One Thing I Seek Medley

one thing i seek Medley lyrics
The title track of the CD is divided into three movements. The first movement [track 2] is a solo version of a well-known melody which I learned in synagogue. It is by the composer Paul Schoenfield. It is a beautiful rendition of psalm 27:4. In the second movement [track 3], in typical kirtan fashion, I atomize the same verse, and emphasize a couple of simple phrases. The first motif repeats the words, Achat Sha’alti mei-eit Adonai. These words contain the title of the CD (loosely) translated there as, “one thing I seek.” In truth, there could be other ways to translate the Hebrew sha’alti; in fact, at the very end of the third movement, you will discover that I have rendered it, “one thing I ask (of You).” Moreover, since Hebrew — especially biblical Hebrew — does not really have tenses, one could also translate the verse as, “one thing I have sought” (from Yah), or “one thing I have asked.” In seeking therefore to render this phrase musically, I looked for a motif which would express longing, uncertainty — but also dedication and trust in the effort (see below). The second musical motif answers the first and is more hopeful. It states what precisely “I” have sought: to live in the house of Adonai, all the days of my life. I put it in a major key to make it happy and joyous.

What is it that I am asking, seeking, have been seeking? Simply, to be with God all the time… or as much as the time as is possible. To dwell with God forever. The upshot of this longing and resolution then is that we should guide the days of our life, as much as is possible, so that they are kept in concert with that which God seeks of us: that we be responsible to the earth, honest in our relationships and express gratitude for all that we are blessed to have. As it says elsewhere: And what does the LORD seek of you? Only to do justice, and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

The third movement of this medley [track 4] is set to a very interesting phrase, indeed. I have been fascinated with this verse ever since I heard a teaching handed down by my friend and teacher at Hebrew Union College, Lisa Grant. I have found the first word, lulei, particularly fascinating. It is a word, a particle really, which only has meaning when attached to other words, specifically to a verb. It means something like “where it not the case that…” So here, in verse 13 of Psalm 27, we have: “Did I not trust to see — or partake of — the goodness of Adonai in the land of the living…”

Then something strange happens. The psalmist does not go on to say what precisely would happen were this trust or belief not to be merited; the sentence cuts off. In the fancy jargon from my academic days, we would call this a protasis without an apodosis. It is like an if-then clause with an “if,” but no “then.” Very mysterious, indeed. I suppose the main point is that the speaker does indeed have this faith and trust. So, maybe it is not necessary to declare the consequences of the longing not coming to fruition. It is inconceivable to think otherwise. God will be with us.

I divide the verse, musically, into two themes. The first motif — lulei he-emanti lirot b-tuv Adonai — is easily the most beautiful melody I have written. And I especially think it fits the words very nicely.

The second motif, which goes with the words b-eretz chayyim, is decidedly major and happy. The whole verse consummately (and I hope also musically) expresses a certainty to see the goodness of God in the land of the living. This “land of the living” might correspond to “all the days of my life” in verse 4, and therefore mean that one hopes to experience this goodness in the here and now — in this life. Or, it could refer to what Jewish tradition might call the land of the really living: to that world which is beyond this material existence. Such a world, theolam ha-ba, might be thought to be in some kind of afterlife, or to be a realm to which we have access to whenever we are blessed to connect directly with the Divine. As the final phrase of the Kaddish chant says again and again: l-olam u-l-almei almaya, in this world and in the world of worlds.

Finally, Psalm 27 — from which the words to this chat are drawn — is traditionally said starting on the first of Elul, one month before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. It is then repeated daily through the entire holiday period: through Yom Kippur and until the end of the pilgrimage Festival of Sukkot. Many have wracked their brains attempting to find great theological insights in this psalm which would lend it to be the psalm for the holiest stretch of the Jewish year. And it is a great psalm, indeed. Something to be very, very serious about … until we remember the playfulness of the minds of our ancient rabbinic sages. After all the analysis, after all the ratiocinations which have sought to ground this yearly use of psalm 27, we happen upon a joke which only our sages could play upon us: that word, lulei (לולא) spelled backwardsis Elul (אלול). This is the reason we recite psalm 27 during the month of Elul and through the ensuing holidays. To paraphrase an old Roman saying: Play seriously, and be serious playfully. I can’t think of a better definition of Kirtan.