“O Lord lead me in Your righteousness; because of those who lie in wait for me, make Your way straight before me (Psalms 5:9).” It must be nice to have such steadfast belief in the concept of one straight path. While I know that the cliche is that the road less traveled is more rewarding, at particularly complicated and challenging junctures in the trajectory of my life, I think it would be easier and hopefully equally satisfying to have a single straight line set before you, rather than the winding chaos that many of us have to work through. If you believe in fate, then we’ll end up in the same place regardless, and it’s only the journey that’ll be different. But if you don’t [and I’m not a fate person], then the proverbial two roads diverging have completely different outcomes, and we’ll never know what the other one would have taken us to. A single straight line might be much easier [though I’m sure less interesting] than the complexities and challenges of a typical lifespan.
Another psalm from King David. “When I call, answer me, O God of my righteousness; in my distress You have relieved me, be gracious to me and hearken to my prayer (Psalms 4:2).” This verse demonstrates to me the close nature of the relationship that David had with God. You have to be personally connected to someone in order to make heartfelt requests of them; in this case David asking God to answer him when he calls in prayer. This makes God intimate, as opposed to an all-encompassing ‘other.’ I’d be too intimidated by my own sense of inferiority to make demands that He listen to my prayers and problems. And not to say that God should be equal to us, but it is nice to think about feeling so close to Him that it becomes that mutualistic relationship, instead of divergent one-way streets.
This psalm gives us some context with its opening verse. “A song of David, when he fled from Absalom his son (Psalms 3:1).” It’s a reference back to the saga that we read about in the books of Samuel, when David, the poet/warrior/king of Israel suffered a rebellion at the hands of his own son. While he was on the run, this is a reflection of his feelings. “I will not fear ten thousands of people, who have set themselves against me all around (Psalms 3:7).” Even though David was fighting an army lead by the ultimate betrayer – his son – his faith in God remained steadfast enough to get him through. David is credited with writing many of the Psalms, so I’m sure we’ll encounter him a lot over the next 147 chapters!
“Arm yourselves with purity lest He become angry and you perish in the way, for in a moment His wrath will be kindled; the praises of all who take refuge in Him (Psalms 2:12).” The version of God described in this verse is a volatile one, able to be triggered to anger at any point if a person makes the wrong move. It’s weird to think of God that way. Simultaneously, He is supposed to be all-knowing and all-seeing, and yet He’s almost like an adolescent in terms of quick emotions. I guess it shows why our own emotions are so ever-changing – we are made in God’s image, so maybe this is something we share as well.
“The praises of a man are that he did not follow the counsel of the wicked, neither did he stand in the way of sinners nor sit in the company of scorners (Psalms 1:1).” This opening verse reads almost like a list of superlatives. What are the things that we aspire to be praised for today? Being good at work, likable, good human beings? Are we proud of being independent, or of being good listeners? Or is it like this verse, and what we’re praised for is our relationships, and the company we do [or don’t] keep? The people we spend the most time with us tend to be a reflection of our values and priorities. Therefore, just like in this verse, we should commend people for choosing good company and avoiding the bad.
This chapter marks the end of several things: the end of Malachi, the end of Nevi’im, and the end of the second of three major sections of Tanakh. Therefore, I decided to focus on the final verses of this final chapter of the Prophets. “Lo, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord, that he may turn the heart of the fathers back through the children, and the heart of the children back through their fathers – lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction (Malachi 3:24).” Elijah the prophet comes up throughout the Jewish canon, and it’s believed that he will proceed the coming of the Messiah. Therefore, concluding the book of Prophets with a reference to this most famous one seems telling. This verse talks about connecting throughout the generations via the heartstrings of parents and children, all with the goal of achieving a peaceful end of days. It ties up the many messages that I’ve read throughout the last few months, bringing them all together with a cautiously hopeful message. And with that, we conclude the prophets.
Tomorrow, I begin the hardest part of this journey of 929 chapters. I’ll be starting on Psalms, which has 150 chapters in and of itself. It’s going to take over seven months to get through all of them, and I hope I’m able to stay motivated throughout that time. Today marks 567 chapters down and 362 to go!
This chapter is dedicated to the priests. “For a priest’s lips shall guard knowledge, and teaching should be sought from his mouth, for he is a messenger of the Lord of Hosts (Malachi 2:7).” Today, I don’t think there’s anyone who is truly the guardian of knowledge. As an educator, I’m regularly in conversations about how our field needs to change being that we live in a time when anyone can look up any information on their phones instantly. Teachers (or priests) aren’t needed to transmit knowledge and facts. So what is our purpose? Like the priests, we are here to serve the community, providing added value to our learners by applying the knowledge, making it deeper than that which they can Google. We need to view this as holy work, just like that of the priests, of positively impacting the journeys of each learner that we come into contact with.
The final book in Nevi’im opens interestingly. “The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel in the hand of Malachi (Malachi 1:1).” Being the prophet of God isn’t described as an honor, or a privilege, but rather as a burden. Bearing the weight of that must responsibility is indeed a heavy task, and I wish more leaders today took that into account, rather than only looking for glory. Leadership roles are burdens, and responsibilities, and should be treated solemnly, rather than as popularity contests. But I digress.
This chapter involves God essentially calling out the people for being insincere. They offer imperfect, inferior sacrifices, demonstrating a lack of respect and honor. Then, they question why God doesn’t show them favor. “O that there were even one among you that would close the doors [of the Temple] and that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain! I have no desire in you, says the Lord of Hosts. Neither will I accept an offering from your hand (Malachi 1:10).” Essentially, stop half-assing things Israelites! People are so lazy, and are seriously always trying to cut corners. And when you don’t bring the best of yourself to a situation, you never get the best results. This is God literally saying that He would rather someone shut the Temple all together rather than give without sincerity and honor. So let’s apply that to all of our lives – doing things wholeheartedly, or not at all. What would that look like?
The final chapter of Zechariah contains a great deal of end-of-days and messianic imagery. “And on that day His feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem from the east. And the Mount of Olives shall split in the midst thereof-toward the east and toward the west-a very great valley. And half the mountain shall move to the north, and half of it to the south (Zechariah 14:4).” It’s crazy that these fantastical statements are being made about real places, places that I’ve been. This chapter is describing such out of this world events that it’s hard to reconcile them with reality. It’s statements like these that have made Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, such a hot commodity over the years. Would it maybe be better if this wasn’t all canonized in the Torah? After all, so many wars have been fought over our tiny strip of land. Would some these elements being left out have stopped all that bloodshed?
With that, Zechariah is done, and tomorrow I start the final (short) book of Prophets. Almost the end of 2/3 of the sections of Tanakh!
“On that day, a spring shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for purification and for sprinkling (Zechariah 13:1).” There are other verses in this chapter that are probably considered much more iconic and important, but this one jumped out to me because it connects to a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. The concept of purification through water manifests for Jews today in the mikvah, the ritual bath that women (and men) immerse in so as to attain a state of purity. There’s something very freeing about being in the water, and I’ve personally grown to love the ritual, even though as a secular Jew, it’s not one that came to me naturally. But seeing the origins of water as a pure vessel and means of sanctification here makes me feel even more connected to the rite. The waters of the mikvah are called living waters, and seeing them described here as a spring hits home for me about the history and tradition that I choose to carry on.