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Digging Deeper: What is Psalm 27?

We recite Psalm 27 twice daily from the second day of Rosh Hodesh Elul through Shemini Atzeret.

The psalm depicts a person of pure unwavering faith in the unending support of God, who suddenly feels abandoned by God, longing, begging, and pleading to see God’s face. Our sages teach that this exploration of faith is the very essence of the High Holy Days season—a time when our faith vacillates from strong and confident to weak and questioning. They go further to say that certain phrases from the psalm actually align with each of the major Holy Days of the season. “Adonai is my Light” (verse 1) represents Rosh Hashanah; “and my salvation” (verse 1) represents Yom Kippur; and “God will keep me safe in God’s pavilion” (verse 5) represents Sukkot.

Where can I find Psalm 27?

How can I learn some melodies for this psalm?

The fourth verse of Psalm 27 is perhaps one of the most well-known:

אַחַ֤ת ׀ שָׁאַ֣לְתִּי מֵֽאֵת־יְהוָה֮ אוֹתָ֪הּ אֲבַ֫קֵּ֥שׁ שִׁבְתִּ֣י בְּבֵית־יְ֭הוָה כָּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיַּ֑י לַחֲז֥וֹת בְּנֹֽעַם־יְ֝הוָ֗ה וּלְבַקֵּ֥ר בְּהֵיכָלֽוֹ׃

One thing I ask of Adonai, only that do I seek: to live in the house of Adonai all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of Adonai, to frequent God’s temple.

Check out some melodies for this verse on this playlist from BJ!

Psalm 27

With JPS translation (right column) and poetic interpretation by Rabbi Jamie Arnold (left column)

‏ לְדָוִ֨ד ׀ יְהוָ֤ה ׀ אוֹרִ֣י וְ֭יִשְׁעִי מִמִּ֣י אִירָ֑א יְהוָ֥ה מָֽעוֹז־חַ֝יַּ֗י מִמִּ֥י אֶפְחָֽד׃ Psalm 27:1

For love’s sake the courage to live as if…
My deepest fear?
The energy illuminating everything
cannot be seen or named.
When all I see is reflection and refraction,
who am I to be afraid
of dark or light?
of seeing, being seen, or not?
Of David. Adonai is my light and my help; whom should I fear? Adonai is the stronghold of my life, whom should I dread?

‏ בִּקְרֹ֤ב עָלַ֨י ׀ מְרֵעִים֮ לֶאֱכֹ֪ל אֶת־בְּשָׂ֫רִ֥י צָרַ֣י וְאֹיְבַ֣י לִ֑י הֵ֖מָּה כָשְׁל֣וּ וְנָפָֽלוּ׃‏ Psalm 27:2

Silence is the mother of all sounds,
syllables, names.
When a wisp of breath and unspoken incantation
guards the fortress of my life
Who shall I fear?
Which ‘I’ is the one that worries?
Fear and worry come fast, consuming my flesh from within,
thieving me of ease and joy.
If only they would stumble, topple like the walls of Jericho.

When evil men assail me to devour my flesh—it is they, my foes and my enemies, who stumble and fall.

אִם־תַּחֲנֶ֬ה עָלַ֨י ׀ מַחֲנֶה֮ לֹֽא־יִירָ֪א לִ֫בִּ֥י אִם־תָּק֣וּם עָ֭לַי מִלְחָמָ֑ה בְּ֝זֹ֗את אֲנִ֣י בוֹטֵֽחַ׃. Psalm 27:3

For now, they have set up camp, settling in,
starving head of sense
and heart of wonder.
If you force upon me this unwanted war,
I will trust in… this, this mystery
of light and sight, hidden forces
made visible through masks of refraction.
Should an army besiege me, my heart would have no fear; should war beset me, still would I be confident.

אַחַ֤ת ׀ שָׁאַ֣לְתִּי מֵֽאֵת־יְהוָה֮ אוֹתָ֪הּ אֲבַ֫קֵּ֥שׁ שִׁבְתִּ֣י בְּבֵית־יְ֭הוָה כָּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיַּ֑י לַחֲז֥וֹת בְּנֹֽעַם־יְ֝הוָ֗ה וּלְבַקֵּ֥ר בְּהֵיכָלֽוֹ׃ Psalm 27:4

My deepest desire?
One? If granted one last wish,
this would be my re-quest:

To sample sabbath rest
in the house of wonder
every living day,
to see with eyes of equanimity and ease
waking me to each new dawn
in a palace of delight.

One thing I ask of Adonai, only that do I seek: to live in the house of Adonai all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of Adonai, to frequent His temple.

כִּ֤י יִצְפְּנֵ֨נִי ׀ בְּסֻכֹּה֮ בְּי֪וֹם רָ֫עָ֥ה יַ֭סְתִּרֵנִי בְּסֵ֣תֶר אָהֳל֑וֹ בְּ֝צ֗וּר יְרוֹמְמֵֽנִי׃ Psalm 27:5

Point me north to find shelter from my worst fears
under a blanket of stars-promising-progeny,
winking at me through the leafy roof of a succah
Let me hide in the hidden folds of this makeshift shelter,
tent turned tabernacle, sanctuary erected on
and protected by a mountain of smooth, solid sandstone.
He will shelter me in His pavilion on an evil day, grant me the protection of His tent, raise me high upon a rock.

