“Do not enter into judgment.” (143:2)
The temptation to judge other people according to our standards and expectations is high. Despite protestations to the contrary, a religious life invites making such judgements because we have the yardstick of sacred scripture as both a measuring device and a stick with which to beat transgressors. Resist the temptation, unless there is a strong potential that you or someone else will otherwise be hurt. Instead, walk a mile in their shoes and try to understand why they do what they do. Cultivate compassion, rather than judgement.
“Keep me from those prone to violence.” (140:5)
I have never felt seriously threatened with physical violence. When I lived in Manhattan, there were a few times that I was walking down a deserted street at night and remember wishing that there were more people around, but that’s the extent of my awareness of the forces of chaos and human evil.There are people who are more attuned to the potential for violent behavior among strangers than I am and who prefer to carry a weapon. I look to law enforcement as my friends and have never felt a desire to own a firearm to protect myself. If that makes me naive, then it is, to borrow a phrase from Paul Ricoeur, a willed naiveté with which I am perfectly content.
“I do not aspire to great things.” (131:1)
I’ll give Shakespeare two out of three for “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.” (Twelfth Night, Act 2, Scene 5). I don’t think people are born to greatness, but I do agree that some people aspire to greatness and achieve their dream; and others have unsought greatness thrust upon them. There is nothing wrong with people aspiring to greatness as long as they are prepared to live a full and meaningful life even if their dreams fail. Those like the Psalmist who do not aspire to great things nonetheless should aspire to make a difference through their lives. They should understand that they do not need to be great to be important.
“Do good … to the good.” (125:4)
It ought to be self-evident that we should treat good people with kindness. But shouldn’t we go a step further? We should treat people well even if we don’t know whether or not they are good. And once we’ve established this, why stop there? We should treat people with kindness even if it appears they are selfish and don’t care about others, following the principle of dan l’khaf zekhut, judging people favorably. Just because they appear not to care doesn’t mean that there isn’t a reasonable justification for their behavior. So — “do good to the good and the apparently no-so-good alike,” and we will be better people for doing so.
Note to readers: I apologize for missing my normal thrice-weekly schedule in the last couple of weeks. I fell behind because of all of the fall Jewish holidays. I’ll do my best to keep up with the schedule because I’d like to complete this project of writing mini-reflections on each of the Psalms by the end of 2017. However, I leave for a week in Israel this coming Monday so I may miss a few more posts.
“May it be well with you!” (122:9)
Consider the simplicity of the Psalmist’s closing words to his family. “Be well!” The psalmists concludes with a prayer for peace and a prayer for goodness. He doesn’t mention wealth, fame, honor, beauty, power, influence, or any of the other things that dominate the lives of so many “important” people today. Goodness is a moral quality, so in wishing that family members are well, you might understand that the most important gauge of the quality of one’s life is moral.