“All peoples, clap hands.” (47:2)
There is no better boost to your enjoyment of music than clapping hands to the beat (except if you are at the symphony listening to classical music). Sway, move your arms and legs, and dance. Let your body vibrate in tune with the music. During prayer, as well, let yourself transcend the intellectual experience of reading words on a page. At appropriate moments, sign along with the cantor and encourage your soul to vibrate to the tune of gratitude, thanksgiving, and dedicating yourself to God’s mitzvot. As much as some prayers intend to move God to action, more often prayer intends to transform the pray-er.
“Mischief and iniquity are under his tongue.” (10:7)
The potential for destructive language is always lurking, ready to burst forth. Sometimes it seems like the tongue has a mind of its own. No sooner have I said something than I regret what I said. I didn’t mean to say it, I wasn’t even aware that those words were about to come out of my mouth. Human beings have a yetzer hara (selfish inclination) tempting us to unleash those devilish little imps under our tongue, but we also have a yetzer hatov (good inclination) reminding us to keep them under wraps.
The healer of the broken hearted (147:3)
Deuteronomy 10:16 speaks of circumcising the foreskin of one’s heart to remove impediments to recognizing God, but he could not have foreseen using miniature cameras to place stents in partially clogged arteries or cracking open someone’s chest and replace the arteries coming out of the heart.
Ezekiel used the metaphor of a heart transplant to speak about a fundamental transformation in the human being. He wrote, “I will remove the heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh” (11:19, 36:26), but he could not have imagined attaching a human being to a machine to oxygenate and circulate blood while removing an ailing heart from the person’s chest and replacing it with a healthy heart.
The Psalmist could never have envisioned what goes through my mind when I read the phrase, “healer of the broken hearted.” I think of my relatives and friends and members of my congregation who have survived heart procedures that under normal circumstances have become routine. Even so, because messing around with the heart is never completely routine, this Psalmist’s image of God as a Divine doctor gives me strength and hope.
Imagine the presence of God hovering in the operating room guiding the hand of the surgeon. Think about the miraculous functioning of the body, and consider the asher yatzar berakha:
You are the source of blessing, Adonai our God, eternal Sovereign of the universe, who formed the human being with wisdom and created within him many openings and many hollows. It is revealed and known before Your Throne of Glory that if one of them ruptures or one of them becomes blocked, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You. You are the source of blessing, Adonai, who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ אֱ–לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר יָצַר אֶת הָאָדָם בְּחָכְמָה וּבָרָא בוֹ נְקָבִים נְקָבִים חֲלוּלִים חֲלוּלִים. גָּלוּי וְיָדוּעַ לִפְנֵי כִסֵּא כְבוֹדֶךָ שֶׁאִם יִפָּתֵחַ אֶחָד מֵהֶם אוֹ יִסָּתֵם אֶחָד מֵהֶם אִיאֶפְשַׁר לְהִתְקַיֵּם וְלַעֲמוֹד לְפָנֶיךָ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ רוֹפֵא כָל בָּשָׂר וּמַפְלִיא לַעֲשֹוֹת
Adonai releases the bound; Adonai restores sight to the blind; Adonai makes those who are bent stand straight. (146:7-8)
Each of these three phrases has been adapted into the morning liturgy in a series of blessings focusing on the experience of waking up, regaining one’s consciousness and identity, rising out of bed, and getting dressed.
Movement is critically important to our health. Physical problem abound when we spend too much time sitting or lying down. For those experiencing weight- or age- or other health-related issues, getting out of bed can be a task requiring significant exertion. It’s simply easier not to move than to move. It’s comfortable to remain bound up in one’s bed or easy chair. It hurts to release the limbs from their curled up position, straighten the spine to sit up, and lean forward to stand. We might rather keep our eyes closed, not only to let us sleep longer, but to ignore both the short term physical toll that activity demands of us, and the long term degradation of our body that non-activity takes from us.
The easy and comfortable path leads to weak muscles, poor balance, back pain and other problems. God created our eyes, literal or metaphorical, to look at our body honestly and see the problems associated with failing to use it properly. The core of Judaism celebrates the exodus from Egypt and freedom from oppression. God gave us a free range of movements that we can do with our bodies, and unless we exercise each one of them, we will find ourselves slowly losing that freedom. Whether we move by ambulating our feet or pushing wheels with our arms or pushing a joystick that turns our chair, we can use our eyes, hands, arms, or legs to see where we want to go and propel us in the proper direction.
So sit forward in your bed or your chair, align your spine one vertebra on top of the next, take a deep breath, and enjoy the body that God gave you!
You shall eat of your hands’ labor; you shall be happy and it shall be good for you. (128:2)
The key word in this verse is “labor.” Good things rarely come to us with no effort whatsoever. Sure, some people win the lottery or receive a large inheritance from a previously unknown great-uncle. But more typically, it is the people who work hard and selflessly with no expectation of reward who in the end are rewarded.
If you work hard on the things that really matter, you will see dividends.
My first job, other than babysitting, was as a busboy in a deli. I remember the satisfaction of depositing my first paycheck in the bank and the satisfaction the first time that I bought something with money that I had earned myself through hard work. I was making minimum wage and the work was hard. Over time, my salary went up slightly and I was promoted to work at the deli counter. I learned how to show up on time, follow instructions, do unpleasant jobs with a good attitude, and take initiative.
My next job was unskilled but not as messy; and each job after that relied on some specialized skills that I had gotten through educating myself. My happiness came from the satisfaction in what I had accomplished and the enjoyment of the challenge of the work.