וְעַתָּ֨ה יָר֪וּם רֹאשִׁ֡י עַ֤ל אֹֽיְבַ֬י סְֽבִיבוֹתַ֗י וְאֶזְבְּחָ֣ה בְ֭אָהֳלוֹ זִבְחֵ֣י תְרוּעָ֑ה אָשִׁ֥ירָה וַ֝אֲזַמְּרָ֗ה לַיהוָֽה׃ Psalm 27:6

There now.
See my head rise above engulfing echoes of oys and veys
Releasing, sacrificing wants no longer suited for service
Fragmented breaths pressing through parsed lips into a horn
transforming silent fears into jubilant song. Teruah.
I will sing. Zivchei teruah.
Atonement through attunement.
Now is my head high over my enemies roundabout; I sacrifice in His tent with shouts of joy, singing and chanting a hymn to Adonai.

שְׁמַע־יְהוָ֖ה קוֹלִ֥י אֶקְרָ֗א וְחָנֵּ֥נִי וַעֲנֵֽנִי׃ Psalm 27:7

Shema qoli. Hear my voice
turning silence to song
Choneini. Fill me with an easy grace
in the face of my unfulfilled desires
Aneini. Gift me with a humble responsiveness
to your unmet needs.
Hear, O Adonai, when I cry aloud; have mercy on me, answer me.

לְךָ֤ ׀ אָמַ֣ר לִ֭בִּי בַּקְּשׁ֣וּ פָנָ֑י אֶת־פָּנֶ֖יךָ יְהוָ֣ה אֲבַקֵּֽשׁ׃ Psalm 27:8

Your Deepest Desire?
Voice whispers through my heart and says,
Seek my face.
I will seek your face, the hidden light,
reflected in every face, revealing light.
In Your behalf my heart says: “Seek My face!” O Adonai, I seek Your face.

אַל־תַּסְתֵּ֬ר פָּנֶ֨יךָ ׀ מִמֶּנִּי֮ אַֽל־תַּט־בְּאַ֗ף עַ֫בְדֶּ֥ךָ עֶזְרָתִ֥י הָיִ֑יתָ אַֽל־תִּטְּשֵׁ֥נִי Psalm 27:9

Do not let anger distract me from seeing your majestic face
tucked away in the creases of faces furrowed
by anger in the face of injustice
and a fear of being forgotten.
Do not hide Your face from me; do not thrust aside Your servant in anger; You have ever been my help. Do not forsake me, do not abandon me, O God, my deliverer.

כִּי־אָבִ֣י וְאִמִּ֣י עֲזָב֑וּנִי וַֽיהוָ֣ה יַֽאַסְפֵֽנִי׃ Psalm 27:10

My father, my mother, yours, all beloved
parental protectors will die.
time will orphan me if I live that long
Though my father and mother abandon me, Adonai will take me in.

ה֤וֹרֵ֥נִי יְהוָ֗ה דַּ֫רְכֶּ֥ךָ וּ֭נְחֵנִי בְּאֹ֣רַח מִישׁ֑וֹר לְ֝מַ֗עַן שׁוֹרְרָֽי׃ Psalm 27:11

And yet, magnetism prevails, a law of nature
in-gathering, out-glowing
showing all the wisdom of your ways
paths paved by and for service and song
Show me Your way, O Adonai, and lead me on a level path because of my watchful foes.

אַֽל־תִּ֭תְּנֵנִי בְּנֶ֣פֶשׁ צָרָ֑י כִּ֥י קָֽמוּ־בִ֥י עֵֽדֵי־שֶׁ֝֗קֶר וִיפֵ֥חַ חָמָֽס׃ Psalm 27:12

Don’t let worry distort these nefesh-soul, body-based truths
with false testimonies, hyperboles, and half-truths
blowhards fermenting fears to safeguard their power.

ל֗וּלֵ֗֗א֗ הֶ֭אֱמַנְתִּי לִרְא֥וֹת בְּֽטוּב־יְהוָ֗ה בְּאֶ֣רֶץ חַיִּֽים׃ Psalm 27:13

Our Declaration:
Lulei. What if? What if it were not so?
Doubt. Division. Danger. Death. As if!
I choose to live as if I have the courage
to act in the face of doubt
to see the hidden connections and blessing
to belong and be beholden to the living land, eretz chaim.
Had I not the assurance that I would enjoy the goodness of Adonai in the land of the living…

קַוֵּ֗ה אֶל־יְה֫וָ֥ה חֲ֭זַק וְיַאֲמֵ֣ץ לִבֶּ֑ךָ וְ֝קַוֵּ֗ה אֶל־יְהוָֽה׃ Psalm 27:14

Together, let us draw new kinds of lines in the shifting sands.
I choose to trust you, to empower you, to re-see you,
to celebrate your courageous heart, amatz lev
to reshape this longing in your likeness.
Look to Adonai; be strong and of good courage! O look to Adonai!
Translation by Rabbi Jamie Arnold Translation by Jewish Publication Society