The great Hasidic rabbi and mystic, Reb Nachman of Bratslav (1772–1810), famously taught that Psalm 42 is one of ten psalms that promote spiritual healing. Diane Palley’s panels imply Reb Nachman’s insight that right desire is itself the greatest source of healing from the chronic depression and dissatisfaction that stem from alienation from God.
The psalmist’s repeated counsel to her own soul—‘Hope in God…’—appears, in English and Hebrew, at the base of each panel. That positioning suggests that the determination to keep hoping in God is foundational for the spiritual life. Even in the midst of the greatest distress, healing begins with the conviction that I will again have reason to offer genuine praise to God.
Hope is concentrated in the figure of the thirsty, persistent deer, the creature that through the centuries has often appeared in Jewish poetry, both secular and religious, as a figure for Israel in its beauty and vulnerability. From our viewer’s perspective, we can be assured that the deer’s desire will soon be satisfied. The brook is close at hand, and both the abundance of fish and the rich plant-life on the banks attest to the health of its waters.
Water, food, light—these images in both the psalm and Palley’s rendering of it evoke the prayer of another psalmist-pilgrim to God’s holy mountain: ‘With you is the fountain of life; in your light, we see light’ (Psalm 36:9 own translation).
Band, Debra. 2007. I Will Wake the Dawn: Illuminated Psalms (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society)
42As a hart longs
for flowing streams,
so longs my soul
for thee, O God.
2My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
3My tears have been my food
day and night,
while men say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
4These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
5Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help 6and my God.
My soul is cast down within me,
therefore I remember thee
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
7Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of thy cataracts;
all thy waves and thy billows
have gone over me.
8By day the Lord commands his steadfast love;
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
9I say to God, my rock:
“Why hast thou forgotten me?
Why go I mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
11Why are you cast down, O my soul,
my help and my God.
43Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
against an ungodly people;
from deceitful and unjust men
2For thou art the God in whom I take refuge;
why hast thou cast me off?
because of the oppression of the enemy?
3Oh send out thy light and thy truth;
let them lead me,
let them bring me to thy holy hill
and to thy dwelling!
4Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy;
and I will praise thee with the lyre,
O God, my God.