30 October 2010

150 (94-96)

94.  We can't take revenge--well, we certainly shouldn't.  But you can, God.  I mean, how long should the wicked exult?  (And how often do I get to say that?)  There is way too much exaltation of good and evil out there in the world today.  And it makes sense to me that our politics ought to concern itself with the practical while taking a break from radical good and radical evil.  Unfortunately, every shmoe with a website or a megaphone can be heard these days and there's not a whole lot of humility in the way we frame our understanding of the forces of evil that are out there.  It makes sense to me that when its on the march in the human form, we have to do our best to stop it however necessary; but here the force of the psalm grasps that its ultimate eradication is God's task, not ours.  The pleading done by the author moves me.  "He that planted the ear, shall He not hear?  He that formed the eye, shall He not see?  He that instructeth nations, shall He not correct?  Even He that teacheth man knowledge?"

It is essential to the developing faith of humankind that we question, even mock, the image of an all-powerful God we have come to rely upon, if only it awakens in us the impulse to be God's agent for good in the world.  But it is equally essential for us to have the humility to see that ultimately, revenge belongs to God.  Our faith must be animated with one hand and restrained with the other.

95.  What is so wrong with partnership?  There's strength in it, that's for sure.  It's true, for centuries, we Jews have gotten a bad rap over the chosenness idea.  It's devolved into a critique of arrogance; or entitlement; or chauvinism.  But what about looking at the other way:  we need God on our side, given our meager history as a small people up against impossible odds of survival.  Garry Wills once pointed out in his review of one of Arthur Hertzberg's last books, that if the Jews have survived this long against all odds as a result of the covenantal idea, then it may be proof enough of its worthy nature.  I buy that.

"For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the flock of His hand.  Today, if ye would but hearken to His voice."

Today, if ye would but hearken to His voice.  The Sages use this line to justify that the Messiah's arrival is that close--if we would only listen.  I'd dial it back from messianic ideas and state simply that it's enough for us to ensure our survival (which, combined with our moral and ethical tradition, three languages, great food, fascinating and rich diasporas and the greatest homeland on the face of the earth) by acknowledging that we have a partner in this enterprise.  Now it's true that our partner is God, no mere mortal but hey, to paraphrase Woody Allen in "Manhattan," you gotta model yourself after someone.

96.  Here Judaism's message of Universalism is triumphant, even redemptive.  What I find particularly striking in this psalm is how an initial self-examination of one's Particular shortcomings leads to the conclusion that Judaism's message of Universalism can be particularly redeeming.  It leads one to contemplate Hillel's famous line, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me and if I am only for myself, what am I?  And if not now, when?"

One might ordinarily see the third piece, "If not now, when?" as a general call for urgency in the matter of religious response.  But here I see it somewhat differently:  Now you must be both universal and particular.  At the same time.  If not now, when?  "Let the field exult and all that is therein; then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy."

In other words, if you see the forest (universal) you can see the trees (particular) at one and the same time.

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