Thoughts for the Week 13 July

THREE WEEKS – 11 Jul to 1 Aug: The period in the Jewish calendar from 17 Tammuz (Tuesday 11 July) until 9 Av (Tuesday 1 August).

This week began the 3 Week period associated with the destruction of the 2 national temples in Jerusalem – a time of minimising our sense of joy and excitement. For example, we refrain from purchasing new items which require making the blessing Shehehiyanu.

Ironically, the 3 Weeks always occur in summer when school is about to finish and families wish to go on holiday – a time more conducive for enjoyment and celebration than penitence and mourning.

An interesting initiative this year from the USA is called Green Speech supported by the familiar Orthodox outreach groups, trying to promote responsible speech. For at the heart of many of our social conflicts and difficulties, historic and contemporary, is the misuse of speech in how we relate with others.

For details on Laws & Customs of the 3 Weeks please click here.

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 49: Psalm 49 is attributed to the Sons of Korah. Their previous psalms focused on Messianic Times, the True Worship of G-d, and Jerusalem. Psalm 49 is about the World to Come. It can be divided into 3 sections based on the appearance of the word Selah at the end of verse 14, and again verse 16. (The full text can be found here.)

The first section calls-out the foolishness of mankind to think we can trust in our wealth to save us from death. The second points out, to the contrary, the nether-world awaits us all, but G-d can redeem our souls. The third laments humanity’s shortsightedness in chasing after temporal pursuits, for in the end wealth can’t be taken to the grave, only good deeds.

שִׁמְעוּ-זֹאת, כָּל-הָעַמִּים; הַאֲזִינוּ, כָּל-יֹשְׁבֵי חָלֶד. Hear this, all people; give ear, all inhabitants of the world. (Psalms 49:2)

גַּם-בְּנֵי אָדָם, גַּם-בְּנֵי-אִישׁ– יַחַד, עָשִׁיר וְאֶבְיוֹן. Both low and high, rich and poor together. (Psalms 49:3)

It can be argued that the message of this Psalm was intended for all nations of the world; those who came from noble backgrounds (Ish) and those more common (Adam).

הַבֹּטְחִים עַל-חֵילָם; וּבְרֹב עָשְׁרָם יִתְהַלָּלוּ. Those who trust in their wealth, and boast in the multitude of their riches? (Psalms 49:7)

אָח–לֹא פָדֹה יִפְדֶּה אִישׁ; לֹא-יִתֵּן לֵא-לֹהִים כָּפְרוֹ. No man can by any means redeem his brother, nor give G-d a ransom for him. (Psalms 49:8)

Even minor transgressions of good people cause them anguish at the end of their days when they give an account of their actions. All the more so, those who’ve been profligate. No one lives forever, our lives are in G-d’s hands and wealth can’t redeem a sullied soul. Even Adam, G-d’s creation, sinned on the day he was created.

כִּי יִרְאֶה, חֲכָמִים יָמוּתוּ– יַחַד כְּסִיל וָבַעַר יֹאבֵדוּ; וְעָזְבוּ לַאֲחֵרִים חֵילָם. For he sees wise men die, the fool and brute together perish, and leave their wealth to others. (Psalms 49:11)

וְאָדָם בִּיקָר, בַּל-יָלִין; נִמְשַׁל כַּבְּהֵמוֹת נִדְמוּ. But man abides not in honour; he’s like the beasts that perish. (Psalms 49:13)

Wicked people are like sheep heading mindlessly to their doom, abandoning the opportunity for spiritual growth. Instead of inheriting the After Life, they’re relegated to death & decay. They leave their luxuries behind. But the righteous improve themselves and merit the World to Come. Those who don’t comprehend are likened to beasts of the field.

אַךְ-אֱ-לֹהִים–יִפְדֶּה נַפְשִׁי, מִיַּד-שְׁאוֹל: כִּי יִקָּחֵנִי סֶלָה. But God will redeem my soul from the nether-world; and receive me. Selah (Psalms 49:16)

This psalm is familiar to readers because it is recited in a Shiva house. A key message intended by Psalm 49 is that life is too precious to squander pursuing useless pleasures.

To quote a non-Jewish scholar, ‘the sum of the whole matter is, that it can profit a person nothing to gain the whole world, to become possessed of all its wealth and all its power, if he loses his own soul, and is cast away, for want of that holy and heavenly wisdom, which distinguishes man from the brutes, in his life and at his death.’