Thoughts for the Week 23 March

We begin this week in solidarity, and with sadness, for those who lost their lives and who were injured in yesterday’s terror attack at Westminster. Though we’ve seen this form of ‘marauding terror’ in Israel or parts of Europe and the Middle East, when it occurs in that landmark place, Parliament, which represents the heart of freedom and democracy in our own country, we can’t help but feel great compassion and pain. May the Almighty grant comfort to the mourners and send a speedy healing to the survivors and to all of us who are affected.

In a recent televised discussion between the former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and New York Times columnist David Brooks, in New York City, Rabbi Sacks reiterated the importance of returning to our search for meaning in order to restore our lost sense of humanity. The two men agreed that a renewed focus on relationship and community above indulgent individualism is essential to help heal a broken world.

Recently, at a conference on Faith & Dispute Mediation organised in London, someone asked why we’re seeing so much movement to the extreme right of the spectrum? A useful article by Dr. Vivian Skolnick, veteran psychologist, published by the Institute for Jewish Ideas & Ideals, offers insights into issues confronting the wider world but especially today’s Orthodoxy.

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.]

Chapter 35: Psalm 35 is attributed to David and is lengthy at 28 verses. Among the 150 chapters of Tehillim, the longest (Chapter 119) is 176 verses and the shortest are 2 verses (Chapters 117 & 131). The average number of verses is 17.

Psalm 35 contains David’s heart-wrenching appeal to G-d for help against enemies who’ve betrayed and persecuted him. David begs G-d’s righteous protection from those who intend him grievous harm, lamenting injuries already sustained.

David pleads his innocence, prays for G-d’s deliverance and prophesises the destruction of his enemies, vowing that when better days arrive, he will again give praise to the Almighty.

לְדָוִד: רִיבָה ה, אֶת-יְרִיבַי; לְחַם, אֶת-לֹחֲמָי. A Psalm of David. Strive, O LORD, with them that strive with me; fight against them that fight against me. (Psalms 35:1)

יֵבֹשׁוּ וְיִכָּלְמוּ, מְבַקְשֵׁי נַפְשִׁי: יִסֹּגוּ אָחוֹר וְיַחְפְּרוּ–חֹשְׁבֵי, רָעָתִי. Let them be ashamed and brought to confusion who seek after my soul; let them be turned back and be abashed who devise my hurt. (Psalms 35:4)

Indicating David’s unrestricted praise of the Almighty, this verse is found in the Nishmat prayer on Shabbat morning.

כָּל עַצְמוֹתַי, תֹּאמַרְנָה– ה, מִי כָמוֹךָ: מַצִּיל עָנִי, מֵחָזָק מִמֶּנּוּ; וְעָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן, מִגֹּזְלוֹ. All my bones shall say: ‘LORD, who is like You, who delivers the poor from him that is too strong, yea, the poor and the needy from him that spoils them?’ (Psalms 35:10)

Poignantly, several verses describe in rarely-used poetic Hebrew how even the Goodness showed by David to those in need was turned against him.

בְּחַנְפֵי, לַעֲגֵי מָעוֹג– חָרֹק עָלַי שִׁנֵּימוֹ. With the profanest mockeries of backbiting they gnash at me with their teeth. (Psalms 35:16)

Petitioning, David appeals to G-d through his own righteousness and devotion, pledging his intention to continue doing so.

אוֹדְךָ, בְּקָהָל רָב; בְּעַם עָצוּם אֲהַלְלֶךָּ. I will give You thanks in the great congregation; praise You among a numerous people. (Psalms 35:18)

רָאִיתָה ה, אַל-תֶּחֱרַשׁ; אֲ-דֹנָי, אַל-תִּרְחַק מִמֶּנִּי. Thou hast seen, O LORD; keep not silent; O Lord, be not far from me. (Pslams 35:22)

וּלְשׁוֹנִי, תֶּהְגֶּה צִדְקֶךָ; כָּל-הַיּוֹם, תְּהִלָּתֶךָ. And my tongue shall speak of Your righteousness and of Your praise all the day. (Psalms 35:28)

Echoing an age-old refrain, the verses of Psalm 35 could be uttered by the Jewish people over any of the past centuries; when Jewish communities were often cruelly oppressed in exile, despite the progress and prosperity they achieved for their host nation.

An equally important personal message for these difficult times may be to remind ourselves of the loathsomeness to G-d and the need to put an end to our own petty jealousies and ill wishes toward those who’ve done us no harm – whether within or outside the Jewish nation.