“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.
“O God, have no silence, do not be silent and do not be still, O God (Psalms 83:2).” First, as a disclaimer, sometimes I think silence is truly golden. When I get home after a long day of work, it can be great to totally tune out, not have to formulate coherent enough thoughts to talk to anyone, and enjoy quiet. I’ve definitely told my husband – on many occasions – that we need some quiet time, that I need to decompress, and that it’s ok to sit companionably and not talk. I would probably get annoyed by anyone who couldn’t sit quietly at least some of the time. But should have no silence be taken literally? Is God supposed to be a hyperactive being? Or is it that there should be no silence in our relationships with God? They should always be open-door, accessible, and connected? That feels a lot better to me than the loud rambling that a lack of silence between humans can often lead to.
“A song of Asaph. God stands in the congregation of God; in the midst of the judges He will judge (Psalms 82:1).” This sentence is a bit circular. God is in God’s own congregation. This can be part of any number of interpretations. One is that a democratic value is being expressed – God is a the judge of judges, but at the end of the day, He’s part of the greater whole – or we’re part of Him. A deity not fully separate from His creations is beautiful in some ways, because it allows us to consider the divine in each of us, and gives any interaction the chance to be a sacred one. But in other ways, it lowers the level of awe that a heavenly being inspires. We’re not supposed to be able to fully relate to God, and that’s ok. So for God to be in His congregation? Does that mean He’s present amongst us in all that we do in some way? Is it the sparks of divine in each of us that answer to the larger presence?
“Sound the shofar on the New Moon, on the appointed time for the day of our festival (Psalms 81:4).” The New Moon, a monthly holiday called rosh chodesh in Hebrew, is a day with biblical origins that marks the head of each new month. It’s been observed since the times of the Temple, and recently, it’s gone through something of a renaissance. When I was growing up, I was honestly usually disappointed to find out it was rosh chodesh. It meant an extra prayer, said while standing, during Shabbat services, and I didn’t get the big deal of marking every month, over and over again. Priorities – let’s get to lunch sooner people!
But as I’ve grown up, rosh chodesh has come to represent something very powerful for me. It’s been ‘reclaimed’ so to speak, as a holiday for women, and worldwide, Jewish women come together monthly in groups that mark the changing cycles of the moon. I’ve been involved in one of these groups for about a year, and it’s provided me with an amazing cohort of peers to check in with through a mindful Jewish lens. It’s amazing to see what our tradition has in it, waiting for us to find personal meaning and value in its depths.