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Ps. 92 & 93: Illuminations

Artist Debra Band smiles wearing a colorful scarf

Debra Band is a Hebrew manuscript artist residing in Potomac, MD. She is the author and illuminator of six illuminated books and commentaries, including The Song of Songs: the Honeybee in the Garden (2005), I Will Wake the Dawn: Illuminated Psalms (2007, with Arnold J. Band), and Kabbalat Shabbat: the Grand Unification (2016, with Raymond P. Scheindlin and Arthur Green).

Psalms 92 and 93 are traditionally recited together as part of the Friday evening and Saturday morning services in celebration of the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat). In the following reflection, artist Debra Band explains her textual/artistic process, including inspirations drawn from the Jewish mystical tradition (Kabbalah).  

As the Shekhinah (the indwelling, female facet of the Divine) pours divine energy into the world as Shabbat falls, Psalms 92 and 93, brilliant moments in the Kabbalat Shabbat (“Receiving Shabbat” prayer service) service, celebrate the refreshment of our souls and ready us for the opportunity to rest and contemplate God’s glory on this sacred day. My illuminations of this pair of psalms express the joy of embedding ourselves in the sacred time and space of Shabbat, which Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel described as the Jewish “cathedral in time.”

Dr. Raymond P. Scheindlin, who prepared the original translations of these psalms for our 2016 illuminated book, Kabbalat Shabbat: the Grand Unification, observed that Psalm 92 is the only psalm that specifically declares its connection to Shabbat, perhaps because it compares the worshiper’s pleasure at contemplating Creation to God’s own delight in Creation expressed on the very first Shabbat. In addition, it describes the heavenly reward of the righteous, which is traditionally understood to be granted in the World-to-Come, which Shabbat prefigures every week.

The illuminations present a mystical allegory of the Shekhinah and the human soul planted in the sacred place and time of Shabbat. The mystical tradition compares the glory of the Shekhinah, the “Shabbat Bride,” to the fragrance and beauty of a “field of holy apples,” within which the verses rest. On the eve of Shabbat, the tradition holds, the male and female aspects of God unite in the holy field, and the souls of the righteous spring from their union. The branches of these apple trees grow in a fractal pattern found throughout the natural world; this fractal has tree branches branching repetitively in the shape of the Hebrew letter Shin, of the divine name, Shaddai, found on every mezuzah scroll. The potted cedar and palm derive directly from the psalm’s comparison of these two trees to the righteous person; growing not in nature but transplanted to the sacred precincts of the Temple, they flourish, their height, strength, and fruit sweetly praising the Creator.

The Shekhinah’s presence in our world and souls signals the entire world’s homage to God’s power, observed through the power of roaring seas and the sanctity of the glorious Temple—and by extension, the synagogue. The illuminations express God’s royalty through images surfacing through the ocean waves. In the Hebrew illumination we see a royal crown, modeled upon a Torah crown that survived the Nazi destruction of the Jewish community of Danzig, rising through the thunderous waves; in the English, the golden Menorah of the Temple shimmers through the water. As elsewhere in these illuminations, the palmette border brings to mind the decorations of Solomon’s Temple. 

I created these Psalms paintings on the calfskin traditional for Judaism’s sacred texts, with ink, gouache (opaque watercolor) and gold leaf. I hope that they encourage your conversation with the Almighty, and bring refreshment to your soul, whenever you enjoy them.  More information may be found about these works in Kabbalat Shabbat: the Grand Unification, and at www.dbandart.com/books.

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.