Psalm 107

“Some lost their way in the wilderness.” (107:4)

We get lost a little at a time. Addictions begin with legal prescription painkillers, social drinking that’s “under control,” or just a late night snack while watching TV. But the stress of navigating the politics of the workplace, raising a family without much support from a spouse, or finding one’s way through the mysteries of middle school social relationships puts intense pressure on the weak points in our psyche. If we are inclined towards addictive behaviors, stress will encourage us to eat to feel better, drink to fit in, sample street drugs to forget or to feel better. Little by little, we get lost in the wilderness. Remember — there’s no shame in asking for help finding the way out.

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Psalm 99

“You exacted retribution for their misdeeds.” (99:8)

“Frier” is Israeli slang for a sucker, a pushover, a chump. No one wants to be the person whom everyone walks over or gets the best of in a deal. When someone hurts us, insults us, or takes advantage of us, we want to get them back. If we can’t do it ourselves, we might say — or at least think — God will get you for that! As hard as it may be, be the mature one in the schoolyard fight. Stand proud and decline to continue the engagement. The cost of fighting the fight to the end is usually more than you expect.

Psalm 74

“Do You fume in anger?” (74:1)

Rabbi and family therapist Edwin Friedman wrote, in the context of synagogue/church systems, of the importance of the rabbi/pastor/minister’s ability to maintain a “non-anxious presence” in the face of conflict. If you are in the midst of a challenging situation in which tempers are flaring, he counsels practicing the ability to be aware of your reactions to the emotions flying by without getting caught up in them while being fully present and attentive to all parties involved. Practicing and modeling calm behavior will have a positive effect on the system.

Psalm 68

“Scatter the peoples who delight in wars!” (68:31)

I understand the need for military action or war and I might even cheer when a really bad guy is taken down. But war inevitably leads to the death of innocent people. Soldiers sent to do a job suffer death and injury. Civilian casualties are virtually certain, no matter how carefully the rules of war try to minimize them. The destruction of the infrastructure, such as rail lines, roads, water treatment facilities, and businesses, destroys the economy and takes years, even decades, to rebuild. In the meantime, people suffer and die, not because they are supporters of the evil regime but because they happened to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time. I want my elected representatives to abhor war.

Psalm 59

“They come back each evening howling like dogs.” (59:7)

A dog barks when it feels threatened or it is protecting its pack. Small dogs bark more than large dogs, who need only growl to be taken seriously. Small dogs will bite more often precisely because their bark is not taken seriously enough. We can draw two lessons from this: First, when someone makes threats, take them seriously, no matter how much you believe that the individual is not serious. Second, just as under the right circumstances it is possible to make friends with most barking dogs, never forget that under the right conditions, almost every enemy can become a friend.