Psalm 94:19: Soothe the Soul

Apr 1, 2020 by

Psalm 94:19: Soothe the Soul

Psalm 94:19 is traditionally read on Wednesdays. Whichever day you find yourself reading this in this challenging time, may it bring you comfort.


בְּרֹ֣ב שַׂרְעַפַּ֣י בְּקִרְבִּ֑י תַּ֝נְחוּמֶ֗יךָ יְֽשַׁעַשְׁע֥וּ נַפְשִֽׁי׃
When disquieting thoughts rage inside me, Your comforting brings me joy.

I need, we need, our world needs this psalm,
this verse, on this Wednesday morning [1], on any day.
“When I am tangled within, unsettled,
You comfort me, you soothe my soul.” [2]


שַׂרְעַפַּ֣י sar-ah-pie.
A unique word in the Bible, a favorite of the troubled Job. [3]
Perhaps a portmanteau of two words next to each other in the dictionary.
Sar-ah-pie is like saraf, with the letters sin, resh and peh—to burn.
My angst, my concerns burn within me, threaten to consume me like a fire.
Sar-ah-pie is like s’ra-ah, with the letters sin, resh and ayin extend or stretch.
My worries expand,
spreading out like flames fueled with dry timber until they rage,
filling my head, my heart, with fear and dread,
in the dark of the night and as the day dawns.
Tangled in the sheets and in my mind,
I wake. I rise.
I am unbalanced, again, like the world just yesterday. [4]

תַּ֝נְחוּמֶ֗יךָ Ta-n’chum-echah.
Buried within prefix and suffix, nun, chet and mem, nechum, Comfort.
You, God, You comfort me—
like a Parent can sooth a child after a nightmare,
like a Teacher can nourish a mind,
like a listening Friend can calm a raging one,
like a Leader can steady a country or community,
like a Shepherd can shelter the flock,
like a Rock can give shade a stifling day,
like a deep Breath can slow a pounding heart.

And finally, a Hebrew tongue twister,
worth practice, memorization, repetition.
Hold it in the mouth, release it from the lips,
know it, in the heart, by heart.
Two words:
three shins, two silent ayins, a yod at the beginning and at the end.
It’s onomatopoeia: Shshshsh…

נַפְשִֽׁי Y’sha-a-sh’u nafshi.
You, God, You soothe, You soothe my soul.
Gentle, calm, intimate.
This isn’t about the whole world,
it’s about my world, my essence, my breath.
I, the parent, the friend, the student, the leader,
a shepherd, a rock,
tangled,
I am comforted by my Breath Within.
Each breath exhaled, like wind scattering clouds,
releases a bit of pain, some worry, a flash of anger,
cools the raging fires of fear,
opens space for hope, and joy and gratitude.
These words, this Breath, soothes souls.

[1] Psalm 94 is the psalm identified in Jewish tradition to be read every Wednesday.
[2] Thanks to my student and teacher Tammy Cancela for this thoughtful insight on being “tangled”.
[3] This word appears only here and in Psalm 139:13. The BDB dictionary associates it with the root letters sin, ayin pay as in Job 4:23 and 20:2.
[4] From the Psalm read on Tuesdays: “They do not know, they do not understand, in deep darkness they stumble to and fro—all the foundations of the earth are tottering.” (Psalm 82:5)


Rabbi Debra J. Robbins is a rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas and author of the recently published book, Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice for the Jewish New Year, published by CCAR Press 2019, also available as an ebook.

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