Friday, December 24, 2010

Psalms 19-21

19. This might be one of my favorite psalms.
The heavens declare the glory of God,
the sky proclaims His handiwork.
Day to day makes utterance,
night to night speaks out.
There is no utterance,
there are no words,
whose sound goes unheard.
There are no words.  The only fitting testimony is nature.  Have you ever walked outside and seen the leaves changing colors in the fall or the flowers first blooming in spring or the sun streaming through the clouds in summer or the snow first beginning to fall on the winter’s frozen ground?  There is no utterance.  How beautiful is God’s world!  The heavens spin story after story telling of God’s glory.
The teaching of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul…
The precepts of the Lord are just,
rejoicing the heart…
The fear of the Lord is pure,
abiding forever
the judgments of the Lord are true,
righteous altogether,
more desirable than gold,
than much fine gold;
sweeter than honey,
than drippings of the comb.
Just like nature, everything from God is perfect.  God’s teachings are perfect, precepts are just, and fear is pure.  To fear God is pure?  How is fear positive?  Yirat hashamayim, fear of heaven, is noble and good to the biblical mind.  Sometimes we translate yirah as awe, but that obscures its true meaning.  Fear of God is positive and sought after.  Why do we fear fear of heaven?  Sometimes we do positive things out of fear.  Fear of failure can be a powerful motivating tool.  And sometimes we rightly fear nature.  Perhaps fear is not an altogether negative emotion.  And so God’s precepts make the heart happy.  When we observe a mitzvah we rejoice.  We should celebrate doing God’s work.  All of God’s judgments, pronouncements, and commandments are finer than even gold.  They are sweeter than the sweetest honey.  I should not seek riches.  I must not long for fine wine and sweet desserts.  Instead I pine after celebrating God’s commandments.  Would that it were this easy!  God’s words drip from the honeycomb—like the morning dew on a bed of roses.
May the words of my mouth
and the prayer of my heart
be acceptable to You,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
May God find my words and prayers sweet and desirable.  May my prayers reach to heaven.  This phrase has made it into our prayer service following the Amidah.  Indeed Psalm 19 is part of the Shabbat liturgy.

20. May the Lord answer you in time of trouble,
the name of Jacob’s God keep you safe.
There is the notion that we, the Jewish people, know God’s first name.  We are as it were on a first name basis.  And thus we can call out to God in times of trouble, as if reaching out to a friend.  We say Adonai heal us.  Is this why this particular psalm is part of our weekday prayers?  The work week is trouble.  Shabbat is a prayer by contrast.  It is a blessing.  Even when working, keep God’s name on your lips.
They call on chariots, they call on horses,
but we call on the name of the Lord our God.
Others call God by the wrong names.  They heap praises on the machineries of war.  We however call on Adonai, our God.  Have you ever felt that we sometimes call wrong things “our God?”  We sing praises about our fine homes, our beautiful cars.  We often direct our prayers and supplications toward the wrong desires.  Who are “they?”  It is us.

21. He asked You for life; You granted it;
a long life, everlasting….
As if it was that simple.  Ask for long life and God grants it.  Nonetheless it is my daily prayer.  Sometimes when reciting the Shehechiyanu to mark a happy occasion in a family’s life I am struck by the number of people who are not there.  Every occasion I recite this prayer I count it as a privilege.  We thank God for giving us life.  But what about those who were not granted long life? 
Be exalted, O Lord, through Your strength;
we will sing and chant the praises of Your
mighty deeds.
Keep on singing! The prayers can have a mantra like quality. Take the kaddish for example. It says in essence “God is great, God is holy…” Over and over again we intone its words. Eventually they seep into our hearts. Eventually the song finds its way into our hearts. 

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