25. This psalm is an acrostic. Each verse begins with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Its organization is therefore artificial. Although it might be easier to memorize such a poem it lacks an inner structure. Each verse stands on its own. Alef is for, bet stands for, gimmel and so on. Nonetheless a few verses intrigue me.
(Alef) O Lord, I lift my soul to You
my God, in You I trust;
may I not be disappointed…
There is a certain power in the notion that we must lift our soul. To be religious, to look toward God requires effort and work.
(Gimmel) O let none who look to You be disappointed;
let the faithless be disappointed, empty-handed.
If you have faith then it is my prayer that you might not be disappointed. Nonetheless disappointments are everywhere.
(Cheyt) Be not mindful of my youthful sins and transgressions;
in keeping with Your faithfulness consider what is in my favor,
as befits Your goodness, O Lord.
This is a good one. Imagine all the things we did in our youth that we now regret, that we now wish we could take back. One of the problems of the internet age is that all of our mistakes are forever preserved online. I am thankful that my friends did not have smartphones when I was in high school. Now I can be not mindful of my youthful sins. What will happen to those whose indiscretions circulate endlessly through cyberspace? To be young is to make mistakes. To become older is to have learned from those mistakes. Part of that learning is forgiving yourself and by necessity forgetting. What happens if it can never be forgotten?
26. Judge me, O Lord,
for I have walked without blame;
I have trusted in the Lord;
I have not faltered.
Really? I try to walk without blame. I often falter. None of us is so righteous as to have never sinned. Perhaps this is a prayer. Let me not falter…
Probe me, O Lord, and test me,
examine my heart and mind;
for my eyes are on Your steadfast love;
I have walked by Your truth.
Do I really want to be tested? According to the tradition the righteous are tested more often than the wicked. There is a sense that the righteous can take it and are therefore made better by their trials and struggles. The rabbinic image is that fine metal is made finer by firing it more. That may very well be true, but what kind of motivation is this to be righteous? Wouldn’t one rather be ordinary and have less trials? I have often surmised that we should never look at someone else’s troubles and say “You will be made stronger for this.” Let them say that about themselves and their own difficulties. Who are we to offer such explanations and justifications for their suffering?
27. This psalm is read on the High Holidays.
The Lord is my light and my help;
whom should I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life,
whom should I dread?
If I hold God before my eyes I will fear nothing. But it is not so easy to always keep God at the forefront of our thoughts. More often than not we reach out to God out of fear, when we are afraid. If God becomes our mantra we might fear less. Such is part of the basis for Rabbi Meir’s call to recite 100 blessings every day. Fill your heart with enough blessings and there will be less room for fear.
One thing I ask of the Lord,
only that do I seek:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord,
to frequent His temple.
That would be great! To have our synagogue building. Is my dream the same as the psalmists?
O Lord, I seek Your face.
do not hide Your face from me;
do not thrust aside Your servant in anger;
You have ever been my help.
Do not hide from me. I seek You all the days of my life. Yet You appear hidden and removed. How do I search after something that remains so hidden?
Look to the Lord;
be strong and of good courage!
O look to the Lord!
If I look towards God I will gain strength and courage. Such is my faith. I will never discover the answers to all questions, but I will gain a measure of koach. That is the most I can hope for. That is all I pray for.