Psalm 22

“My heart is like wax.” (22:15)

In the Psalm, the melting wax heart denotes weakness. But taken in and of itself, a wax heart is the opposite of a hard heart. Rather than being hard-hearted and stubborn, isn’t it better to have a sensitive malleable heart? A hard-hearted person thinks of himself or herself first. Do these people really need my help? Why should I be the one to step in? How will I benefit? A soft-hearted person thinks of others first and looks for ways to ease their suffering. A heart of wax is the price we pay for being vulnerable and allowing ourselves to feel.

Psalm 21

“You have set upon his head a crown of fine gold.” (21:4)

We might understand the function of a kippah to be a mark of identification as a Jew and a reminder to the wearer of his or her Jewish responsibilities. A gold crown is a kippah, a thousand times heavier. Every person wears a crown denoting him or her as a being created in the image of God. It’s the ultimate participation trophy, with a twist. The crown is a weighty burden that functions as a constant reminder to live up to the responsibility and privilege of being human.

Psalm 9

“Let the nations know they are human.” (9:21)

To say that we are only human is sometimes used as an excuse for making mistakes and engaging in bad behavior. But to be human should not be an excuse for behaving badly. To be human is to be just a little less than Divine, according to the Psalmist (8:5). Reminding us that we are human is setting a high bar, challenging us to act in a way which reflects our creation in the image of God.

Psalm 144

Adonai, what is a human being that You should care about him, a mortal being, that You should think of him? A human being is like a breath, whose days are like a passing shadow. (144:3-4)

Every living thing has value, not matter how long or how short the life span. From a eternal God-perspective, their is no difference between a fertilized embryo which lives a matter of weeks or months and a person who lives a full life. God’s quality of caring and love applies equally to the child who died in utero and the elder who lives 102 years surrounded by three or four generations of descendants.

One way to understand the Jewish position on abortion is to say that it does not ignore the embryonic life simply because it is unborn but neither does it give more weight to the woman simply because she is older. Rather, it treats the two of them as equally human, but if the embryonic life is threatening the life or health of the mother, then we take the embryonic life to spare the mother’s life. In the same way, if a mugger showed a gun and declared, “Your money or your life,” the potential victim or a bystander would be justified in taking the life of the mugger.

Another way to understand the Jewish position on abortion is to see the baby as a dependent life akin to a limb of the mother. Just as one may remove a person’s limb when it threatens the health of the body, one may remove an child in utero if it threatens the mother. No matter which way one analyzes the ethics of abortion in Jewish law, midrash infuses the embryonic life with a soul. In other words, an abortion is not the killing of a soul-less child, but rather the necessary killing of a soul who is endangering another’s life.

While I have not seen a midrash which addresses what happens to the soul of a child which did not get the chance to be born, I imagine, because I believe that God cares about every soul, that the unborn soul whose life was cut off goes back to the Divine storehouse of souls. Every soul deserves a chance to live a life. A soul whose life was cut short before it could experience the trials and triumphs of a human life ought to be given a second chance to be born.

Psalm 142

No one cares about me! (142:5)

The sentiment expressed by our verse can be read either as a heartbreaking way or in a childish attention-seeking way. There are certainly people who have fallen off the margins of community because of illness or age-related infirmity. They are people who disappear, little by little, from attending worship services, classes, shopping at the supermarket, taking walks in the neighborhood. What happens when no one really pays attention? When time passes and after they haven’t been seen for some months, they realize that they have been forgotten? Their pain is real and their complaint is real and my heart breaks for them.

There are the people whose own bad choices alienate others around them. Those who make constant demands on people who befriend them, for whom no matter how much is done for them, it is never enough. Their cry of “No one cares about me” is plainly untrue, and one has to admire those who care enough to continue showing love despite the ingratitude.

Finally, there are those who make conversation difficult by turning every interaction into a litany of complaints, about their physical condition or an expression of their bitterness about real or imagined injustices in the distant past. One by one, the family and friends drop away because they can’t stand the negativity. These kind of people isolate themselves by their behavior because others do not want to be around them. For them, it is true that “No one cares about me,” but it is hard to work up sympathy.

When you find yourself echoing the complaint of our Psalmist, first, make sure you haven’t placed yourself there by our own behavior. You attract more company with sweetness than with bitterness!