Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Psalms 4-6

4. This psalm opens with a technical note about music.
For the choirmaster (la-menatzei'ach); with stringed instruments (neginot); a song (mizmor) of David.
We are of course no longer sure what these technical terms mean and how they were translated into music.  Yet it seems abundantly clear that the psalms were part of an ancient musical tradition.  Music and song figured prominently in the ancient Temple.  When the Temple was destroyed the Rabbis decreed that Shabbat music should be silenced.  Given our loss we could no longer enjoy singing, dancing and music.  As the psalms attest, however, music is central to our being.  For prayer to be joyous we require music.  Our whole being must embrace the prayer experience.  My ears are swimming with music after downloading the White Album!  Thank you Steven Jobs.
You put joy into my heart...
Every time I sing the songs of our tradition or listen to music (even "while my guitar gently weeps") I feel joy in my heart.  Do you think my heart is always filled with rejoicing?  No, it requires great effort and much work. 
But curiously the psalmist answers not with my above answer but instead with the words,
...At the time when their grain and wine show increase.
My joy is not dependent on my singing but on my success.  When I have plenty of food and wine I can rejoice.  Only when our portfolios are secure do we feel joy in our hearts.  Even then the economy was apparently tied to our mood!  Is this how it should be?  Indeed, is it possible to sing and rejoice when hungry?  Did you know that the INN distributed 5,000 turkeys to Long Island's hungry and homeless last year?  Here is one more reason why I love the Blues.  It is singing, and most importantly happiness and joy, that emerges from sadness.
In abundant peace I lay down and sleep.  In You alone O Lord I trust and rest secure.
Regardless of the back and forth of life and its challenges, every night I rest secure.  Every night I am blessed with peaceful sleep.  I rest assured in God's protective care.  Is this a statement of faith or a prayer?

5.  Hear my voice, O Lord, in the morning; at daybreak I set my prayers before You, and wait.
How should we read this verse?  As soon as the day begins I cry out to God.  As soon as the day begins the struggle continues.  Or perhaps as soon as the day begins I must thank and praise God.  The tradition reads it according to this latter interpretation.  As soon as I awake I begin saying my prayers and reciting words of thanks.  In fact one of the central morning prayers, Mah Tovu, includes a verse from this psalm:
Through Your abundant love, I enter Your house; I bow down in awe at Your holy Temple.
The psalmist returns to a familiar theme.  The evil doers will not have rest and security.  God only loves righteousness.  God's path is the road of doing good.
...let them fall by their own devices... let all who take refuge in You rejoice.

6. The psalmist continues the questioning and the praying.  I want to rest secure.  Please God, I pray, may my doing good and shunning evil grant me rest and security.  Yet there are days when I wonder.  There are days when I doubt.  You promised security, yet I am beset by wrong doers.  They appear to succeed while I struggle and fail.  I try to do good, yet I am mired in depression.  I look around me and see others succeed while I stumble and fall.  I try to follow the path, but I see loved ones broken and in pain.  Is this the promise and its reward?  Such is the sentiment of this psalm.
Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I languish; heal me, O Lord, for my bones shake with terror.  My whole being is stricken with terror, while You, Lord--O, how long!  O Lord, turn!  Rescue me!

I am weary with groaning, every night I drench my bed, I melt my couch in tears.
Or perhaps this verse should be rendered:
I am weary in my sighing.  I make my bed swim every night.  With my tears I water my couch.
We move back and forth between singing and crying.

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