Psalm 75

“To the boastful I say, ‘Do not be boastful.’ ” (75:5)

There is a Jewish teaching that cautions against trying to give reproach to those who lack the capacity to accept it. However, an uncontrolled ego may very well be the most serious character flaw around. At the core of any other flaw, you’ll find an ego which demands attention to the exclusion of others around it and which considers itself to be above the rules. Suggesting to the owner of such an ego to keep it caged is unlikely to be successful. Nevertheless, I commend the Psalmist for tilting at such windmills.

Psalm 74

“Do You fume in anger?” (74:1)

Rabbi and family therapist Edwin Friedman wrote, in the context of synagogue/church systems, of the importance of the rabbi/pastor/minister’s ability to maintain a “non-anxious presence” in the face of conflict. If you are in the midst of a challenging situation in which tempers are flaring, he counsels practicing the ability to be aware of your reactions to the emotions flying by without getting caught up in them while being fully present and attentive to all parties involved. Practicing and modeling calm behavior will have a positive effect on the system.

Psalm 73

“I was stupid, without knowledge.” (73:22)

The first and most important step towards becoming a wise and discerning person is to realize what you don’t know. “A shy person does not learn,” teaches Pirke Avot 2:6. It is only through acknowledging one’s limitations and asking questions that one gains knowledge. It takes courage to say that you don’t know the answer rather than stupidly bluffing your way down a blind alley. In the end, the long term benefit of gaining knowledge outweighs the short term embarrassment of admitting ignorance.

Psalm 72

“May he judge Your people rightly.” (72:2)

In order to live in a civilized society we agree to live by a set of rules and we have a system of justice to enforce those rules. The police enforce the law, the district attorneys prosecute alleged lawbreakers, and the courts provide a fair and level playing field for this drama to take place. However, the individual citizen is a puny, powerless, entity compared to the might of the State. We rely on our leaders at every level of government to create and maintain a culture in which those with power do not abuse their authority. When they lose our trust because they do not behave properly, civil order breaks down.

Psalm 71

“In utero, I was dependent on You.” (71:6)

The Grand Canyon and the Himalayas may be majestic and breathtaking, but there is no greater miracle than that of the creation of life. Science can describe the way a zygote becomes an embryo and grows into a child, but that doesn’t take away the gratitude for the baby’s birth, as we watch the child, so long dependent on the mother for everything, take the first step towards becoming an independent person.

Note: There is no contradiction between this verse and the Jewish teachings permitting abortion under a wide range of circumstances to protect the life or the physical or mental health of the mother.