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Psalm 80

I am a collector. My earliest collection was of cicadas. Even before I began school, I sought out the golden shells attached to trees, which I placed in a drawer to marvel at the delicate sculpture of an entire bug. In grade school, I collected marbles. To this day, when a person reaches into a pocket for change, I feel the anticipation of a competitor revealing select marbles. I competed with the games of chase and pots and my marble collection grew. I have retained a fascination for beautiful glass. In more recent years, I began to acquire ancient oil lamps from a Jerusalem antiquities dealer. My oil lamps encompass the ages of Abraham, Moses, the First and Second Temples, the Hasmonean and Bar Kokhba revolts, and the Christian and Moslem periods. The lamps demonstrate how slowly technology changed before modernity and are a tangible connection to Israel and its history.

With COVID quarantine, I began another kind of collection. In March, I started to teach a Psalm three days a week. Each presentation of a half hour was recorded on Zoom. My diverse students have put wind in my sails. Of the 150 Psalms, I am now beginning the 80’s. For each Psalm, I consult with many commentaries as guides for my own translation. Psalms are often puzzle-like, with diverse themes, strong emotions, and suggestive words artfully woven. The key goal remains finding how the ancient words stir me. The greatest satisfaction is sharing what I have learned and gaining so much from the participant’s questions and comments. Please consider sampling our growing collection of Psalm recordings that are accessible to you on our CBI website.

This Psalm begins with a focus on the Northern tribes, suggestive of a composition of over 2,700 years ago. Israel is compared to a vine with God as Vintner, who has transported the vine from Egypt and successfully planted it in the Land of Israel, only to allow wild intruders to pluck the grapes at will. The Psalm has a refrain repeated several times, “restore us, cause Your face to shine, and we shall be delivered.” Each time a different name for God is used. Why? Is it due to increasing confidence or despair?

This Psalm’s teaching is dedicated to Sybil Miller

Below is a page of manuscript of Psalm 80, written in Amsterdam in the 17th century. Such a beautifully crafted page and Spanish translation remind us of the attention given to these words across generations.  Psalm 80 from Las alabancas de santidad, a Spanish translation of the Books of Psalms by Rabbi Judah Leon Templo (d. 1675), Amsterdam 1671.