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This definitive edition of "Reb Zalman's" Psalms in a Translation for Praying is a contemporary translation like no other. It has been written and refined over a lifetime for all --Jewish, Christian, and unaffiliated--who wish to use the Psalms as a conduit for their conversation with God. In the Preface, Reb Zalman writes:
There are many translations of the Psalms available. Why bother to translate them again, and in this manner?
In my work with liturgy, I found that when a version was overly faithful to the Hebrew, it was good for studying. If it was sonorous and high sounding, it was good for ceremony and high ritual. But to render the Psalms as personal prayers, a more direct and more heart-connected version would be better.
Since my affiliation with Hassidism, I have recited Psalms as prayers—at times for intercession for others, and at times because I needed to pour out my heart to the Living God.
I have not translated all of the 150 Psalms; in particular, I omitted those that troubled me with their demands for revenge. I can understand—even feel—the hurt, anger and frustration of parents whose children were brutally killed by the Babylonians—and others. But, at times when our children are attacked on a school bus, I don’t want to recite those Psalms without some way of expressing the pain differently.
In others that I did translate, I altered the sense, shifting from focus on sinners to focus on sin. Here, I did not try to smooth over the vindictive passages. Better to tell them to God and let Him/Her be the God of Vengeance, than for us to take retaliation in our own hands. We need to open our heart to God, and if in the heart is pain—well, that, also, is what the Psalms are made to express.
The Hebrew words are very elastic for one who prays and meditates on them. They accommodate not only the simple manifest meaning of the p’shat/literal words, but also meaning in deeper and higher layers of significance.
At times I have changed the sentence order to fit the deeper meaning. In particular, often the “enemies” are not on the outside. Those who have wrestled with recalcitrant habits and addictions know that in their own guts. Those who have chafed under abusive bosses and family members need to have a caring friend who hears our sighs and offers compassion—
Whom have I in Heaven but You
and besides You
I do not yearn for anyone on earth.
Yet I am still with You,
You have held onto my right hand.
In reproving and supporting me,
You comfort me.
The range of human experience that the Psalms give expression to is the glory of this book. What the Five Books of Moses demand of us, the five books of the Psalms help us to deliver.
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi is widely recognized as perhaps the most important Jewish spiritual teacher of our time. Reb Zalman’s teachings incorporate wide-ranging knowledge of the spiritual technology developed by peoples all over the planet. Known as the father of Jewish Renewal, he is committed to a post-triumphalist, ecumenical and Gaian approach. His many published works include Davening: A Guide to Meaningful Jewish Prayer with co-author Joel Segel and All Breathing Life Adores Your Name, edited by Michael L. Kagan.
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