched.  

12 Don’t hand over my soul to my enemies,
for false accusers and violent trappers have risen up against me. 

13 Were it not for my faith that I’d see Your goodness in the Land of Life…

14 Hope in Hashem—strengthen yourself, be brave, and hope in Hashem.

 

Counting the Days

לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע, וְנָבִא לְבַב חׇכְמָה׃ 

Limnot yameinu kein hoda, ve-navi levav chochma. 

Teach us to number our days, so we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12) 

Today is the _______ day of the Season of Repentance.

 

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