67. Last week at a Bat Mitzvah celebration, the mother of a kid at the party, who is a parent I know from public school, approached me. She expressed gratitude at being part of our service at Shul over Shabbat, appreciation, I believe, for being invited and welcomed into a sacred communal space. In this old world, you gotta take what you can get. "I really liked the way you blessed the kid," she said. "The words of prayer you used were words of prayer I remembered from my Catholic upbringing." I started reciting the Priestly Blessing--"May God bless you and keep you..." and her eyes lit up at the recognition of the words. "That's it--it's so familiar, so similar..." and a whimsical, satisfied look washed over her face. The DJ's music pulsed in the background; kids feasted on sweets; we nodded at one another in quiet recognition of the reality--the reality--that the there is more that unites us than divides us.
"God be gracious unto us and bless us; may He cause His face to shine toward us. Selah. That Thy way may be known upon earth, Thy salvation among all nations."
Here is one of the most sublime reflections of Judaism's universal message of Truth. "May God bless us; and let all the ends of the earth fear Him."
Don't read the "fear." Read "us."
68. My notes for this psalm are messed up. I have written in notebook in English and Hebrew. I have drawn letters over and over. There are boxes; dashes; parentheses. I seem to have had an energized and graphic reaction to this song. "As smoke is driven away, so drive them away! As wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God!" But have you ever seen wax melt? Have you ever driven away smoke? Wax stays, its residue resides. And smoke? You wave it away in one direction and it shifts, eludes, evades.
Evil remains. Therefore: God is "a father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows...finding a home for the homeless, releasing the unjustly imprisoned," undoing what ordinarily cannot be undone. You think smoke and wax are tough? Try poverty, greed, injustice!
That's the point.
One of the other ideas coursing through this powerful psalm is the tension between God and Nature. Well, actually, I don't think they have any tension between them, like, say, two people. But there is a tension that we bear, that we're responsible for. We see a beautiful sunset, for example. Where does the religious imagination go and where does the scientific mind go? And if one settles on gratitude and the other on explanation, is there a difference? Is there a common language any longer? Two separate languages? A *tension*? That's what I'm saying.
"The earth trembled, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God; even yon Sinai trembled at the presence of God, the God of Israel." In other words, the way I see it, there is Nature. A given. But there is also Revelation in Nature--Torah on the Mountain. And here is the distinguishing characteristic of the Jewish mind, the Jewish soul. The push against Pagan culture. Franny's local tomatoes on her pizzas are delicious and I have gratitude to the local farmers within 50 or 75 or 100 miles or whatever for their efforts but above all, thank God. HaMotzi Lechem Min HaAretz. That's what I'm saying.
69. Some religious leaders experience depression because it's in them. They are inherently dark souls and they light their own way with their faith, animated through prayer and service in the name of God. Other religious leaders experience depression because they're inherently optimistic people but the world, damnit, is so difficult and trying and obstinate in its inward insistence. "Save me, God. The waters flood me, overwhelming my own soul. I am drowning in mud. I have nowhere to stand! I am in the depths, deep, deep down. The fast flow of it all overwhelms me."
I experience depression daily. At the corner of Flatbush and Plaza Street. I hate the way people drive there. Seriously. Or as some say, "SRSLY." The vast disregard of human life. The haste to make the light. The vast disregard of human life. THE VAST DISREGARD OF HUMAN LIFE. HUMAN LIFE. LIFE.
"Because zeal for Thy house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproacheth Thee are fallen upon me."
Try as I might, God, to REPRESENT. To exemplify what ought to be...WHO CARES?!
"For God will save Zion, and build the cities of Judah; and they shall abide there, and have it in possession. The seed also of His servants shall inherit it; and they that love His name shall dwell therein."
I want a new urban plan for my neighborhood.