When I was reading through this psalm, there was a verse that I thought would be my reflection inspiration, but as I came towards the end of the chapter, I changed my mind. I read this verse: “For he will not take anything in his death; his glory will not descend after him (Psalms 49:18).” This is a concept that’s been analyzed a lot, and many thinkers and authorities have reflected on the philosophical concept of us not taking anything with us when we ultimately die. But even though it’s well known and well developed, there’s a reason that it’s remained timelessly relevant. While I know a lot of people who are focused on amassing things for while they’re alive, so many more have internalized the need to create a legacy of their lives and values for future generations. Particularly through my work in philanthropy, I have the pleasure of knowing so many visionary leaders who are giving of their time and wealth by prioritizing giving and instilling these values in the next generation. Our children and the legacies that we leave are the ways that we live beyond death.
This psalm talks about Jerusalem, as many do. I’ve been missing Jerusalem a lot lately, particularly at this time of year. Just like the traditional Jewish holidays come as a group in the fall, the spring brings the season of modern holidays – Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom HaAtzmaut, and Yom Yerushalayim. When I think about Jerusalem, there are several images that always come to mind. The smooth, slippery streets, the unique, soft light of evenings and mornings, and the strength of the walls. The walls of the Old City are mighty. When I was little they looked like a castle, and now, they continue to enchant and amaze me every time I see them. It’s something I hope I never get used to.
“Give heed to its walls, raise its palaces, in order that you may tell a later generation (Psalms 48:14).” Part of my role as an educator has been bringing Israel, and specifically Jerusalem, to life for my learners, that proverbial next generation. I know that I’ll keep doing so throughout my career, so this is one verse that I can confidently say I’ll bring to life.
The verse I chose from this psalm is a fairly straightforward one. “Sing to God, sing; sing to our King, sing (Psalms 47:7).” Clearly, we’re being commanded to sing in order to praise God. I know that for many people, music can provide a holy, even spiritual experience. I’m not normally one of them. You’ll never catch me listening to music when I’m by myself, and I’ve never understood people who just sit listening to music with nothing else going on. I can binge watch a TV show with the best of them, but music has never really spoken to me. But the experience of singing with others – on trips, at camp, in synagogue – does invoke something tribal within me. I love the feeling of being connected to others through shared experience, and singing definitely provides that.
“Therefore we will not fear when the earth changes and when mountains totter into the heart of seas (Psalms 46:3).” This verse spoke to me because I’ve been thinking a lot about change, and about fear of change. And I’m not even talking about massive physical upheavals and global consequences, or terrifying things like mountains falling down. But even in my own personal daily life, change is something that it’s very difficult not to fear. I even find myself being afraid of future, far away changes. My husband will be applying for PhD programs next year, meaning that a little over a year from now, I might have to move again. Notice all of the qualifiers in that sentence: this might happen, and even if it does, it’ll be more than a year from now. And yet, I’m actively stressed about it right now. How can I (or any of us) avoid this?
Today marks Yom HaShoah, the day on the Jewish calendar set aside for remembering the 6 million victims of the Holocaust. I didn’t know if I’d be able to connect the day with the chapter for today, but as has happened many times before in this project, as soon as a a meaningful day comes up, the text somehow coincides.
“I will mention Your name in every generation; therefore peoples shall thank You forever and ever (Psalms 45:18).” Disclaimer: I know that the ‘you’ being referenced here is God. However, when I read the verse, it also seemed very applicable to Shoah victims. In every generation, particularly as the survivors die out, it is our responsibility to remember the horrors of the Shoah. And not just the dates and numbers, but the names, and the personal stories of the human beings who were slaughtered. They can’t be forgotten, not as a multitude, or as individuals. In every generation we remember them, we honor them, and we should do only good in their honor.
“For not by their sword did they inherit the land, neither did their arm save them, but Your right hand and Your arm and the light of Your countenance, for You favored them (Psalms 44:4).” I was interested in this verse because to me it seems to be all about perspective. As most of us have heard before, history is written by the winners. Therefore, it’s subjective whether or not the victories of the winners are theirs alone, or if they can be attributed to some outside forces. In this case, we hear that it was God’s doing, rather than the actions of human beings themselves, that caused certain victories. But who decided to lay it out that way? I’d imagine that if the victors of this particular battle were the writers, they’d give more credit to their own strength. But instead, it’s God’s victory.
“Send Your light and Your truth, that they may lead me; they shall bring me to Your Holy Mount and to Your dwellings (Psalms 43:3).” It’s Thursday, the last day of writing after an unusually long and exhausting week. Between the holidays and the transition back to work afterwards, I’m pretty burned out, so I wanted to find something simple and positive as an ending verse to reflect on. This one served that purpose – I love the imagery of God’s light and truth being sent to us as guides. In synagogue this past week, we read about the pillar of cloud/fire that guided the Israelites throughout their wanderings in the desert. While we don’t have a physical manifestation of God’s presence in that same way, I do love the idea of His light being both physically and emotionally present. But since it isn’t, it’s up to each of us to figure out how to bring that light into our own lives, and to recognize it when it’s there.
“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when will I come and appear before God (Psalms 42:3)?” What I love about this verse is the reference to the living God. I’m sure it’s something that I’ve commented on before at some point in this project, but I’m very drawn to this concept. I’ve never been comfortable with philosophical ideas about God not being as present today as He has been in the past. While this does make it harder to justify God’s [in]action when it comes to many of the atrocities of the modern era, for me it’s easier to swallow than resigning myself to His lack of presence at all. I definitely see God as alive, as dynamic, and as constantly in relation to each one of us, as we are to Him.
“Praiseworthy is he who looks after the poor; on a day of calamity the Lord will rescue him (Psalms 41:2).” This verse seems pretty straightforward. Of course we should be looking after and advocating for the vulnerable in our society, and those who do so should be praised for their efforts. And while praise is great, sometimes even more rewards are needed. As a non-profit employee, and as someone who has lots of friends in similar positions, praise is great, but making enough money to continue serving while living our lives is also appreciated. Let’s not wait to appreciate those who perform these services – let’s tell them how much we value them, and compensate them, today.
In this psalm, David says that God has heard his cry. “And He drew me up out of the roaring pit, from the thick mire, and He set my feet upon a rock, He established my steps (Psalms 40:3).” I don’t particularly relate to the first part of this verse, because I don’t think that any of the problems that I’ve ever experienced, however legitimate, are on the level of being trapped in a pit. But what drew me today is the final clause, about establishing steps. Today is my birthday – yay! – and I’ve been thinking about what I want for myself this year. There are the superficial things – $$, books, vacations, and a new pair of boots if anyone is interested. And then there are the intangible things, the things I want to feel and develop over the course of another year of life. I want to be grounded, to have my steps be established as I move forward towards the next stage of my life, to embrace empowerment, prioritization, and abundance. Today is the day when I aim to establish those steps for myself, and I can’t wait to take them with all of you!