“Save my soul from a lying lip.” (120:2)
Rabbi Ishmael said: “One who engages in lashon hara (gossip) is guilty of a sin equal to the three prohibitions for which a Jew must accept death–idolatry, adultery, and murder” (Talmud Arakin 15b). The very essence of my being is attacked when I am the subject of gossip. If the lashon hara is false, the damage to reputation is obvious. But even if it is true my soul suffers terribly, for the gossiper has damaged my opportunity to benefit from fully repenting. Even if I ultimately do teshuvah (repent) for whatever it is that I did, the gossip will most likely have spread much faster and farther than my repentance.
“In my heart I treasure your word.” (119:11)
The words of the person or persons who are the elders of our community or whom we consider to be our mentors are gold. We treasure them and store them away in our hearts. Long after the person is gone, we take out their words in times of need and the words comfort us and give us wisdom to solve the problems. We freely pass them along to others who might benefit. A body passes away, but when we share words of wisdom, they live forever.
“The promise God gave for a thousand generations.” (105:8)
A thousand generations is approximately 20,000 years, four times longer than recorded human history. In essence, then, God’s promise is eternal. In contrast, our word is often easily broken. Sometimes we go back on promises because of circumstances outside of our control, sometimes they become too inconvenient or expensive, and sometimes we simply forget. The Psalmist is giving us a high bar to live up to — the idea that we can be better at only making promises when we can deliver, that we should consider our words, once uttered, to have the longevity of all human history.
“Happy is the people who know the festive shout.” (89:16)
Some of my most powerful and positive Jewish memories are those that take place at summer camp and involve “music.” The word “music” is in quotation marks because the sounds being produces might also be fairly described as noise — yelling, the sound of a jet engine taking off, or an elephant’s mating call. However, there is no doubting the enthusiasm in the voices and the joy on the faces of the young campers producing the cacophony of sound. It is pure energy and rises straight up to heaven where we can be sure that it rocks God’s throne!
“I will pay You my vows that my lips spoke.” (66:13-14)
Our reputation depends largely on our ability to keep our word. The best test of character happens when the cost for keeping our word is higher than expected. Do we look for a loophole to get out of our commitment? Do we look for a scapegoat to blame for being unable to keep the promise? Or do we accept the hardship and follow through? It is precisely at the difficult moments when our reputation is tested that we can show ourselves to be most worthy of trust.