“Eaters of the bread of anxiety …” (127:2)
Without a doubt, it is true that sometimes things go horribly wrong. Most of the time, however, things sorts themselves out and come out right in the end. People who suffer from unreasonable anxiety, however, obsessively search out and find reasons to be anxious, they consume anxiety the way a person with an eating disorder consumes calories. The solution to calm nervousness and panic is generally not self-control alone. Patterns of behavior, when eating disorders or panic disorders, at the very least require the hard work of unlearning deeply rooted patterns of behavior.
“Our mouths shall be filled with laughter.” (126:2)
Judaism can a religion filled with the memory of tragedy, but nonetheless embraces “worship Adonai with gladness” as a fundamental principle, not only as a mode of prayer, but also as a way of life. Facing hardship with a positive attitude and trying to find laughter within pain is the reason that Jewish comedy is powerful. The ability to find humor in the presence of uncertainty, danger, and even evil, is a precious ability to cultivate. Jews cope with Pharoah and Haman by filling their mouths with laughter at the Seder and at Purim and, sometimes, can even laugh at Hitler.
“Do good … to the good.” (125:4)
It ought to be self-evident that we should treat good people with kindness. But shouldn’t we go a step further? We should treat people well even if we don’t know whether or not they are good. And once we’ve established this, why stop there? We should treat people with kindness even if it appears they are selfish and don’t care about others, following the principle of dan l’khaf zekhut, judging people favorably. Just because they appear not to care doesn’t mean that there isn’t a reasonable justification for their behavior. So — “do good to the good and the apparently no-so-good alike,” and we will be better people for doing so.
“Like a bird escaped from the fowler’s trap.” (124:7)
Upon recovery from a serious illness or surviving a life-threatening crisis, Jewish tradition suggests that we recite the blessing, “You are the source of blessing, Adonai our God, eternal ruler of the universe, who bestows goodness upon the undeserving, who bestowed favor upon me.” The blessing is recited in public, so those who hear can respond, “May the One who bestowed favor upon you continue to favor you with all that is good.” It is not enough to survive and breathe out a private “thank God!” Judaism prefers that we express our gratitude publicly.
“I lift my eyes.” (123:1)
The eyes of those walking on the way, those sitting in coffee houses, and those waiting for busses, are enslaved to the screens in their hands. The eyes of couples eating together, young people at parties, and parents at the playground with their children, are servants of their hand-held devices. We lift our eyes to you, O God; our eyes are fixed upon our companions, our children, the glorious sunsets, mountains, and fall colors of your world.