Psalm 11

Rabbi Jack Moline, in my opinion one of North America’s wisest rabbis, once shared that when he writes a sermon or a d’var Torah, his first intended audience is himself, so that when he listens to himself delivering it, he’ll learn something that he needs to learn. If anyone else listens and learns from it as well, so much the better.

Well, having completed almost three months of Psalm blogging, that’s about how I’m feeling. A systematic consideration of Psalms is helping me think through some issues that come before me, but I’m wondering how many others find it useful. A blog is a conversation – I invite you to share your thoughts on what I write each week. If you are so inclined, please go to embodiedtorah.wordpress.com and leave me a note or a reflection on the week’s Psalm.

“When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous man do?” (11:3)

We live our lives based on a set of core assumption and beliefs about the world. Most of the time we don’t question or explore those basic principles, and in fact we might not even know what they are. Now and then, however, something happens to make us notice one of our foundational beliefs and either reject it, modify it, or conform to it.

Our core belief might be that if I treat other people right, I will always be treated well. This principle is shaken when we find ourself being mistreated for no apparent reason, perhaps by people we don’t even know! We might conclude that we should reject the core belief, and from that point on not care about how we treat others. Preferably, we will decide to modify the core belief and conclude that regardless of how others treat me, I am going to treat people well.

Another core belief might be that Judaism directs me to care for the environment and all who live in it, both human and animal. This principle is tested when I learn more about food production and the damage done to the environment by pesticides and the raising of animals for food. I might commit myself to conform to my principle and change my diet; or I might decide that other principles of Jewish eating allow me to lesson my commitment to this core value as long as I hold onto other principles of kashrut.

In order to live a life of righteousness, it is important to examine, preserve, maintain and live by one’s foundational principles.

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2 thoughts on “Psalm 11

  1. Rabbi, you refer to “basic principles” many times. You end by saying “live by one’s foundational principles.” Principles is in the plural. Can you tell me how many principles there are? I tried living by principles many times. I failed every time. Not only do “principles” seem to be impossible to list but, when we do try to list them, they profoundly contradict each other. In short, I find it utterly impossible to live by “principles.” That brings me to Judaism. As I see it, Judaism has only one principle. It is described may ways. One way is to “choose life not death.” Another way of describing the one principle of Embodied Torah seems to be “Face the Truth of God.” Of course, that means “choose life.” Another way, of describing the one principle in Judaism is “to Love God above all…” Again, that is the same as “Face the Truth,” and “choose Life not death.” In short, your many references to “principles” in the plural confuses me. I only see one principle in Embodied Torah, which is to embody Torah. As I often say, “There is one God. There is one Universe. There is one Incarnation of the one God in the one Universe, which we call Embodied Torah.” Therefore, there seems to be only one principle by which we can live. So, sorry to quibble but I am confused by your references to “principles” in the plural.

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    • Jim, I’ll try to answer your question but with a caveat, which is that my Psalm reflections tend to be more meditative and impressionistic than carefully considered statements of theology.

      The point of this reflection is that many people live by a set of unexamined principles. I give two examples in the second and third paragraphs, regarding treating people right and caring for the environment. I am urging people to examine and live by whatever principles they hold dear. It may very well be that all principles can be boiled down to one – both Rabbi Akiva and Hillel chose variations on “Love your neighbor as yourself” as the foundational principle – singular! – of Torah. 9th century Sa’adia Gaon enumerated ten (found here) and 12th century Maimonides enumerated 13 (found here).

      I can see how everything can be boiled down to one principle as you describe, but were we only given one principle, I don’t think we could have unpacked it and logically derived all of the different behaviors and celebrations contained in Torah. Therefore, I find it more useful to think of multiple principles, although I confess that I have never tried to list them. I suppose this is because I try to live my life by mitzvot, rather than principles. To me, principles are simply ways of categorizing and grouping mitzvot into bundles.

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