While Living Daily

ד אַחַ֤ת ׀ שָׁאַ֣לְתִּי מֵֽאֵת־יְהֹוָה֘ אוֹתָ֢הּ אֲבַ֫קֵּ֥שׁ שִׁבְתִּ֣י בְּבֵֽית־יְ֭הֹוָה כָּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיַּ֑י לַֽחֲז֥וֹת בְּנֹֽעַם־יְ֝הֹוָ֗ה וּלְבַקֵּ֥ר בְּהֵיכָלֽוֹ: — תה’ כ”ז, ד

I ask only this of G!d, a desire, a request: In G!d’s House, while living daily, to meditate upon You as if you were by my side, to learn what I have yet to finish. (Tehila 27:4)

This beautiful tehila is frequently sung (a new window will open for this version of a Carlebach melody). Here is a lovely instrumental version (a new window will open for Nina Perlov’s take on the “traditional” melody).

There’s quite a difference between desire and request, and our poetic storyteller seems to confuse means (a request) with ends (having my desire fulfilled). Knowing what I want must precede obtaining it, however, so it is my perception that is wrong; the storyteller has the order correct — but what is desire?

The Hebrew word O’tah — אוֹתה — means “symbol” and “letter” (e.g., a basic symbol of written language), but also “that one”. It conveys gender (in this case, feminine), as all Hebrew words do, but this is a storyteller’s trick: O’vah — אוֹה — is the base-form that actually connotes desire. A tav — ת — intervenes to make the word אוֹתה. Tav is the last letter of the Alef-Bet. The storyteller is saying that desire is an end in itself, but desire becomes a perverse notion unless a request is made.

In Ivrit Tenakhit avaqesh — אבקש — means “plea”. In modern Hebrew bevaqasha — בּבקשה — both precedes (“please”) a request and follows it (“you’re welcome”). Desire binds both the asker and the giver when it is associated with request.

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