RECITING PSALMS Introduction: 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. [Note: Quoted verses are taken from the Mechon Mamre website.]
Authorship of the 15th Chapter of Psalms is attributed to King David. At only 5 verses in length, it is one of the shortest in the Book.
Posing the question ‘who is worthy to dwell in the presence of the Almighty,’ the Psalmist responds that only those who first embody high moral behaviour towards their fellow human beings can achieve G-d consciousness.
מִזְמוֹר, לְדָוִד: ה, מִי-יָגוּר בְּאָהֳלֶךָ; מִי-יִשְׁכֹּן, בְּהַר קָדְשֶׁךָ.
A Psalm of David. LORD, who shall sojourn in Your tabernacle? Who shall dwell upon Your holy mountain? (Psalms 15:1)
The list of moral prerequisites covers thought, speech and action; walking upright, doing justice, speaking truth in one’s heart, avoiding the slander of others, neither loaning on interest nor taking a bribe against the innocent, and honouring those who fear G-d.
כַּסְפּוֹ, לֹא-נָתַן בְּנֶשֶׁךְ– וְשֹׁחַד עַל-נָקִי, לֹא לָקָח: עֹשֵׂה-אֵלֶּה– לֹא יִמּוֹט לְעוֹלָם.
He that doesn’t loan his money on interest, nor take a bribe against the innocent. He that does these things shall never be moved. (Psalms 15:5)
Such people will never be uprooted from their connection with the Divine.
Earlier this week a Scripture-based Dialogue sponsored by BIMA (Belief in Mediation & Arbitration) was held at the law offices of Charles Russell Speechlys. Attending were representatives of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic communities; including other solicitors, mediators, members of the government and police force.
The topic focused on Law vs. Morality – cases where religious jurisprudence is at odds with government legislation. One case, drawing from Numbers 30:2 the command to honour one’s oaths, was delivered by Clive Freedman QC. His talk looked at the legal debate and practice behind oral contracts in English versus Jewish law, and made the observation that even when legally an agreement is not binding, there is a concept in Judaism to go beyond the letter of the law (lifnim meshurat hadin).
Presentations were made by a Christian mediator and an Imam who also raised the issue of ‘good faith’ in contract law and afterwards a light discussion ensued. Two interesting points for comparison were that in Quranic law one may not swear an oath in an English court before giving testimony. And, with regard to witnesses, when there aren’t 2 men who can testify, the Islamic courts will accept one man and 2 women. The former is similar in Judaism but the latter seems more advanced – in that Judaism only accepts valid male witnesses.
While recognising the plurality of approaches and the subtlety in differences between these religious legal systems, and even touching upon the wish of the Islamic community to have permission to operate under Sharia Law, it was generally concluded that all 3 faiths espouse a set of common core values and that human beings will ultimately be held accountable for their actions by a Higher Authority.
In this, the week of Parshat Noah, we can ask ourselves ‘by the standard of Psalm 15 are we among those who would merit being chosen to build a new world?’ A combination of scriptural guidance and a reflecting conscience are tools to help each of us arrive at our own answer.
For those who are eligible, voting for the USA presidential election closes next Tuesday 8 November. America’s economy is $17 trillion with China next closest at $12 trillion. For the past year we’ve watched a partisan political race in which the candidates will have spent $2 billion trying to get elected.
The US presidency is the most powerful role in the world (perhaps only the Pope or Russia’s Vladimir Putin is more influential). Regardless of the outcome next week, sadly we should expect – like Brexit – nearly half of Americans to feel disenfranchised.
The rancour and hostility may likely continue for months to come. One would be excused for wondering aloud whether we’re not at the same state of chaos as the generation of Noah before the Flood?