“The Jordan ran backward.” (114:3)
As the city of Chicago grew in the late 1800’s, it relied heavily on Lake Michigan for drinking water. The pollution-laden Chicago river dumped its sewage into the lake, contributing to public health problems like cholera and typhoid fever. In 1900, an agency of the State of Illinois, using a series of canal locks from Lake Michigan to the Des Plaines river, increased the flow from Lake Michigan and reversed the flow of the Chicago river away from the lake. Ultimately, this water drained into the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico. One of the greatest engineering feats of its time ensured that Chicago would take a place among the great cities of the United States.
“From the rising of the sun until its setting …” (113:3)
In the ancient world, astronomical phenomena were unpredictable and thus were signs of Divine favor or displeasure. An eclipse was a portent of disaster. A comet was a sign of good tidings. The regular cycles of the sun and moon told people when to sow, when to reap, and when to celebrate. Stars and planets were and are objects of wonder. Someday, humanity might take steps to populate another world, but today, the distances and difficulties of travel are insurmountable. From our miraculous perch on the arm of a galaxy we call the Milky Way, we sit and observe and perhaps wait to be contacted.
“The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys are enveloped with grain.” (65:14)
This verse is the picture of a sustainable community, describing a symbiotic relationship between that which grows on the land and the animals which eat that which the land produces. The flocks consume the growth and leave donations of fertilizing waste. The shepherds shear the flocks to spin the wool, select animals for food, use the skins for parchment, perhaps to write a Sefer Torah, and the farmers plant wheat and barley for bread. The farmer cares for the land, the shepherd moves around the flocks, and all depend on God for proper rain in its season.
Heal its fractures because it is shaking. (60:4)
When there are fractures in a structure and it is agitated, the fractures grow. This is true of both a piece of land and a community. Here is the Psalmist’s theology: A fractured community which behaves badly and ignores its obligations to God degrades the environment around it. Or perhaps, the community’s mistreatment of the environment destabilizes the land, angering God, and as a result the community suffers and fractures. Either way, Torah teaches that a harmonious environment and a harmonious community are inextricably connected.
“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.