Psalm 119

“In my heart I treasure your word.” (119:11)

The words of the person or persons who are the elders of our community or whom we consider to be our mentors are gold. We treasure them and store them away in our hearts. Long after the person is gone, we take out their words in times of need and the words comfort us and give us wisdom to solve the problems. We freely pass them along to others who might benefit. A body passes away, but when we share words of wisdom, they live forever.

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Psalm 112

“A light shines in the darkness.” (112:4)

Jews celebrate by lighting two candles on Shabbat and major Festivals and elaborate none-branched candelabras on Hanukkah, and mourn by lighting a single candle at the shiva following a death and on a yahrtzeit, the anniversary of a death. A single flame, representing the human soul, dispels the darkness of sadness and loss. Two flames represent “observe” and “remember,” the first words of the fourth commandment to observe Shabbat in Exodus and Deuteronomy, and the increasing light of the Hanukiah at the darkest days of winter, reminds us when two candles or two human souls converge, the light burns brighter.

Psalm 91

“I will rescue him and honor him.” (91:15)

Psalm 91 is commonly read as part of the Jewish funeral liturgy. In that context, it suggests that one who has faith and fidelity in God’s sheltering presence will be protected from harm and live to a ripe old age. To my mind, however, there is an implied promise of salvation beyond the grave that is more important than the immediate promise of long life. The person who embraces a life of mitzvah will be honored during his or her lifetime to be sure, but beyond as well.

Psalm 81

“For it is a law for Israel.” (81:5)

What makes us Israel is a shared sense of law, of obligation. We are Israel when we clean our homes and celebrate Passover. We are Israel when we are conscious of the contents of the food which we put into our bodies. We are Israel when we rest from creative acts on Shabbat. We are Israel when we join a Jewish community for prayer. We are Israel when we celebrate a boy’s birth with circumcision, celebrate puberty with bar or bat mitzvah, celebrate marriage with a huppah, and commemorate a death with Shiva.

Psalm 76

“He cuts off the breath of princes.” (76:13)

We all die, rich and poor, celebrity and unknown, powerful and vulnerable. This is true in a narrow sense, that every human being is mortal with a limited life span. However, this does not mean we all live out our allotted years. Wealth buys better health care, which extends life. People living in poverty often eat a less healthy diet, lack easy access to basic preventative health care, live in a less healthy environment, and cannot afford life-extending medications and treatment for serious illness. If we achieve a world in which both paupers and princes both live out their maximum genetically determined life span, we will see the coming of the Messiah.