Adonai, who may sojourn in Your tent, who may dwell on Your holy mountain? One who lives without blame, who does what is right, and in one’s heart acknowledges the truth; whose tongue is not given to evil; who has never done harm to his fellow, or borne reproach for [acts toward] one’s neighbor; for whom a contemptible person is abhorrent, but who honors those who fear Adonai; who stands by an oath even to harm; who has never lent money at interest, or accepted a bribe against the innocent. One who acts thus shall never be shaken. (15:1-5)
I often read this Psalm at funerals. As I consider the qualities of the life of the deceased and listen to the family speak about their loved one and reframe my thoughts and their words into a eulogy, it seems that the good qualities in this Psalm apply to virtually every one of them. I know this is not likely. Were I to be completely objective, I would not use this Psalm. Why do I use it? Because when we have experienced the loss of someone significant in our lives, we want there to be some quality or qualities that made their life worth living and their memory worth remembering. We should be relatively honest in how we recall and speak of the deceased, but we should also try to remember their positive values and way they influenced us. We don’t speak ill of the dead.
On top of this, however, I have found by sitting with so many families after a death that it is always possible to find qualities that bring a smile to the face of their relatives. It should give us hope. For all the mistakes we made during our lifetimes, the vast majority of us do more good than harm.
I also read this Psalm, I think, because to do so gives the survivors and other guests at the funeral something to live up to. When I am at a funeral (and listening, rather than speaking), I am thinking about how I might emulate the positive qualities of the deceased. Psalm 15 reminds us of the power and importance of living with truth and integrity.
Jewish holidays like Hanukkah, Purim, and Passover remind us of the courage and integrity of our ancestors who proudly lived Jewish lives under adverse conditions – it is thanks to them that we may celebrate our freedom from oppression. We might also consider the importance of honestly giving thanks for what we have, even as we are aware that we don’t have everything we might want.