Monday, December 6, 2010

Psalms 10-12

Sorry for the delay...  It was the many distractions of Hanukkah!
10. Why O Lord do You stand so far away/ concealed in times of great sorrow.
When people experience tzuris they often ask, "Where is God?"  The psalmist echoes this sentiment.  During times of great pain we feel that God is distant and most certainly, concealed.  The remainder of the psalm is a restatement of a familiar theme.  Rise up against the wicked.  Banish evil.  Robert Alter suggests that these verses do not fit with the opening line, but to my mind they do.  Sometimes our pain is the result of other people's misdeeds.  Therefore the psalmist cries out to God.  Live up to Your promise to be a God of justice.  Yet there are other times when our problems are not the result of others or of our mistakes, but instead because of nature.  People are struck with disease not because of any fault of their own.  Such is the nature of our bodies.  It is in these moments that the psalmist most accurately captures our mood.  I need You.  Where are You?  You appear hidden and remote.  It is also possible that these moments of pain are when God is nearest.  When we most need God, God is there.  At least that is my prayer.

11. The Lord in His holy palace;/ the Lord--His throne is in heaven;/ His eyes behold, His gaze searches mankind.
Even though God is remote and indeed far away God still sees all.  Even our innermost thoughts and our every day actions are not beyond God's gaze.  While our eyes cannot see to heaven, God can see to earth.  Abraham Joshua Heschel speaks of  "God in search of man."  This is the sentiment here expressed.
In the Lord I take refuge/...  For see, the wicked bend the bow,/ they set their arrow on the string/ to shoot from the shadows at the upright.
What an extraordinary image!  I am surrounded by evil-doers who lurk in the shadows, their bows pulled taut and their arrows aimed at me.  Yet I must walk upright.  To walk upright on the straight path is the highest accolade the Bible can shower on a person. 
For the Lord is righteous (tzaddik);/ He loves righteous deeds;/ the upright shall behold His face.
Only those who walk upright, despite the sound of bows quivering in the dark, will behold God's face.  To overcome the distance that sometimes appears between God and humanity, between God and me, I must continue to walk in the path of righteousness.  Such is the view of the psalmist. Such is the view of Heschel.  There are of course no guarantees that I will feel God's nearness.  But righteousness is all that I can do.  I might not even be able to repair all the world's or my brokenness.  Nonetheless truth and compassion must carry the day.  They are the path that I must walk.

12. May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,/ every tongue that speaks arrogance/....  The words of the Lord are pure words,/ silver purged in an earthen crucible,/ refined sevenfold.
There is a distinct difference between human and divine speech.  We try to write about God.  We try to describe God, yet all our attempts are in vain.  We cannot even fathom God's wonders.  How often does religion speak with confidence about God's ways!  How can anyone truly know and understand!  Even though God's words are pure they must be refined here on earth.  So it is a catch-22.  Even those words that we believe are God's were distilled through human ears.  Franz Rosenzweig once wrote that the only word we can be sure God spoke at Mount Sinai was "Anochi--I am."  The rest is, as the saying goes, commentary.  I love poetry. I love the words of the psalms.  But they are all approximations.  Yet words can be like a silver kiddush cup held in my hand.

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