“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.
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.
“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.
“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.
Above the thunder of the mighty waters, more majestic than the breakers of the sea is Adonai, majestic on high. (93:4)
Creation is a thunderous presence. The sound of the big bang can still be hear by radio telescopes. I am fascinated by Stephen Hawking, by black holes, by the formation of matter into galaxies, galaxies into star systems, stars into planets, and planets into the materials that can support life. Time and matter and energy can be quantified and measured in a series of equations. Mostly.
Above and beyond and behind that thunderous presence is another Presence whose existence cannot be measured and determined by anything but the poetry of a religious text.
A spinning earth creates shifting tectonic plates and currents and waves and weather patterns. We’ve gotten pretty good at predicting the weather short term. As long as we can see the weather to the west of us, we know pretty much what we’re going to get. But the farther out we try to predict, the more vague and useless our predictions get. Can I count on good weather for a picnic the day after tomorrow? I’ll trust the meteorologist. Can I count on good weather on a Sunday afternoon two months from now? No one knows. The same goes for predicting shifts in tectonic plates. No one can warn us about earthquakes within anything close to useful precision.
Someday, maybe we’ll be able to predict the weather with pinpoint accuracy more than three to five days in advance. Exerting control over the weather? Science fiction loves that idea, but it is as far beyond my imagination as controlling the movement of the earth’s plates.
Those who believe in God assert that the Majestic Divine Presence is the animating force energizing our universe (as well as any and all parallel universes), above the thunder of the upper waters of the sky, behind the breakers of the lower waters of the oceans.