Psalm 23

“I shall not want.” (23:1)

The mantra of North America is “I want.” We eat too much, spend too much, acquire too much, and are never satisfied. The next time you are tempted to take seconds of dessert or buy a shiny new toy, adopt the mantra “I shall not want.” Try quieting the insistent voice of the yetzer hara inside you rather than feeding it. Focus on what you need, rather than what you want. You’ll discover that your true needs are much more modest than your desires, and your level of satisfaction will rise.

Psalm 22

“My heart is like wax.” (22:15)

In the Psalm, the melting wax heart denotes weakness. But taken in and of itself, a wax heart is the opposite of a hard heart. Rather than being hard-hearted and stubborn, isn’t it better to have a sensitive malleable heart? A hard-hearted person thinks of himself or herself first. Do these people really need my help? Why should I be the one to step in? How will I benefit? A soft-hearted person thinks of others first and looks for ways to ease their suffering. A heart of wax is the price we pay for being vulnerable and allowing ourselves to feel.

Psalm 21

“You have set upon his head a crown of fine gold.” (21:4)

We might understand the function of a kippah to be a mark of identification as a Jew and a reminder to the wearer of his or her Jewish responsibilities. A gold crown is a kippah, a thousand times heavier. Every person wears a crown denoting him or her as a being created in the image of God. It’s the ultimate participation trophy, with a twist. The crown is a weighty burden that functions as a constant reminder to live up to the responsibility and privilege of being human.

Psalm 17

“You have tested me and found nothing amiss.” (17:3)

I wish I could get a medical test that would confirm that I will live a long and happy life. Regrettably, such a test does not exist. A test can only confirm that at this moment I either have a disease or condition that is actively threatening my life, or I do not have such a disease or condition. A test which shows nothing wrong is no guarantee of similar future performance. Instead of asking for tests and looking for signs that we are living our lives properly, we would be better off looking for ways that we can continually improve our character and behavior.

Psalm 16

“Lovely indeed is my estate.” (16:6)

Judaism appreciates beauty. Hiddur Mitzvah is the idea that we might enhance a mitzvah by doing it in an esthetically pleasing way. While we might make kiddush on Friday nights with a plain drinking glass, we typically use a special cup dedicated to Shabbat. A Judaica collection in the home should not be a museum display of objects seen but never touched. There is joy in a Hanukkah menorah covered in wax drippings, and sadness in a menorah passed down from generation to generation in pristine condition. The greatest beauty is found in an object which a grandparent used to teach a grandchild the deepest meanings of Shabbat.