Readers, today marks the second biggest milestone of this whole project! Today is the day I was most concerned about reaching – the day that I finish all of Tehillim. This is by far the longest book in Tanakh, and we’ve been on it for a full seven months. I was so worried going into this one – would I be able to find meaning in each psalm, many of which sound very similar? Would I get bored of having no narrative for this long? But I’m proud to say that I managed to do it, and I’m so glad that I did. I’ve honestly enjoyed the challenge of reading each psalm, something I never would have done if not for this project. It’s something I’m so happy I’ve taken on, and I’m looking forward to the next step.
It seems fitting that with Rosh Hashana starting later this week, I choose this verse. “Praise Him with a shofar blast, praise Him with psaltery and lyre (Psalms 150:3).” The call of the shofar, ubiquitous in Jewish circles and ceremonies this time of year, is meant to awaken us from the languid slumber of our everyday lives. I heard the shofar for the first time this year earlier today, and it’s definitely a jarring, primitive sound. This year, I hope I’m awakened to do more, to accomplish everything I set out to every day, and to take time for my internal, as well as external, needs.
We’re in the home stretch – 717 chapters down and only 212 to go!
“Hallelujah! Sing to the Lord a new song; His praise is in the congregation of the pious (Psalms 149:1).” Later this week, we will celebrate Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. Many people complain about the rote prayers that we say in the long holiday services, and tend to do the same when speaking about Shabbat services, and other traditional recitations. While I don’t agree with this thought process – I personally find a greater amount of spirituality in knowing that I’m saying the same timeless words as other people across space and time – I understand how one could feel that it’s impersonal. So this verse is interesting in that it’s calling on us to sing a new song, which theoretically would be one of our own choosing and creation. Each of us has a unique voice, and an inner song, that we can bring forward to the world, and to God.
In a list of all of the things, natural and human, that need to praise God, we see the following: “Kings of the earth and all kingdoms, princes and all judges of the earth. Youths and also maidens, old men with young boys (Psalms 148:11-12).” No matter where we are, both in our stages of lives and in the positions that we hold in society, each of us has something to be thankful for. As the seasons turn and fall starts to kick in, it’s hopefully natural for thoughts to turn to gratitude. Both Jewish and American cultures have holidays of thanks in correspondence with the time of the harvest, and wherever we are in our lives, it’s great to take a step back and take stock of all of our blessings. Each of us has things we’re missing and working for, but instead of dwelling on lacks, let’s be thankful for the positives.
“He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name (Psalms 147:4).” This verse is hauntingly powerful. It’s the origin of the title of the book Number the Stars, a childhood favorite of mine. The book is about the Danish resistance during the Holocaust, but the verse itself strike me as eternally meaningful. Stars, grains of sand, and with the burgeoning population, human beings, seem innumerable. Only God has the capability to not only see each of these elements as individuals, but to truly know and recognize them for who they are. Who do we recognize? Do we see each person in our lives as the complex and whole people they are, with all of the experiences that they bring to the table?
“The Lord guards the strangers; He strengthens the orphan and the widow, and He perverts the way of the wicked (Psalms 146:9).” This week, the latest cohort of my teen philanthropy group is kicking off. It’s one of the most inspiring parts of my job, to get the chance to see the next generation of leaders and changemakers explore the problems facing our society and take steps to improve the lot of those who are vulnerable. The widow, the orphan, and the stranger, are the archetypes of vulnerability in a community, because they don’t have a traditional male protector. But who in our society today fills that role? Women, for sure. Minorities, immigrants, children, the poor, the disabled. And any one of us who find ourselves in a position of being ‘other’ might fall into that group at any given moment. How have you experienced being the stranger?
“Generation to generation will praise Your works, and they will recite Your mighty deeds (Psalms 145:4).” Last night, I had the pleasure of going to an intergenerational women’s Torah study session. This event brought together women of all ages, from millennials to senior citizens, for an evening of learning together. While many people in my generation don’t spend time with people of other ages, particularly outside of their families and workplaces, I think that lack is such a missed opportunity. There’s so much that we can learn from one another, and such a richer depth to our conversations when they’re across boundaries of any kind. Here’s hoping to more of those opportunities in the coming year.
“O Lord, bend Your heavens and descend; touch the mountains and they will smoke (Psalms 144:5).” In another iteration of nature in general and weather in particular seeming to attack humanity, Florida is currently bracing for the onslaught of Hurricane Irma, only days after Harvey basically destroyed the city of Houston. There are so many natural disasters happening in the world right now, hurricanes and earthquakes and fires, and it’s terrifying to think about what might happen next. It might be better if we had a few fewer ‘acts of God,’ and a few more people made in His image helping the victims.
“I spread out my hands to You; my heart is like a weary land to You forever (Psalms 143:6).” The thing that drove me to this verse was the phrase ‘weary land.’ Right now, as people across the country work to show support for the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, we’re simultaneously gearing up for another disaster in Florida with Hurricane Irma on the move. With one crisis literally piggybacking on the other, the land itself seems to be weary, and it needs a break, a relief from struggling for a while. I’m saying this as someone who hasn’t been directly impacted by either crisis, and I realize how much worse it could be. But I, like many, feel helpless in the face of all of this, and like many, I’m weary from bad news, sad photos, and sadness.
“Looking to the right, I see that no one recognizes me; escape is lost from me; no one seeks my soul (Psalms 142:5).” There’s something very lonely about anonymity. When we feel unrecognized, as though we aren’t known and are hidden from sight, we can feel almost lost, both physically and emotionally. If we aren’t validated by those around us and our relationships within a community, it can be a challenge to maintain our sense of self, since we’re unrecognized. One can be alone even in a crowd if you’re not recognized and connected. What do we have to recognize in ourselves so that we’re never alone, regardless of our circumstances?
“O Lord, place a guard for my mouth; watch the portal of my lips (Psalms 141:3).” Who among us couldn’t use a bit of protection on our speech? Speaking for myself, I regularly think back on things that I said and contemplate what I could have said better, or differently, or to make a greater impact. I wish I thought a bit more before I spoke on many occasions, because speech is something that can never be taken back. You can backtrack or apologize if you speak out of turn, but ultimately once words are said, they can never be erased. So it’s better to be mindful and intentional, and have less of a cause for regret in the first place.