This psalm contains some of the verses that I know very well. “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget [its skill]. May my tongue cling to my palate, if I do not remember you, if I do not bring up Jerusalem at the beginning of my joy (Psalms 137:5-6).” Jews have recited this verse for years, and when I was fifteen and spending the summer in Israel, I had it engraved on a ring. It’s the Jewish teenage girl equivalent of one of the most basic things you can do – go on a teen tour, stop by Hadaya in the Old City of Jerusalem, and get an overly dramatic verse put into a silver ring. But as cliche as the experience was, it resonated for me, and I wore the ring for years, reminding myself of Jerusalem, Israel, and my unshakable Zionism. I actually took it off only when I made aliyah, and switched it out for a statement that seemed more fitting of being in Israel as opposed to the diaspora. But when I moved back to the States, I switched back, and so every day, this verse is literally on my body.
More than many of the others, this psalm reads like a real poem when translated into English. Each verse ends with the same refrain: for His kindness is eternal. Every verse says something about God – why we should give thanks to Him, what he has done, and how He should be treated and respected, and concludes with this idea of eternal kindness. That’s the kind of deity I want to believe in, one who at the core is kind to the world, and to us. So for this chapter, I’ll share the first and the last verses:
“Give thanks to the Lord because He is good, for His kindness is eternal (Psalms 136:1).”
“Give thanks to the God of heaven, for His kindness is eternal (Psalms 136:26).”
Both of these verses convey beautiful sentiments. We should be giving thanks more, whether it’s to God, or to each other. There are so many things that I should be grateful for every day, and like all of us, I could stand to be much more mindful of them. Let’s all pick someone to say thank you to tomorrow – they deserve it!
“He raises the clouds from the edge of the earth; He made lightning for the rain; He finds wind [to send] out of His treasuries (Psalms 135:7).” This seemed like an interesting verse to highlight today, particularly in light of the extensive news coverage and national attention on Hurricane Harvey, which is devastating thousands of people in Texas. There have been reports of deaths, extensive flooding, and a heartbreaking amount of destruction of both private and public property. There’s no way, in my mind at least, to justify or find meaning in this kind of natural disaster. So I’m not sure how to reconcile this national reality with a verse that says that God creates these kinds of phenomena. Any ideas?
“Lift your hands in the holy place and bless the Lord (Psalms 134:2).” I like that this verse includes a physical component to the act of prayer. In educational theory, we understand that we learn best when multiple senses and actions are engaged. Learners of all ages should ideally be listening, absorbing, and acting. Therefore, prayer doesn’t need to just be a spoken act. It can involve movement, action, and multiple layers of experience. How can we all do a better job of not speaking rote words, and rather embodying the meaning of our prayers?
“As the dew of Hermon which runs down on the mountains of Zion, for there the Lord commanded the blessing, life forever (Psalms 133:3).” There are so many things I love about this verse. First, it’s timely – my mother in law is visiting me this week from her home in the Golan Heights, right in the shadow of the Hermon. One of the great things about becoming part of my husband’s family is the amount of time I’ve gotten to spend in the Golan, and I’m now truly in love with the beauty of the hills, the valleys, and Mount Hermon, so this seemed particularly apt. Second, I’m intrigued by the concept of commanding a blessing. Command seems like strong language when coupled with blessing, which is something I think of more in terms of offering a blessing or giving one. God, of course, can command anything, but how does this work for the rest of us? Personally, I aspire to bring blessings to others every day, through my actions and care. I don’t command them on others though, but rather offer them in the hopes of adding light to the world through my choices.
“This is My resting place forever; here I shall dwell for I desired it (Psalms 132:14).” What I love about this verse is that while it’s very esoteric, being a description of why God chose Israel and Jerusalem, it feels very personal by describing them as a resting place. I moved recently, and have been thinking about what a home means. For me, it represents an almost sanctuary, a place of comfort, rest, and safety. If we’re made in God’s image, it stands to reason that just like us, He needs a place to call home as well, and to feel totally Himself and secure in that space.
“Israel, hope to the Lord from now to eternity (Psalms 131:3).” A few years ago, my mother made an intentional decision to try to stop using the word ‘just.’ She explained that she always felt like she had another ‘just’ around the corner – if I just get through this meeting, everything will be ok. If I just hear about that job, everything will be ok. If that date just goes well, everything will be ok. These were things she put on herself, and things that she took to heart from her children. She was always waiting for just one more thing to work out, and wanted to be more appreciative of each moment. This verse made me think of that, because hoping from now to eternity seems lovely on the surface, but as I reflected on it, could also be a surefire way to never be satisfied. If hope is to be interpreted as trust in this case, then I’m on board, but if it’s really about constantly hoping for the next thing until the end of time, I think we’d be better off appreciating the here and now, rather than always looking for what’s next.
“My soul is to the Lord among those who await the morning, those who await the morning (Psalms 130:6).” My connection with this verse is going to be a bit tenuous, but I so badly want to link to the events of today. Today, a huge part of the continental United States got to experience an eclipse. I personally wasn’t in the zone of totality, but the DC area got an 85% eclipse, which was exciting enough for my purposes. It was amazing to see that for once, people across the country, from all different backgrounds and affiliations, were able to unite over a shared experience and to wonder at the natural beauty of the world. In this verse, it repeats these words about waiting for the morning, and that idea resonates with my experience of today. I stood with my coworkers in the parking lot, watching the sun and waiting for it to change position. Most days, my recognition of morning is based on my alarm and my work meetings. But how beautiful would it be to intentionally wait for its arrival and appreciate it each day?
In today’s political age, there are any number of horrors that I could highlight. It seems like every day I wake up to news about some new crisis at best and true atrocity at worst, and it’s overwhelming to think about all of the problems in the world at any given moment. But without negating any of the infinite causes that exist, for almost my entire life, I’ve found the one that I choose to devote myself to, and that’s Israel, Zionism, and the Jewish people.
“May all those who hate Zion be ashamed and retreat (Psalms 129:5).” Today, it seems like haters of Zion become more and more emboldened all the time. It’s fashionable to hate Israel, and it has somehow become fashionable to exclude Jews on the basis of anti-Zionism, and have that be somehow socially acceptable. It’s scary to see anti-Semitism from the right, and now be isolated from the left because love and support of Israel has been morphed into something apparently wrong. I’m different than many of my generation in that I categorically refuse to sacrifice my Zionism for my social justice beliefs. Because of that, I find myself increasingly isolated from other larger causes, because they don’t welcome or accept Zionism as the core tenant that only enhances my other values and experiences. With all of the aforementioned problems in the world, it’s crazy to me that people choose to target, isolate, and attack Israel, instead of recognizing the shared democratic values of Israeli society and seeing it as the social justice ally it is.
“If you eat the toil of your hands, you are praiseworthy, and it is good for you (Psalms 128:2).” While this could be seen very basically as a heavenly endorsement for farm to table eating, I’m choosing to take the message a bit broader. I think in all aspects of our lives, we should do our best to put effort into all that we do, rather than take what might be the easier way out. In this day and age, it’s easy to literally coast through life. We can order anything, in any season, to be delivered directly to us, if we really want. We can control the seasons by altering the temperature in our homes and vehicles, and can entertain ourselves at the literal click of a button. It’s great in many ways, but in others, it makes us complacent, and we don’t have to put much effort into sustaining ourselves. But there’s something satisfying about physical work – laboring and reaping the rewards. This doesn’t have to be food-based, but how can each of us work for something a bit more intentionally today?