Psalm 23

Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of Adonai for many long years. (23:6)

Psalm 23 is one of the most well know and often quote of the Psalms. The words feel comforting, as long as don’t consider them too deeply. Take the opening line, for example: “The Lord is my Shepherd ….” What does a shepherd do for his flocks? Sure, he takes care of them and protects them from predators. But he also sheers them and occasionally slaughters them for food!

Is verse 6 of this Psalm, quoted above, a description of the life of a faithful member of God’s flock? It seems unlikely. Who among us experiences only good, loving events over the course of his life? Who among us never feels the cold hand of hatred, racism, anti-semitism, discrimination? Who among us is treated only fairly, never gets the short end of the stick?

I prefer to understand the verse above as a prayer – “May goodness and steadfast love pursue me all the days of my life, and may I dwell in the house of Adonai for many long years.” I acknowledge that my life is not going to be full of perfection and light, but I will keep working to find the greenest of pastures, the purest of water to rest by.

Psalm 23 has traditionally been associated not only with funerals, but also with the end of Shabbat. As we eat our final Shabbat meal and the emotional peacefulness of the day draws to a close, I read this Psalm as a prayer that I might hold onto the taste of the messianic olam haba, the world to come, for just a bit longer.

May we someday experience a world in which no one lacks the basic necessities of life.

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