“Save Your people and bless Your inheritance, and tend them and elevate them forever (Psalms 28:9).” Just as Judaism and Torah are our inheritance as the Jewish people, simultaneously we are God’s inheritance. In every generation we inherit a canon of tradition, culture, and values. Personally, I’m committed to preserving and passing on that inheritance. But what does God get from us in each subsequent era? An inheritance is something that perpetuates and keeps on giving, so I’m choosing to read into this that God gets something new from us in perpetuity as well. Is it because each of us is an individual, and brings something new to our relationships with God? Or is it because God Himself has evolved with history, and therefore relates to us in different ways?
This psalm contains a verse that I really struggle with. “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord gathers me in (Psalms 27:10).” The psalmist seems to be content with having God’s relationship, despite the breakdown of the most important of human bonds. But I can’t imagine it being that easy. I’m personally incredibly close to my parents, and there’s no relationship that could replace those. Having a relationship with God is amazing, but it doesn’t replicate or take the place of the needs we have when it comes to other human beings.
“My foot stood on a straight path; I will bless the Lord in assemblies (Psalms 26:12).” As I mentioned in my post the other day, I’ve been at AIPAC Policy Conference over the past few days. This, as many know, is the largest annual assembly of Jewish and pro-Israel activists. It’s an amazing experience – empowering, inspiring, and enlightening. I’ve been going to AIPAC conferences for over 10 years, and this year is the largest one yet – 18,000 delegates standing up for Israel. In addition to everything AIPAC provides in terms of networking, education, and general Jewish reunions, I truly believe that the work that the organization and the attendees do on behalf of Israel is holy work. We’re not the ones who live in Israel, serving in the army and putting our lives on the line, and therefore making the highest level of sacrifice for Israel. But we can give of our time to our homeland, and use the influence of our words and feet to make that impact.
“Neither shall any of those who hope for You be ashamed; let those who betray [to the extent of] destitution be ashamed (Psalms 25:3).” What interested me about this verse is that many times in the circles that I travel in (and remember, I’m a Jewish communal professional), actually believing in God is something that others almost look down on. It’s seen as ‘cute,’ ‘naive,’ almost childlike and laughable to truly believe in a personal, present version of God. People speak about belief as something metaphorical, but are quick to say things like Judaism isn’t a religion, and prayer can be meditation, or talking to yourself, or whatever you make of it. But an actual strong belief in the God described in Tanakh? Not so widespread. While I would never presume to tell anyone what to believe or how to feel on a topic as deeply personal as God, I hope that those who don’t will be a little more accepting of those who do. People should be proud to respectfully share their beliefs, and shouldn’t feel obligated to stay silent because of how others might react.
This psalm asks the question of who is worthy to stand on God’s mountain. “He who has clean hand and a pure heart, who has not taken My name in vain and has not sworn deceitfully (Psalms 24:4).” Today was the first day of AIPAC Policy Conference 2017. It brought together 18,000 pro Israel activists in the strongest showing of strength and pride in the US-Israel relationship anywhere in the world. It’s my honor each year to attend Policy Conference, which is one of my favorite weeks. It’s like a reunion for the Jewish people, with connections from every stage of life popping up over three days. And in addition, it’s a forum for inspirational stories, and inspires me in my work for weeks and months following each conference.
The verse I chose for today resonated as I thought about some of the incredible speakers that I heard share their stories of Israel, Zionism, and tikkun olam. One of the most inspiring stories came from an IDF officer who heads the mobile medical center unit, which Israel deploys around the world whenever there is a crisis. Israeli doctors are first on the scene worldwide, saving lives and serving as the light unto the nations that we’re commanded to be. It’s a completely selfless act – the victims of these disasters aren’t Israelis, or Jews, or anyone that the Israeli army necessarily ‘needs’ to care about. But they do, because it’s the right thing to do – and that’s what continues to inspire me every day.
Today’s chapter is a Psalm that many are familiar with. It’s used a lot in liturgy, at funerals in particular, but also at different services throughout the year and the lifecycle. It’s one that I’ve personally read many times before, so it was interesting to pick out one verse from all of the others to emphasize and focus on. “Even when I walk in the valley of darkness, I will fear no evil for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff – they comfort me (Psalms 23:4).” This verse is famous for its meaning – that David, the writer, or whoever is saying it, is so passionate about their belief in God that no matter what, even in times of darkness and sorrow and even death, they know that they have nothing to be afraid of because God is on their side. It must be amazing to have that kind of unconditional faith. I wish I did. I do believe in God, but when I read a verse like this, my honest emotion is jealousy, because I want to have that level of trust and confidence in that relationship.
“They shall come and tell His righteousness to the newborn people, that which He has done (Psalms 22:32).” As an educator, I work with teenagers. But I sit next to colleagues who work with very young children, and it’s amazing to hear about the innocent wisdom and awareness of even the youngest kids. It seems clear to me that there’s no one correct time to start talking to a child about God and Judaism, and that kids understand a lot more than we give them credit for. The conversations and exploration of faith are lifelong journeys, and talking and teaching about them can start with newborns, as this verse indicates.
This psalm talks about David as the king of Israel and the blessings that he asked God for and was granted. “He asked You for life; You gave it to him, length of days forever and ever (Psalms 21:5).” This is an interesting blessing, and as someone who has been spending a lot of time lately with elderly people in different physical and mental stages, it seems like a double edged sword. A long life is a beautiful thing, if one lives it well and fully. But an eternal life can go on for far too long. I see some people who are blessed in their long lives. They enjoy the ongoing beauty of the universe, appreciate their children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren, and age with wisdom and grace. But there are others for whom long life isn’t always a blessing. They may become bitter, or lose their faculties, or any other number of things that make aging a sad experience. In those cases it may be better to live a shorter, happy life, and end on a high note. These are all obviously complex and potentially heartbreaking issues. But hopefully as we all age, blessings will be what we’re gifted.
“May He give you as your heart [desires], and may He fulfill all your counsel (Psalms 20:5).” It’s easy to get on board with this verse. We obviously all want our desires to be fulfilled, and whether we intentionally pray or instinctively make wishes, we hope that these dreams will come true. But part of the joy of achieving things is the process of that achievement – working towards ones own success. If things just came to fruition because we wished for them, we’d be in a much less self-actualized state.
“The heavens recite the glory of God, and the sky tells of the work of His hands (Psalms 19:2).” I flew from Israel back to Washington DC yesterday, and I can confidently say that if there’s one experience that doesn’t generally incline me towards spirituality, it’s flying. Airlines pack people in like sardines, people don’t seem to be conscious of the fact that their choices to douse themselves in perfume mean other people will be trapped with their scents for hours on end, and seat-kickers seem to be more ubiquitous each time I travel. But if I take a step back, which I’m really trying to be mindful of and do more often, and look at the big picture, it’s amazing. Flying through the air we see the vastness of the world, and the incredible nature of human ingenuity. The sky is never-ending and timeless, and I hope I’m able to do better about noticing it more.