Psalm 26

Probe me, Adonai, and test me, test my kidneys and my heart; (26:2)

When you reach a certain age, you begin to wonder whether the Psalmist is having a wry chuckle at your expense. At that point in your life, when the main social event of your week is visiting another doctor’s office, when every organ and orifice is being poked and prodded and tested and medicated, it’s hard to believe that the Psalmist is seriously and happily inviting God to get in line and take a turn!

Though amusing it would be, happily is not the case. God leaves the poking and prodding to human doctors. In the Biblical idiom, kidneys referred to the seat of strong emotions, and the heart referred to the seat of the intellect. A less literal and far more accurate translation of the verse would therefore be, “Probe me, Adonai, and test me, test my feelings and my thoughts.”

The Psalmist is challenging God to examine the purity of his actions, down to the last intention. A Midrash teaches that the Ark of the Covenant was covered in gold both outside, where it’s beauty could be seen, and inside, where it would never be seen, to remind us that we too should be the same outside and in. Our actions should be positive as should our motives. We should be truthful both to others and to ourselves. We should be the same person when we deal with friends and strangers, family and outsiders, members of our tribe and foreigners, alike. Ironically, the outside of the ark was rarely if ever seen – it was kept in the most sacred of places, and visited but once a year on Yom Kippur by the High Priest. Our additional challenge is strive for purity of actions and motives even when we know that no one is watching, that no one will ever see or know what we have done – except, of course, the Blessed Holy One, who we invite to keep an eye on us to help keep us honest.

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