Psalm 147

“He counts the number of the stars; He names them all.” (147:4)

Dale Carnegie said, ““A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” To be able to recall a name and use it in conversation, to greet a person by name, to remember names of people we meet, are signs of caring at a deep level. Jewish tradition discourages us from counting people, thinking, perhaps, that to count them is to assign them an impersonal number rather than acknowledging their uniqueness with a name.

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Psalm 146

“Put not your trust in the noble.” (146:3)

It is hard to avoid the trap of celebrity worship. There is something electric about being in the company of the influential, the powerful, and the famous. When we are in the company of politicians, actors, entertainers, or the uber-wealthy, we can be overwhelmed by the aura of their physical presence. They have talents and abilities and the power to get things done over and above that of the average mortal. Yet they also have outstanding moral faults and failures, just like every other human being. So value them for their abilities, but worship them not!

Psalm 145

“Every day I will bless You.” (145:2)

It is not enough to say ‘thank you’ once and expect that it will serve to affirm one’s gratitude for an indeterminate period of time. The world does not owe us anything; the debt goes the other way. We owe the world, and we ought to cultivate the mindset that we justify our existence when we spend our lives giving. So any time that we receive, we bless the giver in order to remind ourselves of our obligation to show gratitude for all that the Giver of life has given us.

Psalm 144

“His days are like a passing shadow.” (144:4)

A cloud, an object comprised of a wisp of substance, blows across the sun and casts a shadow. The human life is compared to that shadow, a non-object of no substance at all. When we are here, we are barely here. Our lives hardly make a difference, the equivalent of a brief cool respite on a hot day. Yet we are human, we are sentient, and we have the power as a species to recognize our mortality and construct elaborate mythic structures to give our lives meaning. Even a wisp of a cloud has the power to eclipse the sun, and a weary traveler on a hot day gives thanks for that moment of shade.

Psalm 143

“Do not enter into judgment.” (143:2)

The temptation to judge other people according to our standards and expectations is high. Despite protestations to the contrary, a religious life invites making such judgements because we have the yardstick of sacred scripture as both a measuring device and a stick with which to beat transgressors. Resist the temptation, unless there is a strong potential that you or someone else will otherwise be hurt. Instead, walk a mile in their shoes and try to understand why they do what they do. Cultivate compassion, rather than judgement.