Psalm 55

“Would that I had wings, like a dove!” (55:7)

Why not wings like an eagle, or a vulture? Wouldn’t any wings do, to give me the ability to soar above the earth? The answer is that any achievement, especially any piece of technology, can have a dark side, a violent or abusive function. A dove is a symbol of gentleness and peace. When we wish for flight, we also ought to wish for the wisdom to use the technology wisely, a lesson that Icarus learned too late.

Psalm 51

“I recognize my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” (51:5)

Judaism favors the religious person who rejects the impulse to say ‘I am a sinner and I am worthless’ in favor of saying ‘I am a sinner and my repentance completes my atonement.’ To do so, one needs to recognize the necessity of daily heshbon hanefesh, self-evaluation. A person cannot recognize transgressions unless he or she is willing to take responsibility for the mistakes which happen every day. Admitting one’s errors is the first step towards teshuvah (repentance) and atonement.

Psalm 46

“Nations rage, kingdoms topple.” (46:7)

Anger is not a good emotion for a leader. Anger clouds the mind and perverts judgement. Angry people make poor decisions, leading to poor outcomes. Anger is a volcano – showy, frightening, and generally destructive. Good may come from volcanic anger, but only after a long cooling off period. Hawaii of course was built by a volcano, but the beautiful fertile volcanic soil took eons to form. Volcanic anger can lead to Pompeii, Minoa, and Montserrat, which never recovered, and to Mount St. Helens, which exacted a toll of over $1 billion in damage to industry, massive environmental damage, and 57 human lives. A good leader knows how to calm rage before it reaches destructive proportions.

Psalm 43

“Send forth Your light and Your truth.” (43:3)

Israel is described by Isaiah as an or goyim, “light of the nations.” By the example of their behavior, Israel is charged with the responsibility to teach the non-monotheistic world about belief in one God. In the ancient worldview of of the Hebrew prophets, there were God followers and there were pagans. The former were moral because of their adherence to God’s revealed scripture, and the latter were immoral because they ignored God’s instructions to the world. In our world we have several monotheistic God-following religions, several ways to follow God, all of them true. Our job, is to show that the way we live our lives is illumined by one of those sets of truths.

Psalm 36

Psalm 36

“He does not reject evil.” (36:5)

It is not enough to passively avoid evil. If your friends are doing bad things and you close your eyes, you become a party to it. Shetika k’hoda’ah dama’i, silence is the equivalent of consent. Edmund Burke said, “As the great parliamentarian Political philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people*] to do nothing.” If you hear a racist/sexist/homophobic joke, the only acceptable response is to reprove the teller. You don’t need to shout. You need only to clearly and calmly state your objection.

*actual quotation, “men”