“And let us not withdraw from You; grant us life, and we shall call out in Your name (Psalms 80:19).” After eighty chapters of psalms (and with seventy left to go, for those of you keeping track), it’s becoming a bit of a challenge to have a new insight daily, particularly as many of the psalms understandably have very similar themes. Therefore, I’m not sure that anything I express today will be especially new or groundbreaking, but hopefully I’ll say something at least slightly unique, albeit along already stated themes. For this verse, I’m focusing on the grant us life component. Obviously in a biblical context, there’s an understanding that God grants life to all human beings. But being alive and living life don’t always go hand in hand. It’s very easy to be lazy and not take advantage of the beautiful and challenging aspects of a life well lived. So are we asking God not just to give us life biologically, but also spiritually? To imbue us with an attitude of liveliness? I hope that’s what we’re each given, and that we can embrace the gift of each day.
This chapter has an interesting verse about neighborliness. “We were a disgrace to our neighbors, ridicule and derision to those around us (Psalms 79:4).” It’s interesting to think of ourselves specifically in relation to those around us. As someone who has lived mainly in large apartment buildings in pretty transient cities over the last few years, I haven’t had much of a chance to be a good neighbor, and I haven’t really thought of myself as a neighbor at all. I’ve said hi to the people who live in my building, but they aren’t my community, my friends, or pretty much anything other than people I occasionally see in the laundry room or elevator. And I’d imagine they feel the same way about me – they know the brunette girl they see in the mornings, but not me. This seems to be a city trait though – in the suburbs where my parents live, neighbors are close, and are actively part of each other’s lives. Being a good neighbor is an important skill as members of a community, and it’s something that I hope to have the opportunity to develop as my living situation becomes a bit more permanent.
In this chapter, we’re given a charge that stretches across the generations. “And He established testimony in Jacob, and He set down a Torah in Israel, which He commanded our forefathers to make them known to their sons. In order that the last generation might know, sons who will be born should tell their sons (Psalms 78:5-6).” This commandment is what I believe education is, both on a formal and informal level. Yes, there are tangible, practical skills that teachers and parents what to convey to their learners and children, respectively. But the real goal of influencing the next generation is to pass on the wisdom of the past, to transfer the weight, responsibility, and beauty, of our heritage to those who inherit from us. Our tradition has so much to offer, and it’s an obligation that each one of us shares to do our own part in paying it forward.
“I think of days of yore, ancient years (Psalms 77:6).” This verse jumped out to me on a very surface level, because it indicates a love of history, and an understanding of the importance of knowing what came before us. I’m a self-professed history lover [aka nerd], and proud of it. I am fascinated by several different time periods in history, and even more specific figures from across time and space who have shaped the world that we live in today. Sometimes it’s easier for me to get swept up in the past, either ancient or modern, than it is to live in today’s reality constantly. The complexities of history are fascinating, and the past reveals new layers of itself to us on an ongoing basis. I think it would do all of us a world of good to think about history more, and to see ourselves as part of a larger chain of events, in the context of what came before us, and with the responsibility to what comes after.
“From heaven, You let judgment be heard; the earth feared and became calm (Psalms 76:9).” Sometimes I wish we had a little more divine judgment going on these days. Usually I try to be thoughtful and altruistic in these posts, but today I’m not high-minded. I’m pissed off at a friend, and I wish that there was some fear of retribution on her part. She made a choice that I find reprehensible and personally offensive, and I’m not sure how to move forward in our friendship as a result. I’m not great with confrontation, but the idea of a heavenly judge setting people straight is a very appealing alternative to my own difficult conversation right now.
“And I shall recite forever; I shall sing [praises] to the God of Jacob (Psalms 75:10).” What drew me to this verse is the idea of eternal recitations. In my job, I spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the bar and bat mitzvah process. For those who aren’t as well-versed in it, twelve and thirteen year olds are generally responsible for learning and reciting prayers, and chanting Torah and haftorah portions during a Shabbat service. This rite of passage is an exciting one for teens and their families, as the teens transition into Jewish adulthood. However, for all its tradition and beauty, for some teens, the recitation isn’t meaningful, but rather is done by rote. Is forever a good thing? Or does it make things insignificant for the later inheritors?
As I was reading through this psalm, I had a few different thoughts about which verse I would highlight. A few came to mind, but one eventually jumped out. “You set all the boundaries of the earth; summer and winter – You formed them (Psalms 74:17).” This past week, climate change has been all over the news. President Trump is pulling the United States out of the Paris Agreement, and it’s honestly just a terrifying time. I’m the furthest thing from a scientist. I know very little about the environment, but it’s very clear that we’re destroying it, and that our actions have massive consequences that may reverberate for generations. So many of the justifications for not caring about our environmental impact have to do with religion, and God taking care. But if we wreak what He created, how can we blame Him? This current state is the fault of human beings, and we need to take responsibility for our collective actions.
“A song of Asaph. Truly God is good to Israel, to the pure of heart. But as for me, my feet had almost turned away, in an instant my steps would have been swept away (Psalms 73:1-2).” The psalmist in this case is sharing something that I think many of us can relate to. He doesn’t identify as being one of the totally pure of heart people that he imagines God blesses. He’s someone who is vulnerable to wrongdoing, and could be swayed off the path. In reality, I think that all of us are in this boat, and the only people who are fully unswayable are those who we perceive to be – no one feels this way about themselves, only about others. What if we all recognized this reality? That all of us feel inferior and like imposters on the inside, and know that we’re imperfect, regardless of how others may see us? Would we all be easier on ourselves, more understanding of others, and more compassionate all together?
This psalm is opened with the following: “Concerning Solomon. O God, give Your judgments to a king and Your righteousness to a king’s son (Psalms 72:1).” This frames a chapter that goes into great detail on wishes for a righteous king, in this case, Solomon, David’s son and eventual heir. The king is charged with being just, righteous, and caring of the poor as well as the rich. He will be blessed, and envied by other kings and rulers for his greatness. And then the psalm ends. “The prayers of David the son of Jesse are completed (Psalms 72:20).” Now obviously the book of Tehillim, largely attributed to David, is not over yet. There are still 78 psalms to go (but who’s counting?). But it’s interesting that after this list of blessings and hopes for his son, it’s as though his work is finished. I’m not a parent yet, but I imagine that what others say is accurate, and our greatest hopes are for our children, and that we’re fulfilled when they’re successful. Therefore, it makes sense that this is the proverbial end of David’s prayers, because when they’re fulfilled, his son is set up for only goodness.
“Do not cast me away at the time of old age; when my strength fails, do not forsake me (Psalms 71:9).” Right now, this verse may not apply to me directly. I’m twenty-seven, and I know that, God willing, I have a long life ahead of me. But I do spend a lot of time with the elderly – my grandparents, grandparents-in-law, and members of my community. Particularly with my grandparents, I see the vulnerability of age. It can make you dependent, lonely, and unmoored from the person who you were and maybe still see yourself as. As people age, they need even more support, care, and connection. So this verse can be applied to God, and as a cry to fellow human beings. It’s too easy to forget those who aren’t physically present, to not leave a place for them, or to not go out of our way to include and appreciate them. We need to appreciate and honor these members of our families and communities, rather than abandoning them in their times of need.