Psalm 97

Mountains melt like wax at Adonai’s presence, at the presence of the One who controls all the earth. The heavens proclaim God’s righteousness and all peoples see God’s glory. (97:5-6)

This is the third Psalm of Kabbalat Shabbat, corresponding to Tuesday. On the third day of the week, God separated the water from the dry land and created plant life. Over the eons of geological time, the Creator melted and shaped the geographical features of the earth – mountains and valleys, hill-country and the great plains, the rain forests and the deserts and the rivers. Each particular climate supports its own set of grasses, trees, flowers, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Together, it makes up the agricultural eco-system of planet earth.

The heavens look down on the bounteous produce and proclaim it “good” and a testament to God’s glory. In the mystical system of the Zohar, heaven is a symbolic reference to the third sefirah of Tiferet, beauty. Tiferet is the mediating characteristic between love and judgment. A parent should not shower either unrestrained, unlimited love or harsh judgmental punishment on a child. Proper parenting is a mixture of both love and judgment, and thus the mystical tradition understands God’s traits as well.

Perhaps we might read Psalm 97 as a meditation on an incomplete but beautiful stage of creation. On the third day, “God saw that [creation] was good” twice, perhaps reflecting the fact that even without animal life, the earth had a kind of beautiful perfection in its incompleteness. As much as we try each week to achieve something meaningful and lasting, we remember the rabbinic dictum from Rabbi Tarfon (Pirkei Avot 2:16), “It’s not your job to finish the work, but you’re not free to walk away from it.”

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