“Truth springs up from the earth; justice looks down from heaven.” (85:12)
The biblical parallel suggests that truth and justice are two sides of the same coin, just as heaven and earth form the entirely of the world (please excuse the bible’s geocentric picture of the universe). To create a community of justice, we have to be willing to accept the truth, even when it is unpleasant; and to be able to speak the truth, we have to live in a place which values justice for all, not only for those who agree with the majority.
“To the boastful I say, ‘Do not be boastful.’ ” (75:5)
There is a Jewish teaching that cautions against trying to give reproach to those who lack the capacity to accept it. However, an uncontrolled ego may very well be the most serious character flaw around. At the core of any other flaw, you’ll find an ego which demands attention to the exclusion of others around it and which considers itself to be above the rules. Suggesting to the owner of such an ego to keep it caged is unlikely to be successful. Nevertheless, I commend the Psalmist for tilting at such windmills.
“I was stupid, without knowledge.” (73:22)
The first and most important step towards becoming a wise and discerning person is to realize what you don’t know. “A shy person does not learn,” teaches Pirke Avot 2:6. It is only through acknowledging one’s limitations and asking questions that one gains knowledge. It takes courage to say that you don’t know the answer rather than stupidly bluffing your way down a blind alley. In the end, the long term benefit of gaining knowledge outweighs the short term embarrassment of admitting ignorance.
“As for me, I am afflicted and poor.” (70:6)
This verse reminds me of the teaching of Rabbi Simha of Bunem, that a person should carry a slip of paper in his left pocket reading, “You are dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27); and in his right pocket reading, “For my sake, the world was created” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5). No matter how materially blessed we may (or may not) be, we should remember and identify with those less fortunate than ourselves. Even those who are supported by communal tzedakah funds have the obligation to give tzedakah.
“I am sinking into the slimy deep without a foothold.” (69:3)
I want, I need, give me … the unchecked ego makes demands and we respond by behaving as if we are the center of everyone’s universe. Laziness, greed, envy, anger, pride, these moral deficiencies are all the result of an untamed ego. The bad behavior resulting from ego becomes habitual, it’s like quicksand into which one slowly sinks. The further one goes down the path of ego-driven habitual behavior, the harder it is to extract oneself from the bad habits. The lesson – embrace humility as a central value and you will find that the demanding voice of the ego will fade to a whisper.