Psalm 144

“His days are like a passing shadow.” (144:4)

A cloud, an object comprised of a wisp of substance, blows across the sun and casts a shadow. The human life is compared to that shadow, a non-object of no substance at all. When we are here, we are barely here. Our lives hardly make a difference, the equivalent of a brief cool respite on a hot day. Yet we are human, we are sentient, and we have the power as a species to recognize our mortality and construct elaborate mythic structures to give our lives meaning. Even a wisp of a cloud has the power to eclipse the sun, and a weary traveler on a hot day gives thanks for that moment of shade.

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Psalm 137

“There we sat down and yes, we wept, as we remembered Zion.” (137:1)

When I am not in Jerusalem and I think about the city, I don’t weep. In my lifetime, Zion only grows more magnificent from visit to visit. But I get a sense of the crushing sadness of the Psalmist when I fly into New York past the 1776 foot spire of One World Trade center. It is a beautifully designed building, but I see the ghosts of the two blocky towers that preceded it. I see the planes crashing and the bodies falling and the glass and metal disintegrating and the and paper showering lower Manhattan. And I cry.

Psalm 136

“Who took note of us in our degradation” (136:23)

Many years ago, I experienced the loss of a grandfather to whom I was very close. It was the first time I witnessed a human death. For several weeks afterward, I carried a heavy burden of sadness, but friends whom I thought were close either didn’t notice or chose not to address it. One person finally noticed my sadness and remarked on it, giving me the chance to offload my emotional baggage. It felt good to know that someone cared enough to take note of my demeanor and ask if I was OK. My mental state immediately improved.

Psalm 132

“This is my resting-place for all time” (132:14)

People can be funny about their final resting place. They might want to be next to this person, but not anywhere near that other person, as if their burial plot is like a permanent seat at a forever cocktail party. They might want a view or a nice shady tree – although in this respect they might be thinking more of their still-living visitors than themselves. Jewish tradition requires Jews to be buried among Jews, on the assumption that their bones are less likely to be disturbed if future generations of Jews are watching over them. Forever is a long time. Choose your spot wisely!

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.