4. The torture of sleep. David had his troubles. We all do. God knows, I've had nights where I thought I could tear my skin off, if only to release my soul to rest. That haunting darkness, where in the black of nothingness we see ourselves, in the mirror-less image of painful self-reflection. Here David reveals an inner truth--that it's not only being able to "look yourself in the mirror" at the end of each day, as the saying goes, but as you lie down to sleep you must be able to attest to your own righteous behavior, your own accounting of what good you brought to the world. The Arcade Fire has a song called "Black Mirror." The Mekons have a song called "Perfect Mirror." I think of each on occasion, as contemporary psalms for a troubled time. "Many say 'Who will show us goodness?' Lift up toward us the light of Your face, Eternal One." Don't be fooled. The light has a source--and the source is goodness. Decency. Kindness. David, in his self-consciousness, digs deep, excavates his soul. He knows what people want--leaders, those who bring goodness. God, the people who have microphones these days! We fail every day--our inescapable torment. But the light remains, burning on through the night, there for us, enabling us to see.
5. In Psalm 5, the torment continues. Not only is the night a troubled time but then he awakens, only to realize that he faces a troubled day. I spent a lot of time this year reading the work of Rabbi Kalonymos Kalman Shapira, a leading teacher and rabbi in the Warsaw Ghetto, who died in the Shoah, and I continually am humbled by his radical insistence on honesty and decency in the face of evil and destruction. Many are the times in Jewish history when our people and its leaders awakened to face the living nightmare of persecution; and many are the people today, of every race and faith and nation, who face similar torment. It's to our shame that we tolerate such behavior from those who hold office or seek office in our own country. History will judge us decisively by how we have treated those with less advantage. "It's your lovingkindness that brings me into your house," says David. "I will humble myself in awe of Eternal grandeur." As for the others? "There is no sincerity in their mouth, their inner being is a yawning gulf. Their throat is an open grave, smooth-talkers, they are." Hey--the truth hurts. Especially when their truth is lies, turned outward, against the innocent.
6. Psalm 6 is read daily, as part of the Tahanun prayers, offerings of humility and forgiveness. I recently went back home to Wisconsin to visit family. And on the way from the airport to my mom's house, I stopped off at the cemetery to visit my father's grave. As I got out of the car I was reminded that it was time for afternoon prayers, so I grabbed my siddur and stood over his marker, singing the words of the Tradition. It was a beautiful day. A slight wind blew; the sun warmed my neck; trees swayed quietly. In my father, for much of his life, an unhealed anger burned. As a kid I used to think he smoked so much because he was on fire himself, nearly raging at all times. Firecracker. David begs in this psalm to be relieved of anger and wrath. He wants grace. He wants healing. His bones hurt. I felt my heart break that afternoon. My throat closed up on me. The words were choked out of me by some inexorably confessional force. Here my father lies, dead, but his anger now living, resurrected, burning bright in me. My inheritance. Which I reveal to my own children. Enough! Don't be angry with me because of my anger (once his); don't be wrathful with me because of my wrath (once his). Rather, show me hesed, hesed, hesed, love, love, love. Punch the clock. Douse the flame, with tears of humility and forgiveness. Healing waters. The broken hard-heart made whole.