Compassion and fear (Radical Torah repost)
Jewish-Muslim retreat chronicled at Zeek

Achat Sha'alti (One Thing I Ask)

A while ago I posted about Psalm 27, the psalm which is traditionally read daily during the month of Elul leading up to the Days of Awe. Verse four of that psalm is part of my daily practice at this time of year, because I know and love a tune for that verse.

My very first visit to the old Elat Chayyim, back in August of 2002, included the transition from the month of Av to the month of Elul. Once Elul had started, we began closing our morning services by singing this simple melody for this one verse of psalm 27. We sang these words in Hebrew and in English:

Achat sha'alti me'eit Adonai, otah avakesh (2x)
Shivti b'veit Adonai, kol y'mei chayay
Lachazot b'noam, b'noam Yah, u'l'vaker b'heikhalo (2x)

One thing I ask, I ask of You, I earnestly pray for (2x)
That I might dwell in Your house all the days of my life
Knowng the beauty, the beauty of You, and to dwell in Your holy place! (2x)

I've never known who wrote the melody, and my initial digging online yielded a bunch of question marks. So I emailed the ALEPH student community, and learned that in a book of sheet music called Songs of the Chassidim I put out by Velvel Pasternak many years ago, the melody is attributed to one I. Katz. (If you know anything about him/her, please do share!)

Anyway, I promised to teach it to a friend, and after I recorded it for her, it occurred to me that perhaps some of you might enjoy it too. So I'm enclosing it here. If you can't see the embedded mp3 player (below), here's a direct link to the mp3: [achatshaalti.mp3.]

It's not a fabulous recording by a long shot, but it should be enough to learn the melody from, if you like.

Singing this song, I find myself thinking about the significance of the words. What does it mean to ask to dwell in God's house? One of my favorite interpretations of the first line of the ashrei ("Happy are they who dwell in Your house") holds that each of our bodies can be God's house if we approach embodied experience with mindfulness. (I learned that from Rabbi Phyllis Berman.) So then am I asking God for the ability to remember that I'm always already dwelling in God's house, that my body is holy? And what does it mean to say "all the days of my life" -- why kol, all? One interpretation holds that "the days of my life" would mean daytimes, but "all the days" means days and nights, too.

As we count down these last days of Elul, I'm finding comfort in knowing that this is only the beginning of our journey. If you haven't been able to make time during Elul to do the inner work of figuring out where your course needs correction, take heart: the new year, with its chance to kick your spiritual processes into high gear, is just around the corner...