The prayer begins with Numbers 24:5, where Balaam, sent to curse the Israelites, is instead overcome with awe at God and the Israelites' houses of worship. Its first line of praise is a quote of Balaam's blessing and is thus the only prayer commonly used in Jewish services that was written by a non-Jew. The remainder of the text is derived from passages in Psalms relating to entering the house of worship and preparation for further prayer (Psalms 5:8; 26:8; 95:6; and 69:14). In this vein is the prayer recited by Jews upon entering the synagogue.
מַה טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ, יַעֲקֹב; מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ, יִשְׂרָאֵל. (1 Numbers 24:5
וַאֲנִי בְּרב חַסְדְּךָ אָבא בֵיתֶךָ אֶשְׁתַּחֲוֶה אֶל הֵיכַל קָדְשְׁךָ בְּיִרְאָתֶךָ. (2 Psalms 5:8
Ma tovu ohalekha Ya'akov, mishk'notekha Yisra'el.
Va'ani b'rov hasd'kha, avo veytekha,
Eshtahaveh el heikhal kodsh'kha b'yir'atekha.
Va'ani t'filati l'kha Adonai et ratzon.
Elohim b'rov hasdekha aneini b'emet yish'ekha.
How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!
As for me, O God abounding in grace,
I enter your house to worship with awe in Your sacred place.
To You, Eternal One, goes my prayer: may this be a time of your favor.
In Your great love, O God, answer me with Your saving truth.
- Recordings of tunes to Ma Tovu on the Zemirot Database
- Recordings of Ma Tovu spoken in different speeds