“Human help is worthless.” (108:13)
Pirke Avot teaches, “Do not separate yourself from the community.” Everyone goes through periods when they need help. Those who are securely plugged into a community, whether it is a religious community or other kind of social network, have the resources upon whom to call when they need it. Those who isolate themselves from a community because of suspicion, mistrust, bias, or the arrogance of believing that they are strong enough to get by without help, will find themselves at a loss when they realize that can’t do it alone. Trust Pirke Avot.
Adonai is near to all who call, to all who call God with sincerity. (145:18)
Psalm 145, also known as Ashrei (even though the lines beginning with the word Ashrei come from two different Psalms), is an alphabetical acrostic. From a liturgical point of view it is a popular Psalm, recited three times a day because of the verse, “You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living creature” (verse 16). I love that verse but decided to write about the kof verse instead, because it reminded me of the aphorism attributed to French novelist and playwright Jean Giraudoux, “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.”
Faked sincerely can fool many people most of the time. In the end, however, living a lie is unsustainable. God is the purest form of truth-detector and will make sure that eventually the lie will collapse. To paraphrase Pirke Avot’s teaching about one mitzvah leading to another (and one sin leading to another), one lie will lead to another lie, to another lie, to another, until the pile of falsehoods collapses from its own weight.
The extent to which one feels close to God depends entirely on the sincerity of one’s belief that God is an imminent presence in the world. There will be times in your life when The Presence is in shadow. Psalm 145, especially this verse, is a reminder that eclipses are temporary and with time, patience, and sincere dedication to one’s religious practice of mitzvot, you will again feel God’s presence.
Adonai will guard your going and coming now and forever. (121:8)
Travel makes us vulnerable. When we leave the security of our homes, we are at the mercy of a means of transportation which might break down, get stuck in traffic, get in an accident, or be delayed by weather. It is no wonder that the traveler prays that God will protect him from missing connecting flights, losing a passport, being robbed, or getting sick. Even the occasional traveler has been stranded overnight, has had to find a place for emergency auto repairs, or has gotten lost in a strange city.
It seems that God doesn’t so much protect us from inconveniences as much as give us the emotional stability to withstand them and the mental ingenuity to work around them. With the right frame of mind, most travel inconveniences can be seen as adventures. It is the thrill of extending the trip for an extra day, having the chance to see a new part of the city, and embracing the opportunity to focus on the journey rather than the destination.
If the destination is the only thing that matters, how many wonderful things will we miss on the journey? Traveling to Chicago to catch a plane to Minneapolis for my father’s funeral, I saw an amazingly beautiful sunset over Lake Michigan. The sun was a pillar of fires shooting up to the densely clouded sky, like a brightly lit path for my father’s soul on it’s journey upward. It was peaceful and calming. God was with me at that moment, calming my anxiety at the outset of a very long (and delay-plagued) trip.
In the airport, I found a quiet spot to write a tribute to my father. A close friend called. I spoke with my wife. I sent text updates of my delays to my cousin. ‘Pick me up at 11:45 pm.’ ‘Delayed until 12:30 am.’ ‘Mechanical problems … See you at 1:00 am.’ ‘Waiting for a new plane to arrive.’ ‘On the plane ready to take off, scheduled to arrive at 2:00 am!’ I never felt alone or abandoned or panicked because I had complete confidence that one way or another, I would arrive in Minneapolis in time for the funeral.
The journey home had a delay as well, giving me the chance to spend more time with my mother and sisters as well as catch up with some cousins that I had not seen for several years. The hiccups in my travels inconvenienced a number of people, to be sure. But in the end I arrived safely at every destination. Thank God.
Praise Adonai, all nations; extol God, all peoples, for God’s love powers us and the truth of Adonai is forever. Hallelujah. (117)
This is the shortest Psalm in the book, only two verses, one sentence. I have translated more literally than most translations. The Psalmist calls on all people to praise God whose love is the battery which provides the energy powering our lives. He also subtly acknowledges that not all people acknowledge this truth as he asserts that nonetheless, the truth of this statement endures forever.
Some of religious faith feel called to witness their faith to those of another faith or to non-believers. We might find this annoying or even insulting, but I have found that simply saying I am not interested and walking away is effective. I am not terribly bothered by such people because I know they are motivated by a sincere belief in God, although a belief that I find un-compelling.
I am more bothered by the non-theists who belittle my faith and the faith of other God-believers. While believers tend to take a positive approach, arguing why I should believe in something I do not believe in, non-believers tend to take a negative approach, arguing that my beliefs are false. Their motivation is a desire to tear down rather than to build up. Why do they care so much what I believe? Why can’t they take a ‘live and let live’ attitude. From what I’ve experienced, they not only believe that faith in God is wrong, but that it is actually evil.
“The truth of Adonai is forever,” concludes the Psalmist. The life-force that drives the human being is powered by God’s love. It doesn’t matter what they, either the evangelicals or the non-theists, say. In the end, God’s truth is powerful enough to encompass my faith, their faith, and even non-faith.