International Holocaust Remembrance Day and Psalm 122:6
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! May those who love you be at ease!
Psalm 122:6 (My translation)
Today, January the 27th, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was on this day in 1945 that Russian troops liberated the remaining captives from the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, where roughly 1.3 million people were murdered, 90 percent of whom were Jews. The many others who were murdered there included Poles, Roma and Sinti Gypsies, Soviet POWs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, disabled people and known homosexuals.
So I wanted to share this verse today as a way of remembering our Jewish brothers and sisters, as well as the many others who died in the Holocaust.
Psalm 122:6 and Jerusalem
Firstly, this is a Davidic Psalm and focuses on Jerusalem and what it represents for the people of Israel. Those of you who have visited Jerusalem will certainly appreciate, with great fondness, as I do, David’s meditation on the Holy City. It is a song of pilgrimage or ascents, as stated in the first verse. This is expressed with the use of the noun מעלה/ma’alah, which is derived from the verb עלה/aalah, meaning, “go up, ascend, climb” (BDB, p. 748). This is appropriate because Jerusalem is located in the Judean mountains of Israel. It is also remarkable how Jerusalem has been viewed for so many centuries as the capital of Israel and a symbol of peace and friendship.
The very name of Jerusalem refers to peace. While the etymology of the name is uncertain, it is possibly a combination of two Semitic words ירה/yarah and שלם/shalem, or, ירוש/yarush and שלם/shalem, meaning, “foundation of peace” or “possession of peace” (BDB, p. 436). In any case, without getting too bogged down in the etymology, שלם/shalem or “peace” is certainly an integral part of the name.
What is also wonderful about verse six is that it has a kind of music written into the wording with a play on the phonetic relationship between each word. Here is an English transliteration that will hopefully demonstrate what I’m referring to:
Sh’alu shalom Yerushalami! Yishlaiu ohavaichk!
The first word, שאלו/sh’alu, is the imperative or exhortative form of the verb שאל/sha’al, meaning, “ask, inquire” (BDB, pp. 981-982). I analysed this word in my previous post on Psalm 37:4 (Part 2) where we had the noun משאלה/mish’alah being used to represent the requests, desires or wishes of one’s heart. Here in Psalm 122:6, it functions as a strong exhortation: “Ask!” - or “Pray!” as it is often translated.
We then have the very familiar noun, and greeting, שלום/shalom, meaning, “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB, p. 1022). This is followed by the name of the Holy City, ירושלם/Yerushalami, or Jerusalem, which I have briefly analysed above.
Part b) of Ps 122:6 begins with the word ישליו/Yishlaiu, derived from the verb שלה/shalah, meaning, “be quiet, at ease” (BDB, p. 1017). Here, the conjugation is in the 3rd person plural, imperfect form of the verb functioning as a jussive, which grammatically refers to a command or expression of will. Hence, “may they be at ease”.
The last word closes the verse without bearing the phonetic connection to its lexical companions. It is the Hebrew verb for love: אהב/ahav. In Ps 122:6, it agrees in gender and number with ישליו/Yishlaiu, which precedes it, and also carries the feminine singular pronominal suffix (ך/echk), referring to Jerusalem. Hebrew, like many other languages, is gender specific, and cities in Hebrew are feminine. Therefore the phrase, Yishlaiu ohavaichk, translates literally as: “may they be at ease the lovers of you (feminine)”.
As I stated earlier, those of you who have visited Jerusalem will appreciate this Psalm with great fondness. Jerusalem is the Holy City and capital of Israel. She is a symbol of peace and hope, and she embodies the concept of a return from exile. After the Holocaust, this is especially significant for the Jewish People. And on this day, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the prayer for peace is especially important, lest we forget. ב'י'ה