Thoughts for the Week 6 April

UK LABOUR PARTY: As a primary school student, it was not unusual to be a devoted fan to our town’s sports team and in particular to one of the team’s key players. For season after season my devotion remained constant; watching games, memorising statistics, keeping tabs on league rankings and scores. A lot of hours and emotion were invested in our team.

My father somehow got tickets to the best games and with pride took his 4 boys regularly. But the year of my bar mitzvah, there was a tragic accident and the lead player went down in a plane crash while on a humanitarian mission to bring food and supplies to his home country. Our disappointment was so great, it was hard to continue being a fan.

Reading comments of Jewish friends in the Labour Party this week evoked a similar sense of loss. While we should probably no longer be shocked when decisions go against expectations, the one-year suspension rather than lifetime expulsion of Ken Livingstone from the Labour Party must be deeply disappointing to those who’ve invested years of support and devotion. We empathise with their sense of abandonment.


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 37: Psalm 37 is attributed to David in his older years and is quite long at 40 verses. Generally speaking, in every second verse it appears as an alphabetical acrostic. The theme is Theodicy – belief in Divine Providence despite the existence of evil – following the previous Psalm 36.

Psalm 37 displays a repeating pattern wherein evil doers are despised, the righteous are praised and G-d is called upon to reward the faithful.  It raises the age-old dilemma of why the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer.

David propounds: not to fret the success of the wicked, vilifying the character of evil doers contrasted with that of the righteous, outlining the punishment or reward awaiting both, describing G-d’s benevolence and encouraging adherence to the good path.

לְדָוִד:  אַל-תִּתְחַר בַּמְּרֵעִים; אַל-תְּקַנֵּא, בְּעֹשֵׂי עַוְלָה. [A Psalm] of David. Fret not because of evil-doers, nor be envious of those who work unrighteousness. (Psalms 37:1)

כִּי כֶחָצִיר, מְהֵרָה יִמָּלוּ; וּכְיֶרֶק דֶּשֶׁא, יִבּוֹלוּן. For they will soon wither like the grass, and fade as the green herb. (Psalms 37:2)

בְּטַח בַּ-ה, וַעֲשֵׂה-טוֹב; שְׁכָן-אֶרֶץ, וּרְעֵה אֱמוּנָה. Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land, and cherish faithfulness. (Psalms 37:3)

וְהִתְעַנַּג עַל-ה; וְיִתֶּן-לְךָ, מִשְׁאֲלֹת לִבֶּךָ. So shall you delight in the LORD; and G-d will fulfil the petitions of your heart. (Psalms 37:4)

The pattern repeats four times indicating this Psalm was meant more for educational purposes than as a prayer. Intended to encourage the downtrodden, it reflects the wisdom of David’s advanced years.

כִּי-מְרֵעִים, יִכָּרֵתוּן; וְקֹוֵי ה, הֵמָּה יִירְשׁוּ-אָרֶץ. For evil-doers will be cut off; but those who wait for the LORD, they shall inherit the land. (Psalms 37:9)

וְעוֹד מְעַט, וְאֵין רָשָׁע; וְהִתְבּוֹנַנְתָּ עַל-מְקוֹמוֹ וְאֵינֶנּוּ. And yet a little while, and the wicked is no more; yea, look well at his place, and he is not. (Psalms 37:10)

וַעֲנָוִים יִירְשׁוּ-אָרֶץ; וְהִתְעַנְּגוּ, עַל-רֹב שָׁלוֹם. But the humble shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in an abundance of peace. (Psalms 37:11)

A few verses occur at the end of Birkat HaMazon, raising the issue: How can one attest to ‘never having seen the righteous forsaken nor their children begging for bread’? Former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said, ‘it is a plea to humanity rather than a testimony to G-d’s Providence. We have a duty to ensure that no one in this world goes hungry.’

כִּי-יִפֹּל לֹא-יוּטָל: כִּי-ה, סוֹמֵךְ יָדוֹ. Though he fall, he won’t be utterly cast down; for the LORD upholds his hand. (Psalms 37:24)

נַעַר, הָיִיתִי– גַּם-זָקַנְתִּי: וְלֹא-רָאִיתִי, צַדִּיק נֶעֱזָב; וְזַרְעוֹ, מְבַקֶּשׁ-לָחֶם. I’ve been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. (Psalms 37:25)

כָּל-הַיּוֹם, חוֹנֵן וּמַלְוֶה; וְזַרְעוֹ, לִבְרָכָה. All day long he deals graciously, and lends; and his seed is blessed. (Psalms 37:26)

The final verses are part of Arbit service in the Sephardi liturgy, and are used elsewhere to prompt the recitation of Mourner’s Kaddish.

וּתְשׁוּעַת צַדִּיקִים, מֵ-ה; מָעוּזָּם, בְּעֵת צָרָה. But the salvation of the righteous is of the LORD; their stronghold in the time of trouble. (Psalms 37:39)

וַיַּעְזְרֵם ה, וַיְפַלְּטֵם: יְפַלְּטֵם מֵרְשָׁעִים, וְיוֹשִׁיעֵם–כִּי-חָסוּ בוֹ. And the LORD helps them, and delivers them; delivers them from the wicked, and saves them, because they’ve taken refuge in G-d. (Psalms 37:40)

Some view Psalm 37 as a meditation for the persecuted, for those who see the world as ‘unfair’. It admonishes us to put aside our sense of moral outrage while persevering in the difficult work of trying to improve a broken world. It requests of us Emunah; to trust that G-d’s calculations are different from our own.