“May a crooked heart be far from me.” (101:4)
A well known company which purports to make business decisions based on its Christian values was caught illegally buying antiquities on the black market and importing them into the United States using questionable shipping labels. Most famously, this company successfully sued the United States government to avoid including birth control coverage in their employees’ health insurance. Schadenfreude aside (for those who think they should have obeyed the Affordable Care Act mandate), this demonstrates how easy it is to compartmentalize and behave one way on the outside and entirely differently on the inside. The gold standard is tokho k’boro, one’s inside and outside should perfectly match.
“Light is sown for the righteous.” (97:11)
Goodness is its own reward – sometimes yes, sometimes no. We do get recognized, thanked, and sometimes rewarded for good behavior. But the ideal is to behave with pure, altruistic, goodness for its own sake. Because we are human beings with egos, the Psalmist plants a suggestion that a reward is sown for the righteous. We may not get the spotlight today, but someday, perhaps in the World to Come, we will reap the harvest and be rewarded for the things we have done for others.
“Rise up, judge of the earth.” (94:2)
To call upon God to judge and punish the guilt and exonerate the innocent is not to abrogate our responsibility to support a just society. However, the teaching from Pirke Avot (1:6), “Judge every person with the assumption of merit,” the Rabbinic equivalent of of the principle of “innocent until proven guilty,” ought to rein in our zeal to condemn and punish. When you are angry because you think someone perpetrated an injustice against you, imagine yourself in their place before judging them (Pirke Avot 2:4). Ask yourself: might you be misreading their intent or lack thereof? Might they be distracted by a stressful situation unknown to you?
“Judge the wretched and the orphan, vindicate the lowly and the poor.” (82:3)
Reminder: These reflections do not necessarily represent the original or contextual meaning of the verse.
We are called to judge and to vindicate, but this does not mean that the purpose of judging is to vindicate. It is not a kinder, gentler version of “give ‘em a fair trail and then hang ‘em!” We are called to hold everyone accountable, even those who are at a disadvantage. And we are also called to remember that all too often the poor suffer greater punishment than the wealthy because they lack the resources to present the best defense.
“May he judge Your people rightly.” (72:2)
In order to live in a civilized society, we agree to live by a set of rules and we have a system of justice to enforce those rules. The police enforce the law, the district attorneys prosecute alleged lawbreakers, and the courts provide a fair and level playing field for this drama to take place. However, the individual citizen is a puny, powerless, entity compared to the might of the State. We rely on our leaders at every level of government to create and maintain a culture in which those with power do not abuse their authority. When they lose our trust because they do not behave properly, civil order breaks down.