“The righteous will see and be awestruck; they will laugh at him. (52:8)
The righteous person sees the downfall of the wicked and is struck with awe. Others laugh at him, assuming that his awe is generated by surprise, implying that a truly righteous person would have had a matter-of-fact attitude towards an expected event, rather than being nonplussed by God’s power. How sad to lose the ability to be astonished by an expected event. The sun rises or the tide comes in or the dandelions bloom or a turkey stands in the middle of a busy street — what a wonderful mindset it is to be struck by awe at the physical world.
“The earth is Adonai’s and the fullness thereof.” (24:1)
We are temporary residents of a world entirely belonging to the Blessed Holy One. Perhaps because we don’t own the world, we treat it as poorly as many apartment dwellers treat their living space. Homeowners tend to take care of their property better than renters. Perhaps the Psalmist should have written, “The earth, and everything in it, belong to you. If you want your investment to increase in value, take care of it.” Instead, he suggests that we are guests in someone else’s home. Only those who show honor to their Host deserve standing in God’s world as recipients of God’s blessing.
“Gliding on the wings of the wind.” (18:11)
In order for a kite to experience lift, it needs resistance. If you let go of the string and let it fly free, it will quickly crash into the ground (or a tree, if you’re Charlie Brown). If you pull on the string, forcing air to flow over and under the surfaces of the kite, you create a high pressure area beneath the kite and a low pressure area above the kite. The high pressure zone lifts the kite towards the low pressure zone. We, too, need some resistance, some challenges in our life, to reach our highest potential.
“The moon and stars that You set in place …” (8:4)
I love looking at the constellations of stars and marveling at the imagination of the ancient astronomers who saw the patterns and named them. It is easy to see why the Psalmist envisioned God carefully setting each celestial object in place. How could such cosmic artistry be an accident? Surely, the magnificence of the night sky testifies to the Creator of heaven and earth. Even though I understand that it might be the case that the human brain simply looks at randomness and seeks order, I choose to look at the night sky and see God’s hand.
Adonai is sovereign, enthroned on cherubim … (99:1)
In Kabbalat Shabbat, Psalm 99 is the fifth Psalm, corresponding to Thursday, the fifth day of the week. It also corresponds to Hod, majesty or splendor, the fifth mystical aspect aspect of God 5. Hod also represents the quality of submission. On the fifth day of creation according to Genesis, God created sea creatures and birds.
From my office window, I can often see hawks circling high above the trees. Large birds such as hawks and eagles have a quality of majesty about them. They soar in the air, wings outstretched, as they scan the ground for prey. They instinctive know how to submit to the air currents, riding the air rather than flapping against it. Large sea creatures, such as whales, dolphins, and sharks similarly move through the water with a graceful lack of apparent effort.
Cherubs are winged angels. Thus, our Psalmist is depicting God as riding one of these majestic air creatures, using it as a throne. As Shabbat approaches, we may or may not have finished our work for the week. Yet, Shabbat is a time to set aside the worries and responsibilities that ride on our shoulders during the week, and soar with grace into a different dimension of time.
A bird has built a nest underneath a gutter just outside my kitchen. Early in the evening on Shabbat, I sat on the deck watching the bird sitting in the nest. For an hour, the bird didn’t move from the nest. I don’t know whether the bird was laying eggs or sitting on them, keeping them warm. I have a sense, though, that it was submitting itself to a need larger than itself, the need to grow the next generation. Both the bird and I were enjoying a peaceful Shabbat with no responsibilities other than to sit and breathe.