“More than the voices of great waters and more than the mightiest breakers of the sea, is the Lord mighty on high (Psalms 93:4).” I can’t think of a more powerful natural creation than the ocean. The breadth and depth of the water are unknown, and the boundlessness of the ocean is an awesome, inspiring display of the beauty of creation. With secrets beneath the surface, and waves both gently lolling to shore and powerfully crashing down, it’s an amazing metaphor for God’s caring and passionate nature. It can be good or bad depending on how one sees it, just like God’s presence. God, of course, is beyond the sea, but the measurelessness of it definitely alludes to something divine.
Today’s psalm is one that I know very well. It’s the psalm for Shabbat, one that I’ve heard and said countless times on Friday nights, and Saturday mornings, and have studied during classes on the Kabbalat Shabbat service, one of my favorite ones. I love the melodies that people use for this psalm, so it’s interesting to look at the English translations of the Hebrew words I’m so familiar with.
“The righteous one flourishes like the palm; as a cedar in Lebanon he grows. Planted in the house of the Lord, in the courts of our God they will flourish (Psalms 92:13-14).” It’s when we’re in God’s presence that we flourish the most, when we’re grounded – literally – is when we shine. Shabbat has always provided me with that grounding. It’s a way to mark the rhythm of the weeks, to create meaningful, mindful space on a constant cycle. I believe that people are at their best when they have a strong foundation which anchors them, while providing them with room to grow. My Jewish identity and the family that champions it is what provides me with that, and my greatest wish is that everyone finds their own place and passion to flourish.
This chapter is all about being protected by God. “For He will command His angels on your behalf to guard you in all your ways (Psalms 91:11).” For years, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of angels in Judaism. I think it started out as a bit of a FOMO situation – I loved the idea of angels, and assumed, since I mainly knew about them from Christian art, that they were an exclusively Christian thing, and therefore not ours. But when I started reading – that’s how nerds deal with disappointment – I found that Judaism has its own rich tradition of angels and protection. One of my favorite concepts on this subject is the idea that everything, down to every single blade of grass, has its own angel, whispering for it to grow. We all need our own angels, however we believe they manifest, in order to encourage us, protect us, and inspire us. Where do you find your angels?
“For a thousand years are in Your eyes like yesterday, which passed, and a watch in the night (Psalms 90:4).” While we humans don’t have the breadth of historical presence and understanding that God does, I love this verse, and what it says about time. I’m sure many of us know the same thing to be true: days may pass slowly, but then you look around, and another month, or year, or lifetime has gone by. We think that every stage of life is eternal, and sometimes (looking at you, middle school) it is, but then all of a sudden you wake up one day and it’s all in the past, for better or for worse.
“For I said, ‘Forever will it be built with kindness; as the heavens, with which You will establish Your faithfulness (Psalms 89:3).'” I was drawn to this verse because of the use of the verb built, which brought up for me images of walls and buildings and physical structures. Today, that’s even more resonant, because Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government have delivered a big ‘eff you’ to all non-Orthodox Jews by backpedaling on plans to finally provide a space for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall (http://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-to-millions-of-jews-we-dont-really-want-you/). I’ve never felt as emotionally connected to the kotel as I’ve wanted to be, and a huge part of that is because of the disempowering experience that I have every time I’m there. As a woman, I’m shoved to the side in a cordoned off area. I’m not permitted to pray in a way that suits me, whether it’s in a group, or out loud, or in a mixed-gender setting. So I enter into a space that’s already inhibiting to my spirit, and once I’m there, I have to cater to a standard that only applies to a minor subset of the global Jewish community, who for some reason have a monopoly on our holiest site. As much as I hate to stereotype, these haredi Jews behave on the whole selfishly and offensively. They look down on me and my Judaism, and now they’re claiming ownership and exclusivity of the place that we’re all supposed to connect with. I guess the concept of being built by kindness is a verse of Torah that’s been overlooked, and it breaks my heart.
“Will Your wonder be known in the darkness, or Your righteousness in the land of oblivion (Psalms 88:13)?” There are plenty of cliches to the tune of there being no atheists in a foxhole. At times of darkness, do we cling to God more, or do we lose sight of the divine? For myself, I think it’s a combination of the two – I may reach out to Him more, but also doubt His presence and concern at those times when things aren’t going as well. What about you? How does God factor into your life when the world seems dark, and when it’s light?
“The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob (Psalms 87:2).” In this case, my understanding is that Zion refers to Jerusalem, meaning that Jerusalem is more loved than the rest of the land. It certainly is that way for some people, but it took me years to develop that kind of relationship with the city. When I first moved to Israel and was living in Jerusalem, it was a disappointment to me, because I had always dreamt of living in Tel Aviv. But over the years, I built a special place in my heart for Jerusalem, and today I think I have a unique relationship with the city. It’s a place where I feel deeply connected to the past, present, and future. But it’s an imperfect relationship, full of complexities and often pitfalls. It’s a city that God loves, but sometimes it feels like too many people have such elevated emotions about it, which only leads to conflict. The situation in Jerusalem is unsustainable, so for now, it’s a daily challenge, for me, and for the world.
“Lend Your ear, O Lord, to my prayer, and hearken to the voice of my supplications (Psalms 86:6).” This verse seemed very timely because just this afternoon, I was reading about the practice of hitbodedut. This hassidic prayer practice involves speaking directly to God – in theory, it’s an individual taking private time to share a stream of consciousness directly with the divine. One is supposed to speak out loud to God, engaging in an authentic, deeply personal form of prayer. It’s something that I’ve attempted in the past, to mixed results. I’m definitely good at talking in a higher or inner power in my mind, but actually giving voice to the words is surprisingly challenging. This verse, which directly connects with the idea of speaking to God and being individually heard while doing so, relates perfectly to this practice. It’s something that I’d like to work at more meaningfully pursuing moving forward, particularly now that I see how it continually is alluded to in the text.
Today’s post will be pretty short. I thought I knew which verse I was going to choose to reflect on, but all of a sudden this afternoon, a huge summer storm broke out. The sky became dark and it was pouring for a while, but by the time I drove home from work, the rain had mostly stopped. The main remnant of it was the lushness of all of the trees along my route home. They all seemed even greener than usual with the wetness clinging to them, which made the following verse hit home all the more. “God too will give good, and our land will give its produce (Psalms 85:13).” Seeing the earth literally being nourished, even in my urban daily routine, was beautiful, and I’m glad to have been able to connect it with today’s text.
“For a sun and a shield is the Lord God; the Lord will give grace and glory; He will not withhold good from those who go with sincerity (Psalms 84:12).” As we’ve seen over the last few months of Psalms, God clearly has many attributes and can be described in any number of ways. I like these particular descriptors, particularly as they’re used in conjunction with one another. Sun and shield – at once, God is brilliant and light, an almost ethereal presence, and solid, dependable, and protecting. He is nurturing and ever-present, like the sun’s constant dependability, and takes on specific roles in our lives when necessary, like a shield. Concrete and discrete at once, God can manifest in our lives in any number of ways, and it’s great to be inspired to find them through these different writings.