“Greatly have they oppressed me since my youth.” (129:1)
Anti-Semitism is a real phenomenon, even in the free and open society of the United States. However, it is important to be able to distinguish degrees of anti-semitism. Seventy years ago (and more), Jews were restricted in where they could live, where they could golf, what country club they could join, and where they could go to school, in addition to common incidents of physical intimidation. Forty years ago, bullying was not uncommon in school, although it was mostly verbal or mildly physical, but Jews were mostly free of other restrictions. Twenty years ago, schools began taking a hard stance against bullying of any form. Be aware and defend yourself, but know that there has never been a better time to be Jew in the world.
“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.
“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.
“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, and being fully present and attentive to all parties involved. Practicing and modeling calm behavior will have a positive effect on the system.
“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.