Psalm 113

“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.

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Psalm 65

“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 the land, that which is planted or grows of its own accord, and that which eats off the land. The flocks consume the growth off the land and leave donations of waste which fertilize the land. The farmers shear the flocks to spin the wool, select animals for food, use the skins for parchment to write, perhaps a Sefer Torah, and 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.

Psalm 60

Heal its fractures because it is shaking. (60:4)

When there are fractures in a structure and it is agitated, the fractures will grow. This is true of both a piece of land and a community. Here is the Psalmist’s theology: The community which is fractured and unable to find stability in a relationship among the pieces will ignore its obligations to God, which will result in a destabilization of the land. Or perhaps, the community’s mistreatment of the environment will destabilize the land, angering God, and as a result the community will suffer and fracture. Either way, Torah teaches that a harmonious environment and a harmonious community are inextricably connected.

Psalm 24

“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.

Psalm 1

“A tree planted beside streams of water …” (1:3)

A well-watered tree planted in good soil will flourish. Everything that goes into my body — the food I eat, the liquids I drink, the air I breathe, the sounds and words that I listen to and the images that I watch, will affect my physical and spiritual health. I like action movies but lately, at my wife’s urging, I have been averting my eyes during the most violent scenes. Negative speech, much the same as sugary, fat-laden junk food, creates an intoxicating buzz for a moment, followed by a general feeling of malaise. A healthy lifestyle which includes high doses of gossip is like a vegan diet with occasional splurges of bacon cheeseburgers.