Min Hametzar / From the Straits
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This excerpt from Psalm 118 is part of Hallel, the prayer of praise and Thanksgiving sung on many holidays. Min Hametzar used to scare me. Sung in an ominous minor key, the line "They swarmed round me like bees, burned out like a fire among thorns" (v. 12) made me wonder what threats lurked that could put me in danger of being cut down, as well. I felt a little better by the end when reminded that "Yah harshly chastened me but to death did not deliver me" (v. 18). Still, the God I believe in is kind and forgiving. Min Hametzar made me wonder if I had it all wrong.
Then one day at services we were introduced to a new tune for the Psalm, a rollicking Sephardic North African melody in a major key. Suddenly the words took on new meaning. This God sounded happy, hopeful, full of bold shapes and bright colors. I envisioned a child running around like a playful bee, chased (with equal measures of frustration and joy) by a loving parent. Min Hametzar soon became my favorite of all tunes, and each time we sing it I yearn for a deeper relationship with this God of stern but loving rebuke.
Text: Psalm 118:5-20
5 From the straits I called to Yah. Yah answered me in a wide-open place.
6 The Lord is for me, I shall not fear. What can humankind do to me?
7 The Lord is for me among my helpers, and I shall see the defeat of my foes.
8 Better to shelter in the Lord than to trust in humankind.
9 Better to shelter in the Lord than to trust in princes.
10 All the nations surrounded me. With the Lord's name I cut them down.
11 They swarmed round me, oh, they surrounded me. With the Lord's name I cut them down.
12 They swarmed round me like bees, burned out like a fire among thorns. With the Lord's name I cut them down.
13 You pushed me hard to knock me down, but the Lord helped me.
14 My strength and my might is Yah, and He has become my rescue
15 A voice of glad song and rescue in the tents of the just: The Lord's right hand does valiantly.
16 The Lord's right hand is raised, the Lord's right hand does valiantly.
17 I shall not die but live and recount the deeds of Yah.
18 Yah harshly chastened me but to death did not deliver me.
19 Open for me the gates of justice—I would enter them, I would acclaim Yah.
20 This is the gate of the Lord—the just will enter it.
Translation: Robert Alter
A short excerpt of this text is included on the English version of the print.