“He cuts off the breath of princes.” (76:13)
We all die, rich and poor, celebrity and unknown, powerful and vulnerable. This is true in a narrow sense, that every human being is mortal with a limited life span. However, this is not to say that we all live out our allotted years. Wealth buys better health care, which extends life. People living in poverty often eat a less healthy diet, lack easy access to basic preventative health care, live in a less healthy environment, and cannot afford life-extending medications and treatment for serious illness. If we achieve a world in which paupers and princes both live out their maximum genetically determined life span, we will see the coming of the Messiah.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.