This is officially the shortest chapter I’ve encountered thus far. It’s all of two verses long. So unless there’s a chapter that consists of a single verse, this is the runt of Tanakh. With only two verses to choose from, I’m going with the first one, since it jumped out at me. “Praise the Lord, all nations, laud Him, all peoples (Psalms 117:1).” There’s a distinctly universalist quality to these words. Regardless of people’s backgrounds, there are some values that all people can and should share. Things like respect for others, honor, justice, compassion, and curiosity are things that hopefully, despite the different ways that they may manifest, all of us can get behind. We all need common bonds, common causes, and things that we can appreciate collectively. What are those things in the world today?
Today is Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av. It’s also one of the most solemn days on the Jewish calendar, a day set aside for mourning a variety of calamities that have befallen the Jewish people, most prominently the destructions of the two Temples in Jerusalem, which traditionally were both destroyed today. So it seemed fitting that today’s chapter highlight the Temple in honor of the holy day. The psalmist, in this verse, is making an offer of thanksgiving to God for all that He has done for Him. “In the courtyards of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Hallelujah (Psalms 116:19)!” This is an allusion to the ancient Temple, the center of the Jewish world, where sacrifices were made and God was worshipped in the heart of Jerusalem. Today, the Jewish people are far from unified. That’s not to say that things would be any better with a Temple – to our modern eyes, the rituals of the Temple are arcane and cult-like. But for all of us to have one place to direct our energies and prayers towards would be a unifying force for the Jewish people. The loss of that is what I’m mourning today, not the building that represented it thousands of years ago.
“They have a mouth but they do not speak; they have eyes but they do not see (Psalms 115:5).” This verse is talking about the idols designed and worshipped by the contemporaries of the ancient Israelites. However, I’m choosing to take it a bit more metaphorically, because I can pretty confidently state that in addition to this being descriptive of inanimate objects, there are plenty of fully animated people who also fall into this category. And by that, I mean people who don’t take advantage of the gifts of simply being alive. Who don’t use their voices for good, and who stare blankly at the world around them instead of truly seeing others, or themselves. They’re shells of the authentic, flesh and blood people they could be, and don’t take advantage of the gifts given to each of us by our very existence.
“When Israel left Egypt, the house of Jacob [left] a people of a strange tongue (Psalms 114:1).” I’m intrigued by the description of the Egyptians as ‘people of a strange tongue.’ This language choice is very other-ing. It refers to the Egyptians as strange, and their language, their very voices, are odd and different. It’s very easy to relegate those who we don’t understand, because they’re different from us, to a place of insignificance and lesser importance. Language always creates insiders, those who understand and can follow along with the colloquialisms, and those who are outside, missing something that’s been lost in translation. It’s a very isolating feeling to always think you’re missing something in the conversation, and whether you’re the one with the strange tongue or surrounded by those who you perceive to be strange, to feel that barrier. I’m a self-described awful language learner (ask my trilingual husband for confirmation), but I think if all of us learned to at least communicate a little with those who we see as ‘other,’ it would go a very long way.
“Who is like the Lord, our God, Who dwells on high (Psalms 113:5).” There’s an inherent paradox in our relationships with God. On the one hand, He is completely ‘other.’ There is nothing comparable in human beings, or other deities. God is eternal, magnificent, all-powerful, in a way that none of us can never imagine. But at the same time, we’re supposed to be made in His image, and to at least aspire to behavior that mirrors His. So does this verse indicate a fallacy, that no one is anything like God? Or is it truly asking us who among us is like God, and is living a just and moral life?
“He shone a light in the darkness for the upright, [for He is] gracious and merciful and righteous (Psalms 112:4).” Lately, I’ve been placing a lot of personal emphasis on bringing light to the world and being a light in the darkness of global events and chaos. Every day, I try to bring light to all those I interact with and all that I do, but in addition to that, I also try to pick one person to specifically focus on and bring light to. I choose someone who I believe needs it, and someone who I can directly impact in a positive way through my words, actions, and presence. When there’s darkness, it’s always an opportunity to bring additional light, and it’s up to each of us to find and cultivate the sparks of light that we can provide to the world.
“The works of His hands are truth and justice; all His commandments are faithful (Psalms 111:7).” Sometimes, the most meaningful results aren’t necessarily tangible. It’s easy to measure numbers or concrete facts, but deeper impacts, on the hearts and minds of individuals and societies, are often less clear. They require a great deal of faith in process and in the credibility of the work that one is doing. It’s sometimes challenging – you have to wait to see if you’ve made the desired impact that you wanted, and when it comes to change, whether within a human being or in a society, you’re playing a long-term game.
“The staff of your might the Lord will send from Zion; rule in the midst of your enemies (Psalms 110:2).” It took me a few minutes to find a verse from today’s psalm to expound upon. It’s a short psalm, and nothing jumped out to me as inspiring. But when I read through it again, this verse made me think about Israel, a tiny country in the midst of a rough neighborhood of enemies and hostile regimes. This week, the news coming out of Israel and the Middle East has been particularly sad. Palestinians on the Temple Mount snuck in guns and shot and killed two Israeli border guards. Three Palestinians were then killed in the riots that broke out when the Israeli government put metal detectors outside of the al-Aqsa mosque complex. Three additional Israelis were killed around their family Shabbat dinner table by a Palestinian terrorist who broke in and stabbed them. And an attack on the Israeli embassy in Amman left the Arab attacker dead and an Israeli security guard wounded. This laundry list of blood and violence is spiraling out of control once again. Israel is trying to survive and to thrive amongst a hostile group of enemies, and I hope that soon things will calm down again and it’ll be able to succeed.
“I shall thank the Lord exceedingly with my mouth, and among many people I shall praise Him (Psalms 109:30).” I’m taking note of the word ‘exceedingly’ here. I know that I’m blessed in that if I gave over in terms of time and thought, I could come up with literally thousands of things to thank God for. It’s overwhelming to even try to acknowledge each thing that I should be grateful for in my life, so I’m going to try right now on a limited basis. At this moment, here are ten things I’m thanking God for, with my mouth as the psalmist says, and in this case with my keyboard:
- My incredible family
- The weekend we just spent at the beach – particularly being able to go in the ocean this summer
- My job – I’m so blessed to love what I do, the people I do it with, and to be paid to wake up every day and make a difference
- Keratin treatments – my hair has been looking so much better since I started doing these
- Having the opportunity to go back to school to pursue my doctorate
- The new Daniel Silva book – he’s one of my favorite authors and I wait all year for each new book, only to devour it within 48 hours and be stuck waiting again
- Air conditioning
- My inspiring, passionate group of close friends
- My wonderful husband, and the blessing of having someone love me so much
That’s it for now – a combination of big deals and small pleasures. What are your first 10?
“With God we shall gather strength and He will trample our adversaries. (Psalms 108:14).” The sources of each of our strength are deeply personal and individual. They’re tied to our priorities, to what inspires us, and to the core of our souls and who we are. So I’ll reflect on it for myself. My strength comes from my family and friends, my beliefs, my previous successes, and my happy places. For me, those places are Israel, the beach, and my parent’s house. Places where I feel fully myself and at peace are where I’m able to draw strength from, and to renew my energy to face future challenges.