Thoughts on the Week 25 August 2016


This brief comment is in memory of my late mother (Brainah Leah bat Moshe Aharon) and for all those who read Tehillim for the sake of others.

Chapter 5:

The 5th Chapter of Psalms is attributed to King David’s authorship. It is a reflection on how the righteous pray to be free not only from suffering but to serve God without distraction.

It is part of our early-morning prayers (the 2nd verse of Mah Tobu), because morning was important in the religions of the ancient Near East. David’s call demonstrates this prayer is to a listening God.

וַאֲנִי–בְּרֹב חַסְדְּךָ, אָבוֹא בֵיתֶךָ; אֶשְׁתַּחֲוֶה אֶל-הֵיכַל-קָדְשְׁךָ, בְּיִרְאָתֶךָ.

But for me, in the abundance of Your lovingkindness will I come to Your house; I’ll bow down toward Your holy temple in awe of You. (Psalm 5:8)

There is a dynamic tension in the way Chapter 5 describes the wicked villain whose throat is an open sepulcher and the righteous who, by their love of God, may enter the Temple. The chapter ends in thanksgiving for all those who trust in the Almighty, and who in return receive G-d’s protection.

כִּי-אַתָּה, תְּבָרֵךְ צַדִּיק: יְהוָה–כַּצִּנָּה, רָצוֹן תַּעְטְרֶנּוּ.

For You bless the righteous; O LORD, You encompass them, as a shield, with Your favour. (Psalm 5:13)


Further to last week’s synopsis of the book Scarcity; the New Science of Having Less and How it Defines Our Lives, authors Sendhil Mullainathan & Eldar Shafir explain a process they refer to as ‘tunnelling’. Whether speaking of how we use time or money, a human tendency when under pressure to meet deadlines, is to focus on the task at hand at the exclusion of all else.

Their example is that on a not-so-busy day we might spend more time replying to e-mails, lingering a bit longer at lunch with colleagues, allowing ourselves in effect to get distracted. But, when a project deadline looms, those luxuries are considered extraneous, falling outside the tunnel of our vision 

They also describe another phenomenon referred to as ‘juggling’. Those of us who have multiple deadlines will recognise that we’re constantly swapping in and out of different projects as time demands. But keeping all of these projects on track is akin to having a number of balls in the air. Some of us tend to focus mostly on the ball that’s closest to falling to the ground until we’ve got it on its way upward again. But before we can recover, another ball demands our attention.

Both of these behaviours leads to a kind of ‘scarcity trap’, where it’s near impossible to break out of the inefficiency cycle. According to the authors, this accounts for why otherwise rational people might get themselves into spiralling debt or be overwhelmed with time commitments they can’t keep. Such people are always trying to catch-up.  

It’s also a reason why people concentrate on that which is important and urgent, at the expense of other issues that are equally important but not as urgent. Someone so busy trying to submit a work report on time may inadvertently miss going for their annual doctor’s check-up.

Even though we may think otherwise, living under such pressure makes us less efficient in the long-run. Taking a few moments out of our day for prayer, especially in the early morning, allows for the possibility to recalibrate our perspective and keep better control over our time, money and lives. King David in Psalm 5 has suggested a way for the righteous to serve the Almighty more effectively. It’s a lesson we can all stand to absorb.