“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?
“Behold, the heritage of the Lord is sons, the reward is the fruit of the innards (Psalms 127:3).” There are definitely lots of places in Tanakh where fertility is praised, and is seen as a reward and an ultimate goal for both men and women. Like many people, I hope to have children one day, though it hasn’t been something I’ve focused on much so far. But I can imagine the pressure that individuals and couples who are struggling in this process can be under. It must be hard to read texts like this and see that children are the reward, and feel that you’re denied that reward or are lacking in some way. How can we as a community work to be more intentionally inclusive of those who are not parents for whatever reason?
The first verse of this psalm immediately jumped out to me. “A song of ascents. When the Lord returns the returnees to Zion, we shall be like dreamers (Psalms 126:1).” First, this line is through of romantic imagery, of being like dreamers when we finally return to Zion. It’s also the title of one of the most powerful books I’ve read over the last few years. Like Dreamers, by Yossi Klein Halevi, brings this image to life by telling the story of the reunification of Jerusalem through the stories of the paratroopers who reunited the city. These men’s stories mirror the story of the emerging nation of Israel as a whole, with nuance, multiple perspectives, and a shared destiny despite divergent paths. This post reads more like a PSA, but I seriously can’t endorse this book highly enough. Check it out!
“Had it not been for the Lord Who was with us when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us raw when their anger was kindled against us (Psalms 124:2-3).” These verses are making me think of how much worse things could be in any circumstance. Even when it seems like things are awful, we can always take a step back and recognize that it could be so much worse, which hopefully puts things in perspective. It’s of course not that easy to do though. In the moment, things can seem truly hopeless and awful. All of this is making me think about the circumstances in the world today. This weekend, America apparently had a collective flashback to Germany in the 1930s, with neo-Nazis rallying in Charlottesville. Without going into too much detail, I’ll say that I’m thankful that things didn’t get worse than they did, but it’s still a horrific reality and disgusting state of affairs. Thankfully more people weren’t hurt, and there was enough of a national public outcry that we know these aren’t collective societal views, but they’re still held by way too many people. How can we move forward as a community with this reality among us?
“Favor us, O Lord, favor us, for we are fully sated with contempt (Psalms 123:3).” This is another short chapter, so I had limited options for which verse to pick. Favor is something that I think we all strive for. I want to be liked, and appreciated, and looked on positively, and I don’t see any of those things as odd or irregular. So it makes sense to me that the psalmist would be pleading for favor from God. Not particularly insightful on my part, but it is nice to be able to relate to the expressed emotion so easily.
This psalm is a prayer for Jerusalem. “May there be peace in your wall, tranquility in your palaces (Psalms 122:7).” The psalms were written literally thousands of years ago, and yet, it’s incredibly relevant today. Peace for Jerusalem, particularly within the walls of the Old City, can often seem like a pipe dream. Every few months, tensions start to rise, and we hear about clashes between Jews and Jews, Jews and Muslims, and different Christian denominations. It’s a terrible cycle that’s lasted for generations, and unfortunately, doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of abating. So once again, as countless people have before me, I’m offering up a prayer for peace for this beautiful, frustrating, and incredible city.
“Behold the Guardian of Israel will neither slumber nor sleep (Psalms 121:4).” I’ve seen these words before, and knew that they originated in Tanakh, but this is the first time I’m seeing them in their original context. While I realize that the verse refers to God when talking about the Guardian of Israel, I’ve seen it used to describe the brave men and women of the IDF. The Israel Defense Force is comprised of impressive, heroic individuals, who put their lives on the line in order to defend and protect the Jewish people. It’s because of them and their constant vigilance that I feel more comfortable in Israel than anywhere else in the world, despite what people hear about on the news. I think all of us wish it wasn’t necessary – it would be ideal if eighteen year old kids didn’t have to give up years of their lives to ensure the ongoing safety and security of Israel and all its inhabitants. But since it is, I hope and pray every day for their protection and success.
“For a long time, my soul dwelt with those who hate peace (Psalms 120:6).” When I read this verse, I started to think back to an earlier time in my life. I think that each person hits their own personal peak in terms of activism or extreme points of view, and for me it was in college. At that point, I was completely convinced of my own correctness, and the complete accuracy of my point of view. Since then, I’ve definitely mellowed out. My social circles have become more diverse, and I’ve become much more comfortable navigating the gray area between the black/white nature of right and wrong. I think it’s a much more peaceful way to exist in the world, and I strive to maintain that balance to the best of my ability.
Today’s chapter is the longest one in the entire Torah. Only a few days after a chapter that had all of two verses, this one clocks in at a whopping one hundred and seventy-six verses, more than twice as long as any other chapter I’ve seen so far. It’s a lot to sift through on the one hand, but on the other, it contains ample pickings for my verse of the day.
“Uncover my eyes and I shall look at hidden things from Your Torah (Psalms 119:18).” How many of us walk around the world with covered eyes, not seeing things that are right in front of us, or not seeing below the surface to the true meaning and value of what exists? Something like Torah, which this project has been a catalyst for me to study for nearly three years now, has so many layers to it. That’s why there’s the idea of ‘turning it over and over again,’ meaning that each time you return to it, you can find something new and meaningful that you never saw before. It’s never the same, not like rereading any other book. I think it’s because we’re always growing and changing, and therefore we bring new selves to the text each time, so in turn, it reveals something new with each read.
As I started reading this psalm, I began, as I always do, in English. But as some of the translations began to look a bit familiar, I quickly realized that I know the Hebrew for this one, because it’s used in the Hallel service. Hallel is the additional set of prayers said on most holidays. When I was little and went to synagogue with my dad, I used to get so excited to hear that it was a Hallel day, because even though it elongates an already long service, I loved singing these special additional words. As you’ve seen, the 150 psalms are a long slog at times, so it’s great to get rejuvenated with one that I truly love. And, of course, only 32 more to go!
“The Lord is for me; I shall not fear. What can man do to me (Psalms 118:6)?” It must be amazing to have complete faith that God is on your side, and as a result, there’s nothing to be afraid of. While personally I feel connected to God, or whatever higher power is there, I don’t necessarily think that means that I can’t be hurt by my fellow human beings. It would honestly scare me too much to be fully dependent on this kind of relationship with God. I think that people need to be proactive and take charge of their own lives and actions, rather than assume that divine intervention will take care of things. But intentional action, coupled with the confidence that faith can bring, sounds like the ideal state of being.