Psalm 35

All my bones shall say, “Adonai, who is like You?” (35:10)

This verse from Psalms reminds us that our whole body can be engaged in prayer. Prayer need not be merely an intellectual exercise or even just an emotional experience. Prayer can also be a physical experience. We can pray while we move our bodies – “shuckeling” is the Yiddish term for the quintessentially Jewish back and forth swaying motion of traditional prayer. We can pray while we walk. A walking meditation typically invites us to focus on our breath and balance and body movements. A long distance runner might experience a “runner’s high,” that point when the exhausted body releases endorphins. It might feel like God breathed out a healing breathe.

On another level, prayer should never only be petitionary. If prayer is only about asking, then God is reduced to a vending machine. Prayer should also be about cultivating goodness. Prayer should affect my bones, my body. If prayer has not transformed my very being into a different person, then it has not truly been prayer (I should add here parenthetically that I believe most prayer, including my own, is very rarely true prayer). It is only when “all my bones/my essence” are involved in the experience that we achieve a complete connection with the Divine.

Finally, God is unique. That is the essential proclamation of the Shema.. This psalmist asserts that God is entirely Other, that no one and nothing is like God. This particular statement would seem to exclude the Hasidic/panentheistic view that God’s uniqueness is manifested by virtue of God infusing all reality – “There is no place free from God’s presence.” However, the beauty of Biblical theology through a Jewish lens is that it does not present a single monolithic view of God, so we can certainly also find support for the notion that God’s oneness means that nothing is separate from God.

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2 thoughts on “Psalm 35

  1. Rabbi, I like everything you write.  This time I think you have struck pure gold.  Pure gold, I’m telling you!  I would go a bit farther with this idea.  After all, “whole body” involvement does not just enhance prayer, as you point out.  It is also the key to great sexual intercourse.  After all, can you imagine sex with just some body parts, rather than with the “whole body.”  That would be very unfulfilling, wouldn’t it?  Yet, sex for many of us is just with some body parts rather than with the “whole body.”  So, I trust you will instruct us on how to have sex with the “whole body” rather than with just body parts, just as you have instructed us on how to pray with the “whole body,” not just body parts.  Let’s keep going with this.  “Whole body” involvement also seems to be the key to good writing.  After all, we write with our bodies, don’t we?  Yes, it might come from our minds at first but writing is only as good as it passes out through our body.  Therefore, to the extent we do not use our “whole bodies” when writing, the writing becomes desiccated, just like pray or sex is desiccated without “whole body” involvement.  Let’s take another step.  Even good thinking involves “whole body” involvement.  After all, there is almost universal agreement among philosophers and psychologists that thinking begins with bodily sensations.  Therefore, to the extent we think without “whole body” involvement, our thoughts are going to fall short of their potential.  In other words, some of the undergirding bodily sensations will be missing.  Overall, if I follow you correctly, “whole body” involvement enhances prayer, sex, writing, and thinking.  Could it be, “whole body” involvement is the key to living the good life?  Embody Torah?  Yes, let’s do it!  With the “whole body,” not with just body parts!  Pure gold I am telling you!  Pure gold!   Jim Kruis

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