Psalm 49

“The wise die; together [with] the foolish and ignorant, they perish.” (49:11)

Human beings cannot think or buy their way out of death. Our limited lifespan, which could be interrupted at any moment with illness or accident or sudden trauma, is our soul’s only chance at bodily existence*. This can be terrifying, energizing, or both. Some people spend a wasted part of their lives focused on fearing and fighting death. Some people frantically chase possessions or pleasurable experiences. In both cases, because of their fear and negative obsession, they miss opportunities to do some real good. Let your mortality energize you in pursuit of building a better world for others.

*For those who believe in reincarnation, you of course get multiple chances to live and die.

Psalm 48

“They were stunned, they were terrified, they panicked.” (48:6)

I remember in driver’s training, reviewing what to do when something unexpected happens. If the car goes into a skid, we learned to take our foot off the brake and pump the brakes gently, steering in the direction the car was traveling. I needed to unlearn this behavior when I bought a car with anti-lock brakes and learn instead to steadily keep my foot on the brake. The goal was to prepare us to make split-second decisions correctly, so we wouldn’t panic and freeze. There is no way to prepare for every unexpected event, but we can remember to breathe and think our way out of the situation the best we can.

Psalm 47

“All peoples, clap hands.” (47:2)

There is no better boost to your enjoyment of music than clapping hands to the beat (except if you are at the symphony listening to classical music). Sway, move your arms and legs, and dance. Let your body vibrate in tune with the music. During prayer, as well, let yourself transcend the intellectual experience of reading words on a page. At appropriate moments, sign along with the cantor and encourage your soul to vibrate to the tune of gratitude, thanksgiving, and dedicating yourself to God’s mitzvot. As much as some prayers intend to move God to action, more often prayer intends to transform the pray-er.

Psalm 46

“Nations rage, kingdoms topple.” (46:7)

Anger is not a good emotion for a leader. Anger clouds the mind and perverts judgement. Angry people make poor decisions, leading to poor outcomes. Anger is a volcano – showy, frightening, and generally destructive. Good may come from volcanic anger, but only after a long cooling off period. Hawaii of course was built by a volcano, but the beautiful fertile volcanic soil took eons to form. Volcanic anger can lead to Pompeii, Minoa, and Montserrat, which never recovered, and to Mount St. Helens, which exacted a toll of over $1 billion in damage to industry, massive environmental damage, and 57 human lives. A good leader knows how to calm rage before it reaches destructive proportions.

Psalm 45

“My tongue is the pen of an expert scribe.” (45:2)

To be a mesmerizing public speaker may be an art, but Dale Carnegie taught that anyone can learn to be an effective speaker. A scribe does not become expert without practice, and neither does a speaker. By listening to great speakers one can learn to use language well and by watching great comedians one can learn to use silence, pauses, to good effect. But the real secret is to speak from your own experience; in other words, to share your own story. Those who speak with sincere conviction, focus on the important points, and summarize the story by relating the lesson they want the listener to learn will be compelling speakers.